Wedging may very well be one of the least liked, but the most important parts of the pottery-making process. Whether by hand or machine, it has to be done.
You can feel the difference in your clay when it’s nicely wedged. It’s smoother and much easier to mold, which of course, we all want when we’re making pottery.
There are five different ways to wedge clay that I have tried and I am going to share all of them with you. Find out which one is the best for you.
Before you start Wedging, there are a few things you will want to do.
Have The Right Surface To Wedge On
Because clay is sticky, you need to wedge on a surface that your clay won’t easily stick to. I’m wedging on a 24 x 24-inch (61cm) piece of plywood the guy at the hardware store cut for me.
Always Weigh Out Your Clay
Weighing your clay is a good habit to get into because it’s helpful to know how much clay you need for the items you are making.
When learning how to wedge, you should start with one to three pounds (.50 to 1.4 kg) of clay. A scale is an important part of playing with clay especially being a new potter, you need to know how much clay is needed to make different items or to make a few of the same size item. You don’t want your clay balls to be too small or too large. For now at least 1 pound (.50kg) or whatever amount fits most comfortably in your hands will be fine until you get the hang of it.
NOTE: I will be using 3 pounds (1.4 kg) of clay for each wedging technique.
Being In The Correct Position
Before you start to wedge, you want to make sure your body is in the correct position, and your wedging table is the correct height. Since you will be wedging a lot of clay throughout your pottery journey, the correct position and height will make a big difference and help make wedging easier.
You don’t want to wedge on a table that’s too short or high. When you feel undue pressure on your back, your table is probably too low. If you feel too much pressure on your shoulders and arms, your table is probably too high. A good height for a wedging table is around your hip area.
Keeping your back straight helps as you lean into the clay. Using your whole body allows your body weight to help wedge the clay and also gives you more control over the clay.
NOTE: Keep in mind you will only need to wedge thoroughly for recycled clay or mixing mason satins or other colorants into your clay.
Fresh Clay right out of the bag only needs to be wedged 30 to 40 times and the stack and slam about 10 to 15 slices.
1) The Rams Head
- When starting the rams head wedge, you want to form your clay into a rectangular or square shape.
- Place your thumbs on the top of the clay.
- Place your fingers gently around the clay (don’t squeeze your fingers into the clay.)
- Press your palms inward as you are pushing the clay down and away from you (towards the wall). Make sure you’re using your body weight.
- Move your hands back to the top of the rams head and bring the top up towards you and place the lower tip or nose of the ram’s head on the board.
- Press inward, downward and towards the wall.
- When pressing down and away, make sure you’re also pushing at least an eighth of the ram’s horn inward with the pads of your hands right below your thumbs.
- You want to start a rocking motion when pushing in, down, and away and pulling the clay back towards you.
This is how your Rams head should look.
You should wedge at least 30 times when it’s fresh out of the bag. When it’s recycled clay, you will need to wedge it at least a 100 times if not more depending on the condition of your clay.
A Few Things to Look Out For When Rams Head Wedging
- Be careful not to fold your clay over. This will create air pockets. Make sure you’re pushing the clay in and not folding it over.
- Don’t push your clay down too hard. You don’t want your rams head to look like it was hit by a car.
- Make sure your hands aren’t too far apart. The ram’s horns will start to spread too far out.
You want to keep a nice smooth rhythm. I like to think of it as good exercise. After your clay is well wedged, you can roll up the nose then pat the sides and form it into a ball.
Using 3 pounds (1.4 kg) of clay I am going to add color to half of the clay with Evergreen Mason Stain and wedge the two colors until they blend together.
The Ram’s Head Wedge took a little over 6 minutes and 200 wedges to blend the two colors together. It’s good to know how long and how many wedges it takes to blend the clay.
2) The Spiral
The Spiral or Shell Wedging is another method you may want to try. It’s a little trickier but still easy to learn.
This method is similar to the Ram’s Head in the way they both create a swirl pattern. The Spiral mixes the clay very well, by removing any lumps, making the clay more workable and also eliminates air bubbles effectively.
- Form your clay into a rectangular shape, with your thumbs together and place them on the top of your clay.
- You want to twist the clay a little to the left (counterclockwise) while you are pushing the clay down with your palms.
- Bring the top of the clay (where your hands are) back up to its side by rolling it up to the left.
- Turn the bottom tip of the clay 15 degrees to the left and move your hands an inch or so (depending on the size of your hands) to the left.
- Push back down with your palms a little to your left.
- When pushing down, don’t push too hard. Just concentrate on the top where your hands are, and the rest will follow.
- Make sure you are not creating a hole in the middle of your spiral where air can get trapped.
Notice how you are only pushing down with a twist when wedging this way. You will know fairly quickly if you are doing it correctly, your clay will have a spiral shape that looks like a shell.
You should wedge at least 20 times when it’s fresh out of the bag. If it’s been recycled, you will need to wedge 100 times if not more depending on the condition of your clay.
