Tips and Tools: Brace Yourself

Whether you are just beginning your career as a potter or are a seasoned veteran, many of us will encounter back pain along the way. There are a number of things we can do to ensure good back health including exercising and using our legs to lift while keeping objects close to the body.

Studio work often finds us sitting at the wheel for extended sessions. Bending over the wheel while pushing on the clay creates a lot of stress on the lower back. This repeated act can lead to debilitating pain and loss of work time.

I have suffered with back pain throughout my career and the simple act of standing has helped to increase efficiency and decrease back strain while working at the wheel.

In order to stand at the wheel you will need to accessorize the tool a bit. First you need to raise the height of the wheel. You can stack cinder blocks and bricks or buy leg extensions produced by many wheel manufacturers. I fabricated a platform with a large work surface that accommodates clay and tools (1). You’ll want to adjust the wheel head to be about navel height.

You will also need to build a back brace—mine is based on John Glick’s design. It is essential to make a two-cushion system. The upper cushion supports the lumbar area while the lower cushion supports the buttocks. If you only have one cushion you tend to lose the arch in the lower back. I created my cushions out of scrap lumber, medium-density foam, and a vinyl cloth stapled over it (2). A piece of u-channel screwed to the cushion frame and bolted to an upright support allows for a customized fit (3 and 4). I also recently purchased the back brace used by Glick’s apprentices so I can have a second standing wheel workstation.

Like anything new it will take a bit of practice to become comfortable standing while throwing (5 and 6). Give it a try and your back will thank you.

To learn more about John Glick’s design and his helpful back tips for potters, check out his article, “To Sciatica and Back,” The Studio Potter, Vol 15, No. 2, 1987, available as a PDF on his website at www.plumtreepottery.com/articles.

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