Clay Wedging 101: A Great Way to Teach and Learn to Wedge Clay Properly

Save your wrists and learn how to wedge clay the proper way!

wedge clay

In ceramics there are many things that you have to practice over and over before things click. Wedging is one of those things. At first, everybody wedges more air into the clay than they take out and it just takes time and experience to learn how to wrangle the clay into a nice homogeneous mass. I began teaching a beginning pottery class this week and I was reminded that wedging clay can be tricky to learn…and to teach. But I came across this video from potter Dorian Beaulieu that does a great job of demonstrating and explaining the wedging process. I am planning to model my instruction on Dorian’s from now on! – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

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**First published in 2009.
  • Reader L.

    As a beginner i have learned so much, you do not skip any information even small details which help a big deal in fact.
    I have a question, i bought two blocks of clay, red and grey one, excuse my ignorance with this field, both whan i started working with the dough have crackles and no elesticy at all, i thought maybe dryness is the cause so i put in bag add water, waited not to take long after wedging they returned the same!!! Although they are very soft and moist, this is driving me crazy!! Maybe bad quality? But in switzerland all must be tested before going to the market. All in google speak about cracles when drying no one spoke about when it ismoist.
    Thank you in advance if you can give me an advice.

  • Michele S.

    That was GREAT! Thank you so much. Good audio and vidio quality and the information was direct and clear. Thanks for sharing! I’ve watched other excerpts on wedging and this one was clean cut all the way around, and very much appriciated.

  • When I was an undergraduate at Nottingham and later Stoke on Trent, there was only one form of wedging. The lump to be wedged was cut with fine wire from left to right or right to left with one hand higher than the other so that one had a triangular shape left with a sharp edge at the top. When the piece in one’s hand was brought down sharply on the other it could not admit air but the original cutting allowed any air uncovered to be expelled. The ‘lump’ was then turned 90 degrees and the process continued. The clay was continually cut, thumped down and turned. This way the whole piece was cut into very fine portions expelling air and blending without losing the whole. If after cutting the pieces were gentle tapped, the softer layers would protrude slightly and was perfectly blended when no layers protruded. If this process was done with, say white & red earthenware, one would end up with a perfect buff clay. Left only half wedged would result in marbled clay.

  • Michael G.

    15 times, 76 times, 114 times, 365 times 7,000 times…who counts? Wedging is a fundamental part of making pots, either on the wheel or by handbuilding. I wedge until the clay feels ready. It has a feel to it that tells me it’s ready for working. As for the pugmill people…yeah, that’s nice if you have thousands of dollars to spend. I have been wedging for 30 or more years and no injuries. If you do it slowly, rhythmically, and steadily, you won’t injure yourself. Take your time, make it part of your pottery day. Sorry, it sounds like I’m lecturing…out…

  • Kathleen R.

    I remember being instructed about wedging, and part of the demonstration included slicing through the clay several times to view the clay from the inside, seeing how it changed throughout the wedging process. Now when I instruct students, I use this demonstration so they experience the transition in their wedging by not only feel, but by visual guide as well. It helps them learn their way into interpreting the need of the clay body they are currently wedging. There are many factors to consider… type of clay, amount of clay, moisture content, height of wedging table, height of potter, strength of ones arms, time of day (if one has worked long hours that day, wedging may become more difficult thus less effective), lunar cycle, (just kidding!) etc… we all know many factors influence wedging. I wedge until the clay feels ready, and haven’t had any failures.

  • As an instructor I appreciate the idea behind this video, however, it overlooks important information. Ergonomics, how an individual places their body to wedge clay is important, since both students and wedging areas are of different heights, is part of my introductory lecture.
    Consistency of the clay being used is also a key point that should be included in an instructional video of this importance. Finally, if I said to beginning students to wedge clay 75-100 times – they would walk out the door – somewhere half that amount generally seems to be very workable – but again the consistency of the clay is a big factor. How many beginning students actually know these things?

  • Michael D.

    Is it my imagination or did his speech get out of sync like an old godzilla movie when demonstrating the Asian technique? lol

    75 times seems like to me so I would wedge a larger piece than I need.
    So if I wedge it that much how long will it store before I have to wedge it again.

  • A Pauline H.

    A great way to see how the technique actually works. Still as we all know everything takes practice and this is no exception. You know it when you have it because it just feels right.

  • Connie F.

    OMG! 75 to 100 times. I should cancel my gym membership. I heard 37 times in another video. I am so confused.

  • I wedge about 35 times sometimes I find it really hard to wedge
    especially if the clay is cold. Really enjoy watching the videos.
    Keep them coming.

  • Lauren W.

    I call it the Rams Head and the Conch Shell and I live in the US. I think all of our names are descriptive though, which is the point.

  • Warning to all potters! Don’t listen to this guy, its a road to carpal tunnelville. I have been throwing pots for 30 years + and wedge maybe 3-4 times a year and when I wedge its 15-20 wedges max. Mixing clay is for pugmills and mixers!!!

    Your hands and wrists are your livelihood, don’t blow em out by wedging lots of clay.

  • Great video! I of course know how to wedge, but teaching someone else how to is a different matter, and this will help in my classes for those who want to learn. I almost never wedge right from the bag, unless it has that telltale spiral fracture that I believe indicates the clay may have been frozen. Like Darryl I have also taken to the cut & slam method as it is better for reclaiming clay from my scrap bucket. I was taught you only need do it about 30 times and you have created over a billion layers of clay. If that’s not enough to mix it, I don’t know what is!

