9 Common Pottery Wheel Mistakes and How to Fix Them
Pottery, just like any form of art, does not have a specific set of rules. Creativity knows no bounds, and you can never go wrong with your creation. However, it does not mean that you can just go ahead and craft whatever you like. You may not have to work within pottery making rules, but you must familiarize yourself with the nature of Clay and the way it reacts.
It takes years to become a master in Pottery, and just like anything you learn, you can expect to make mistakes along the way.
Before you hit the Wheel and work on your next piece, here are some common mistakes that new potters make. I have compiled these 9 mistakes in hopes that it will help you improve your pottery throwing skills.
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Mistake #1 Not Wedging the Clay Properly
If there’s one thing that Potters can agree upon, is that wedging is the least fun but the most important part of Pottery Making. Many people have never done it before, so what they would do is take out a manageable amount of Clay from the bag, pat it in a ball, and then throw it on the Wheel.
Trying to get away with not wedging your Clay and thinking that it’ll help you save time can be counterintuitive. Improper wedging can make your Clay difficult to work with or make it hard for you to center the Clay.
If it feels like a constant battle just to get your Clay centered, then you may have an air pocket in your Clay. Air is lighter than Clay, and if you’re working with air pockets or one large one in your Clay, will always throw your clay off-center.
Not wedging correctly will introduce more air pockets rather than take them out. The only thing you can do is take it off your Wheel, start over, and wedge another piece of Clay correctly.
Before you start throwing, make sure that your Clay has a consistent amount of moisture. It shouldn’t have hard spots and maintain a smooth feel throughout your Clay. Sure, it can be a tedious process, but it is a vital part of making Pottery. There’s no way around it, but if you want to make throwing easier, you should never skip this step. For more on Wedging properly, go to How To Wedge Clay A Beginner’s Guide With A Step By Step Video or check my Article on The Three different ways you can Wedge your clay.
It shows you three different ways of wedging to help you choose the one that works best for you.
Mistake #2: Using The Wrong Clay
If you’re throwing on the Wheel, and your piece feels like sandpaper against your hands, you’re most likely using the wrong Type of Clay. There are types of Clay that you can use for Throwing on the Wheel, while others are better for hand-building.
Although you can use any type of Clay when on the Wheel, not all of them will be easy to shape or center. Remember, when throwing on the Wheel, your piece needs to be smooth enough to work with you, not the other way around. If it feels like sandpaper or you feel like you’re exerting too much effort while molding your Clay, you will most likely have the wrong Clay.
What type of Clay to look for
If you’re a beginner Throwing on the Wheel, it’s best to look for strong and smooth Clay with little to no grog or sand. A clay with this property may take longer to center and gives you more time to pull up the wall. But if your clay too soft, your piece will collapse faster.
If you’re hand-building, you can use more grog or sand, making the Clay strong enough to hold up your piece. For beginners, I suggest the Amaco Buff Stoneware Clay 46 because it’s effortless to use on the Wheel and also works well when hand-building.
Don’t use Clay that has too much grog or sand when throwing. More grog or sand means the Clay will stay up longer, but also feels like coarse sandpaper and hurts your hands.
The number of clays available can be overwhelming when you’re just starting to learn Pottery. Check out Choosing Your Pottery Clay – Best Pottery Clay For Beginners. It will help you look for Clay that stays firm longer, user-friendly, and robust for building walls, making it a lot easier for you to make Pottery. I also have a Video below on Choosing your Pottery Clay for you to check out.
Mistake #3: Water Issues On Clay (Too Wet or Too Dry)
Water issues are the most common mistakes made by novices and seasoned potters. If you’re working on Clay that’s too dry and hard, you will find it almost impossible to get it centered on the Wheel, and if you do, it’s not easy to form. On the other hand, too much water will be easy to center your Clay and just as easy for your Clay to collapse when pulling up a wall.
Fortunately, water issues are the easiest mistakes to spot and fix. When working on Clay, you want it easy to mold. It should neither be too soft that you can’t shape it nor too dry that you can’t get it centered. If you feel like you’re struggling with your Clay, you’re most likely dealing with water issues.
Mistake #3.1: Not Enough Water on your Clay
If you craft pieces using Clay that doesn’t have enough water, you will have smoothness problems. It is not fun to work with and generally makes molding harder.
When working on Clay, make sure that it doesn’t feel dry against your hands. You also need to pay attention to how it molds; if you’re struggling to work with it, then you’re not using enough water.
I struggled for a long time until I figured out my Clay was too dry and hard. It didn’t matter how much water I added to it on the Wheel; the Clay was still hard in the center. The best way to deal with dry Clay is to take it off the Wheel and introduce more water. Wedge the water into your Clay until it’s malleable (workable) throughout.
Clay that has enough moisture is easy to use and soft enough that it molds to your will. A piece with enough water will stay centered on the Wheel without exerting too much effort.
If you feel that your Clay doesn’t have these properties, there are two things you can do;
- Take it off the Wheel and more water to your Clay. Spray water on and wedge it out. Continue to do this until it’s soft enough to throw.
