Tips and Tools: Forming Coils

There is more than one way to make a coil. Experiment with flat and triangular coils and learn how each type of coil has its benefits.

Beginning ceramics students often focus on trying to make the most consistently round coils possible. Round coils, however are often not always the most effective shape for building. It may be better to think of the round coil as the basic starting point that you can expand upon. In this article, I’ll introduce you to the flat coil and the triangle coil.

1 A round coil. Round coils are the basic starting point for coil building.

2 A flat coil. Flat coils are round coils that have been flattened. Flat coils allow for forms to be built taller and faster.

Flat Coils

To make a flat coil, start with a round coil (1) and flatten it with a paddle or rolling pin (more advanced students could also use the palm of their hand) (2).

• Flat coils add height by making walls taller faster.

• Similar to slabs, flat coils are good at horizontal curves, but less suited to vertical curves.

• Flat coils are good for precise forms and avoiding surface texture.

• If you like to handbuild with a paddle and a Surform, flat coils may be a good choice for you.

3 A triangle coil. Triangles are the strongest shape and have many advantages to handbuilding.

Triangle Coils

To make a triangle coil, start with a round coil and pinch or flatten one side of it (3). Considering that a triangle is the strongest shape, it’s no surprise that they have many advantages in handbuilding.

• By stacking triangle coils, it is easier to squish the rows together.

• This also distributes the stress points between the wetter and drier layers, which results in less cracking.

• Triangles inherently have thinner and thicker areas, and can be pinched up, in, or out to add height and shape as you build.

• Building this way will leave texture, and slightly thinner and thicker areas. If you want clean, precise forms, go back to the flat coil.

• Use small triangle coils for filling gaps and reinforcing corners.

4 When building a form with a steep outward angle, attach triangular coils at the thinner ends.

5 When building a form with a steep inward angle, attach triangular coils at the thicker ends.

Triangle Up or Triangle Down?

Look at what you’re making and think about the shape you’re aiming for or angles you’re joining.

• If you’re going straight up, either way will work.

• For a steep angle outward, attach the triangle at the thinner end, leaving more clay left to stretch outward (4).

• For a steep angle inward, attach the triangle at the thicker end (5).

the author Priya Thoresen received a BA in studio art from Berea College in 2009, and an MFA from Arizona State University in 2017. Thoresen is currently a lecturer at the University of Minnesota and an adjunct faculty member at Concordia University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. To learn more and see Thoresen’s work, visit www.priyathoresen.com.

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