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Published May 17, 2024

how to make a coil pot

Until several years ago, I hadn’t had much interest in making coil pots. I preferred the speed of the potters wheel. But after seeing the ceramic coil building methods of artists like Gail Kendall and Kari Radasch, I became more and more intrigued by the the potential of coil pots.

In this post, Karen Terpstra shows us how to make a jar using flat coils rather than the more traditional snakelike coil. Making coil pottery with this method has several advantages, including saving time! - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

Making large jars with flat coils has been done for centuries in many parts of Asia and Southeast Asia. Master potters in Korea made thousands of flat-coiled storage jars—primarily used for kimchi, the national dish of Korea comprised of pickled vegetables seasoned with garlic, red pepper and ginger. Once the basic method is learned, anyone can make large jars (or any size functional or sculptural object) with a flat coil method. I started learning with small jars and teapots, but now I make large jars that defy gravity and would normally collapse if wheel thrown. I also make many sculptural forms—horse heads, large full-body horses, torsos and columns—using this method.

One big advantage with this method is that you can change directions rather drastically by letting the flat coils become leather hard. Another advantage is the variety of sculptural forms you can make. This method also saves a lot of time by using 2-inch flat coils instead of small round coils.

It’s really timesaving to work in a series. Build up three to six rows of “coils” on several ware boards at one time. By the time you’re finished with the last one, you can start again on the first one.

Roll the clay through the slab roller about 1/8 - 1/4 inch larger than your desired wall thickness. The walls will be thinner by the time you smooth and paddle the shape. Cut the clay into flat coils about 2 inches wide for a large jar.

Slightly dampen the ware board or bat with a sponge for the first flat coil. Attach the flat coil firmly in place then secure another flat coil. Since you will be building the lower section of the jar upside down, place the flat coil to the inside of the previous flat coil. This makes the diameter become smaller with each row.

Also, put plastic on the inside of the jar to hold in the moisture. Smooth the seams inside and out while building.

Let the first few rows strengthen to leather hard so that they will hold the weight of additional coils. Once the lower portion is leather hard, keep it wrapped in plastic, so that it doesn't dry out as you continue to work. Once the lower portion of the jar is completed and leather hard, you need to strengthen the walls. I use a paddle and a rounded piece of wood I call an "anvil," which I hold on the inside of the pot. This technique also helps to obtain the desired shape.

Cut out a circle from a slab for the bottom of the jar. Slip, score and attach the bottom.

Paddle it to reinforce the seam. Cover the piece and let it strengthen overnight. This also allows the moisture content to equalize.

The next morning, turn the jar over, and score and slip the edge. Since the form will be very leather hard by this time, add a small round coil to the edge.

The fresh coil provides an anchor to work off of while adding more flat coils. Now that the jar is right side up, you can add the shoulder.

Cut out a rim from a slab and attach to the top of the jar. Sometimes I smooth the jar a bit more, or alter the rim by rotating it slowly on the wheel and using a wet sponge or rib.

**First published in 2009