- Let your Clay dry to bone hard and recycle it. If you are unfamiliar with recycling bone dry clay, read Recycle Bone Dry Clay In 6 Easy Steps – With A Guided Video. I found this method to be so easy, saving me so much Clay over the years.
Mistake #3.2: Too Much Water on your Clay
Having too much water on your Clay is just as common as not having enough. It can either be that your Clay started that way, or you’ve added too much water.
Just like not having enough water, Clay that is too soft will be easy to center but tough to shape anything. If you succeed in using Clay with too much water, your piece may lose its shape before you finish making it.
When my Clay was too soft, it was easy to center but not so good for throwing on the Wheel.
Before placing your Clay on the Wheel, wedge it. If it feels firm enough to shape it, you have the right consistency for your Clay. If it doesn’t feel right, here are two things that you can do to fix this issue:
- Look for an absorbent hard surface where you can wedge the excess water out. I prefer wedging on a wood or plaster surface because it absorbs water.
- If wedging didn’t work, you can flatten the Clay and lay it on a drying board, wood, or plaster. This method will take time, so you’ll have to take out a new piece and wedge it properly to get the consistency that you want for your Clay. I recommend checking your flattened Clay every 15 minutes.
This mistake may be common but easy to fix. Always remember, you want your Clay to have some moisture, but not a soggy or mushy, oversaturated piece.
Mistake #4: Body Positioning & Arm Placement
There are times when you have the best Clay possible, and you’ve wedged it properly, but it still feels too hard to center or shape. If this is your case, then you may be working with the wrong body positioning and arm placement.
Arm placement is an important technique you need to learn when throwing on the Wheel. Still, it won’t feel natural without proper body positioning. So, before you start throwing, follow these tips:
- Position your legs as close to the splash pan as possible.
- Keep your back straight and your arms anchored to your thighs or the side of your body.
- Move with your upper body, not just your hands and arms.
- Lean in and over your Clay keeping your back straight.
Anchoring your arms to your thighs or the side of your body will act as a support and will give you enough control while centering. Always remember that making Pottery doesn’t need a lot of strength, just proper positioning technique.
When working with your Clay, always follow these arm placement tips;
When centering Clay
- Pull your elbows towards your body
- Keep your body firm, back straight, and be mindful of your elbows.
- Firmly apply pressure on the Clay without using too much strength
- Hold the Clay on the side firmly with your anchor hand and control the Clay with your other hand in the karate position.
When Pulling up your walls
- Continue to keep your back straight
- Be mindful of the position of your arms. Don’t lock them against your body.
- Keep your hand and finger positions consistent throughout
Centering becomes more difficult with your elbows up in the air. This position only means one thing, you have less control over your Clay. If you position your arms correctly, it’ll be a lot easier for you to work on the Wheel.
There’s no real benefit in applying too much force other than just tiring yourself quickly. So always focus on the position of your arms and hands to apply the right amount of pressure with your upper body to center and form the Clay more easily.
Mistake #5: Pressing Too Hard On Your Clay
Clay is soft, and if you’re new to pottery making, it may feel like you have to use force just to keep it centered. The problem is, if you’re exerting too much effort pushing on the side with your anchor hand, you’ll keep throwing the clay off-center and wear yourself out.
One common misconception is that it requires a lot of energy, and throwing Clay on the Wheel is a strenuous activity. The truth is you don’t need a lot of strength when making Pottery. You just have to let the process take its course naturally and use your upper body.
When pulling up the walls
If you’re pressing your fingers too hard on your Clay, it can become uneven fast. The Clay can get too thin on the top, bottom, or even middle if you squeeze too hard. Keep your fingers firm and consistent, applying even pressure while pulling up the walls. Be mindful of not squeezing or pressing your Clay too hard. This will help keep your cylinder even.
To find a good throwing clay check out my Best Clays. These are clays I found to be very workable and have a nice smooth feel as you are throwing.
Mistake #6: Your Cylinder Collapses When Pulling Up the Walls.
Forming a Cylinder is the ultimate test of patience and skills. It’s arguably, the best moment when throwing on the Wheel. But what happens if it Collapses or is uneven when you are pulling up the walls? Most people who are new to pottery making can fall prey to these mistakes.
Let’s take a look at a few reasons why your cylinder collapses;
Don’t squeeze your fingers too hard and close together as you are pulling up your Clay.
Anchoring your left thumb against your right hand helps keep the pressure of your fingers consistent on the sides and the thickness even throughout your piece.
Using too much water and softening your Clay.
Most beginner potters use a lot of water. That’s to be expected. Even a pro will use a lot of water, but there is a simple fix. Use your sponge from time to time to get rid of the water. Then use your metal scraper to get the slip off the sides. Then you can reintroduce water again because you compressed the clay particles, helping to keep your Clay stronger longer.
This happens when there is more Clay on one side of the cylinder than the other. There are several reasons this can occur.
One is you are not applying even pressure, and your Clay becomes lopsided.