Taking 3 pounds (1.4 kg) of clay and mixing half with Evergreen Mason Stain, see how many Spiral wedges it will take to blend the two colors together.
The Spiral Wedge took a little less than 4 minutes and only 100 wedges to blend the two colors together. The Spiral Wedge blended nicely in a short amount of time.
3) The Stack and Slam
This method is one of the easiest and also great at compressing clay, which in turn helps to prevent cracking.
- Start with your clay in a rectangular shape. Take your wire and cut your clay in half.
- Stack the clay on top of one another, like you are folding it over.
- It’s important not to dig your fingers in the clay. Doing this will create air bubbles
- Slap the clay down on the wedging board.
- Continue to rotate the clay in a rectangular shape and slap it down 5 to 7 times to compress it together.
You will want to cut the clay in half at least 10 times and 25 times or more if it’s recycled clay.
When you’re done slamming your clay around it will be in a rectangular shape. You will want to slap the corners down to form it into a ball, so the moisture content stays even throughout the clay. Then you can start playing with your clay.
With the Stack and Slams method see how many slices is it going to take to bend the 3 pounds (1.4 kg) of clay together.
The two colors blended beautifully together with the Stack and Slam taking only a little over 6 minutes, 25 slices, and around 140 slams. This technique is great for anyone that has issues with there wrists. It is by far the simplest method of wedging.
4) Wheel Wedging
Also called Coning or Towering, is wedging on the pottery wheel.
- Throw your clay on the middle of the wheel
- With both, your hands bring the clay up to a tall tower shape.
- Place your anchor hand on the side of the clay, use the other hand to push the top of the tower down on an angle and away from you.
- Continue to push the clay down.
- Forming the clay into a beehive shape.
- Do this about three times to five times.
- You don’t want to wedge your clay too many times because you’re using water with this technique. If you introduce too much water into the clay, it can soften the clay making it mushy and merely impossible to make anything.
Using 3 pounds (1.4 kg) of clay to blend these two colors together with the Wheel Wedge.
Wheel Wedging took only a few minutes and 4 times towering up the clay to blend pretty well.
5) A Pug Mill
Having a Pugmill is a wonderful alternative to hand wedging, but this luxury comes at a price. A good Pugmill costs anywhere from three thousand to six thousand US Dollars depending on the size and bells and whistles it has.
If you’re not familiar with a Pugmill, it’s a machine with a horizontal chamber that loads on the top. The chamber is a metal cylinder with an auger inside. An auger looks like a large screw. It turns and wedges the clay, discharging the wedged clay at the other end.
When I used a pugmill in class and I liked it. You do have to be careful not to add too much or too little water. Because I recycle clay a lot I will be keeping my eye out for one in the future. I love the convenience of it.
Pugmills do have to be cleaned often, especially if you use different clay bodies, but it’s still worth it.
Why Is It So Necessary To Wedge Your Clay
Smooths Out Lumpy Clay
Well wedged clay will get rid of any large or small lumps that may be lurking in your clay and will make your clay more malleable (workable).
Makes the Clay More Plastic
Plastic is the flexibility of the clay. Wedging helps the clay particles or platelets align with each other making the clay easier to mold.
Makes the Clay Homogenous
This term used in pottery means giving your clay even moisture consistency throughout. Having an even consistency in your clay is important for reducing the risk of your pottery cracking because your piece will dry more evenly.
Removes the Air Bubbles
Air bubbles have to be one of the most irritating things to find in your clay when you’re trying to center or throw on the wheel. The bigger the air bubbles, the more difficult it becomes. Wedging most certainly helps to get rid of them.
You may have heard air bubbles will cause your piece to explode. The air bubble itself does not do that. It’s the moisture that gets trapped in the air bubble that would cause it to explode. For more information on drying your pottery check out my post on How Long Pottery Should Dry Before Firing.
The Ram’s head and the spiral wedges both wedge the clay in a similar way by mixing the clay in a swirling motion. The Ram’s Head Wedge is more popular because it is easier to learn. With a little more practice the Spiral Wedge gets easier.
Wheel Wedging is convenient and easy to wedge and the Stack and Slam is by far the easiest method to do.
It’s nice to have different ways to wedge, allowing you to choose the one or ones that work best for you. Which wedge are you going to choose?
Since every potter has to have a surface to wedge clay on. There are also different surfaces you can choose from to wedge on like Masonite, Concrete, Granite, and the most common being Plaster, Plywood, and Plywood covered in canvas. These are all good options.
Now that you have some basics on how to wedge, head on over this article that will help you with learning How To Fix Problems with Centering Clay. With a little help and a lot of practice, Centering and Wedging will become second nature.
If you are just starting out with your new hobby or maybe thinking of pottery making career I highly advise you to take some pottery classes. You will speed up your learning process immensely. I explain in this article exactly why it’s important Every New Potter Take Pottery Class.
Remember Our Motto Is Progress over Perfection
Keep making that Beautiful Pottery