Search the Daily

Published Apr 3, 2024

Carving clay is a great way to create pots that are both pleasing visually and to the touch. But you have to plan some things out if you want to be successful with this type of decoration. 

In this post, an excerpt from the Pottery Making Illustrated archive, Kirsty Kash shares some great tips for carving clay that will help you make professional-looking and beautiful carved pots. –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

Preparing Your Pot for Decoration

Consider using a smooth, white clay body. I like Plainsman Clays’ Polar Ice, a cone 5–6 porcelain clay body. What draws me to this clay body is its fine-grained texture, which makes it ideal for carving, and the luminous white surface that brings out the vibrancy of underglazes.

I suggest starting with a small and simple form. At first, avoid handles and dramatic curves, as they make carving trickier. When throwing, do your best to maintain an even wall thickness of approximately 3/16 inch (4mm) throughout the pot to prevent accidental carving through thin areas. Before removing your piece from the wheel, clear away the excess slip and smooth the surface with a flexible metal or rubber rib. Trim the foot.

Applying Wax Resist

When your piece is leather hard, use a foam craft brush to apply a thin, even coat of wax resist to the exterior of the pot (1), covering all parts exposed to air, including the bottom and handle. Plainsman Clays’ Wax Resist Emulsion R is a good option for its smooth application and hardening properties. 

1 Start with a simple form with even wall thickness. Apply a thin coat of wax resist. 2 Plan your surface design with a permanent marker before carving.

After about 10 minutes, the wax should be cured and ready for carving and inlaying. Tip: Placing a soft piece of plastic inside the cup while carving helps to slow the drying process.

Planning a Pattern

Next, use a permanent marker to map out your design and envision how it will flow around the form before carving (2). This method enables you to work out your composition and make any necessary adjustments before carving.

The design that I carve is inspired by doodles I used to idly draw in the margin of notebooks. I encourage you to carve a pattern or motif that is meaningful for you!


3 Using a sharp carving tool, carve through the design about 1mm deep. 4 Continue the carving all the way around the pot. Finished mug by Kirsty Kash.

Carving the Pattern

Carve when the clay is a chocolate leather hard—firm enough to handle but still scored easily with a fingernail. If the clay is too soft, it’s challenging to maintain control of the carving tool, it may leave burrs, and it can be easy to carve through the pot by accident. It is best to stop and wait until the clay is firmer. On the other hand, if the clay is too dry, it can lead to hand strain, release clay dust into the air, and will quickly wear down carving tools.

I use the DiamondCore Tools P1 Curved V Tip and carve about 1mm deep. Begin carving at the top of the piece (3), which will dry first. Turn it in whichever direction feels most comfortable and handle the piece gently, as areas that have already been carved are delicate (4). Tip: As you carve, collect the small ribbons of clay in a container of water to prevent releasing dust into the air. Allow your piece to dry slowly under thin plastic for several days.

Kirsty Kash lives with her family in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she works in her home studio. You can find her on Instagram at @kirstykash or on her website at

**First published in 2023.