The second is your Clay is not centered correctly. If your Clay is off-center, your piece will follow. If you are having trouble with centering your clay READ 11 Problems Centering Clay and Easy Ways to Fix Them. I also have this VIDEO Centering Clay – 11 Problems – 11 Easy To Follow Solutions that could help.
Mistake #7: Trying to Open the Clay too Fast
Rushing on things when making Pottery is never a good idea. This is especially true when trying to open up the Clay. Some potters tend to push their finger down into the center too quickly, which is a big mistake — so big that there’s no way to fix it.
Pushing your finger into the center too quickly will create a deep hole in your piece, making the bottom flimsy, forcing you to start again!
You have to open up the Clay slowly and let the Wheel’s rotation do the work for you. Slowly opening your piece will allow you to create the perfect size inside, with a balanced distribution of Clay for the wall. Here are some steps that you need to do to be successful with this process:
- Dip your fingers into the bowl or pail of water.
- Position your thumbs on the center of your Clay.
- Push down on the Clay and start to open.
- Then place your anchor hand on the side of the Clay and push down with your fingers to continue opening.
- Don’t apply too much force.
- When you feel that your fingers start to dry up, dip it again into the bowl or pail of water.
- Repeat the process until you reach near the bottom of the Clay.
- Beginners should always measure with a needle tool to make sure you don’t go down too far.
Opening up your Clay takes a little practice but is easy to do once you get the feel of the Wheel and the Clay. Pottery may seem like physical activity, but the secret is to be patient. Professional potters don’t mold Clay with force; they let the rotation and gravity do the work.
Mistake #8: Wheel Speed (Too Slow or Too Fast)
When it comes to the speed of the Wheel, one speed does not fit all. Different speeds are used for several reasons. When you’re new at making Pottery, you can either take off like a bullet or go so slow it’s hard to create anything. Throwing on the Wheel becomes much easier when your Wheel is rotating at the proper speed at the proper time.
When learning how to throw on the Wheel sometimes, we can go too slow or way too fast. Countless times I would either hear the teacher say, “slow down your Wheel,” or “if you go any slower, your Wheel will stop.”
There are times when you need to slow down your Wheel, but not for centering your Clay. If your Wheel is going too slow when trying to center, you will find your Clay is moving you instead of you moving the Clay.
This problem can quickly be fixed: Speeding up your Wheel to at least medium-high, giving you more control over the lump of Clay, and centering your Clay faster.
If you’re trying to pull up your walls and your Wheel is going too slow, you will struggle. Speed up your Wheel to medium speed or a little less will help you create a nice piece of Pottery.
If your Wheel is moving too fast when bringing up a cylinder, it can quickly turn into a bowl.
The faster your Wheel moves, the faster the cylinder wants to flair out as it does naturally with the centrifugal force of the spinning wheel.
This problem can also quickly be fixed: Slow your Wheel down to medium speed or a little less and collar in the cylinder with both hands.
I’ve seen professional potters create beautiful pieces moving the Wheel slowly and fast.
The more you throw on the Wheel, the speeds will come naturally for you. Remember, if you go too slow, you have less control over the Clay, and if you go too fast, your Clay can spin out of control.
Once you get your Clay centered, staying at a med or med-low speed is a good rule of thumb until you find the speed that’s best for you. Because Pottery (just like any form of art) doesn’t have a specific set of rules. Some guidelines can help you with your pottery crafting journey.
Mistake #9: Clay cracks as it dries
You’ve just made this beautiful piece of Pottery. You take it off the Wheel and set it aside to dry. Once it has dried or has been bisque fired you notice a crack or two, and your heart sinks. The cracks can occur on the bottom, the rim, or even where you applied your handle.
The bad news is these cracks are hard to fix. So hard, most of the time you will end up having to make another piece. The good news is there are a few things you can do to help prevent these cracks.
Compress your Clay
When making anything on the Wheel, the #1 thing to do is to compress your Clay. I always compress the bottom and rim throughout making my Pottery. This technic works every time for me. Whenever I have rushed through or neglected to do it, that’s when an S crack arrived.
When you dry your Pottery, slow is the best way to go. Place your piece on a drying board or ware board to dry. Cover with plastic for at least the first day to slow down the initial drying process; this helps to prevent cracks.
If you have any problems with cracking when you attach handles or anything else to your Pottery. Brushing wax resist around the attached area helps your Clay dry slower and helps to prevent cracking as it dries.
Doing all three will increase your chances of avoiding those nasty cracks that ruin your Pottery. I rarely get cracks, but when I do it is always because I did not compress my clay or dried my piece too fast.
You can also read about How Long Pottery Should Dry Before Firing to prevent your pottery from cracking in the kiln.
Patience and practice is the key to becoming a successful Potter. Sure, you may hit a beginner’s luck on your first try, but it takes patience and practice to perfect the art of Pottery. Knowing the right texture for your Clay and applying the correct pressure takes time on the Wheel to master.
Always remember that making Pottery is not a skill that you can learn overnight. The techniques you can use to perfect your craft will come as you push your creative boundaries. Let’s stay dirty.