  • Cynthia P.

    I was taught both methods but usually use the monkey/rams head. For very large amounts of clay, say seven pounds or more, this is almost impossible and I use the spiral method. Right out of the bag, I only wedge enough to get a little moisture out. But I reclaim everything, and I regularly wedge reclaimed clay 100 times.

    This was a great refresher, and I needed it. I sometimes wedge air INTO the clay as I go from wedging to kneading (years of bread baking), or else I just haven’t gotten all the air out in the first place. With reclaimed clay, I flatten and cone on the wheel several times while centering and this usually does the trick.

  • Jon Morgan S.

    excellent explanation of wedging – intersting that you use monkey’s head, someone else ram’s head and in andalucia and gibraltar we use bull’ss head – perhaps not wanting to offend our own rock apes!

  • Kathleen R.

    Nice video… sound was clear. I enjoy spiral wedging, usually about 30-40 times. Much more with recovering clay so it depends on what kind of clay I begin with. I also will add a piece of darker clay toward the end of spiral wedging. When I throw a bowl, there is often a swirl of color coming up through the bowl, creating some beautiful glazing effects with the different clays. I’ve also done this with porcelain and stoneware. My instructor cautioned me against it, but I’ve never had a piece crack or separate.

  • Rosemary, it was in a post of 21 Dec. 2009 here is the link, hope it works



  • Thanks for a simple and clear tutorial. I learned the spiral (Asian) technique in High School (many years ago) and have stuck with it. I’ve never counted how many wedges – a lot for reclaimed clay, and not so much for new clay 🙂

  • the sound and video are excellent. well explained. reading others “confessions” i must admit that i wedge max 10-15 times and had no problems with my work

    Dorian, is it really necessary to wedge so many times for hand building only?
    thanks, adi

  • Malcolm G.

    I spiral wedge (Asian method). I would only wedge 75 to 100 times if the clay needed it. That is, clay straight out of the bag (store bought processed clay) hopefully will not need to be wedged 75 times. A lot of clays straight out of the bag could not even take that because of moisture content issues (lack of). Clays that have been used, or need to be reclaimed might even need to be wedged more than a hundred times. As someone mentioned already, it’s not that big of a deal once you get going. Hey it’s great aerobic excersize!
    My feeling about comparing the two methods, (twenty five years experience) is I think that spiral wedging, (Asian method) is more efficient. Someone mentioned cut and slam previously, that is where you cut the clay in half and slam the two pieces togther then rock them, cut, slam, rock etc. I think that is useful for clays that have very uneven moisture content. All methods have their place. I see a lot of beginners attempting spiral wedge lapse into rams head or monkey face which leads me to think that it is easier.

  • Great video! As a begining thrower, I’ve never been taught well how to wedge. This will give me a great start and understanding of at least a few methods. Any comments on which of the two is better from those who have been potters longer?

  • Denise M.

    I see people are surprised at 75 times. Once you get going it is a fast rocking motion and that many times is over quickly.

    Thanks Stuart for the insight about chrysanthemum wedging. Interesting that Canada uses the same naming conventions as UK/Australia.

  • Denise M.

    In UK and Australia we have different names. The monkeys head is known as the rams head (we end up with side horns where the clay spirals under the hands as we don’t cup our hands over the ends to the same extent – I actually preferred Dorians method) and the Asian method is known as the spiral method. Its always interesting the way potters use different jargon in different parts of the world. I guess the Asian method came out of Japan with Bernard Leach hence the name.

  • Thank you very much!! I learn so much from these videos. By the way, the video and audio were perfect-I have never had a problem with the quality of any ceramic daily videos.
    Will have to practice this as I have not been doing this method.

  • Stuart A.

    In Edmonton, Canada, where I learned to pot, Beaulieu’s first-shown method of wedging clay was referred to as ‘ram’s head’ wedging and was the only one that was taught. Years later, I learned the second method, which was called ‘circular’ or ‘spiral’ wedging. More recently, when I had an apprenticeship in Japanese style potting, my instructor asked me if I knew how to do ‘chrysanthemum wedging.’ I asked if that was the same as circular wedging. No, he replied, Watch. He proceeded to wedge about 25 lbs of clay, which under his hands became a large circle of slowly rotating clay on the upper surface of which were uniformly-spaced indentations, made by the heal of his repeatedly pushing hand. The elegant over- all pattern in the clay was that of the common Japanese stylistic representation of a chrysanthemum flower.

  • Pauline H.

    I use the boar’s head method – but 75 times – I’d collapse! I have never got to grips with spiral or asian wedging, but I’m going to watch a few more times and have another go. I still can’t imagine 75 to 100 times though.

  • worked fine both vid and sound. i use european but call it bull nse method. actually use de-airing pug mill most of the time.

  • Really helpful. Especially the progress the added clay ball makes. I am still kneading instead of wedging… practice, practice, practice! Thanks.

  • Subscriber T.

    Your monkey or ram’s head is my ET. But then again you have to be my age to know who ET is! Great pointers!

  • Shelley M.

    Great way of teaching it. I’ve called the first technique the Ram’s Head, because i didn’t cup my hands like he does and my monkey face had horns! I’m going to try it with the cupping. It looks a little more efficient. I also have never wedged 75 times! That’s more than I imagined the clay needed. Good video. Thanks!

  • I liked adding the little clay knot to see how the clay travels; I am going to incorporate that into my teaching.

  • Darryl W.

    Both techniques are more labor entensive and exhausting than simple traditional repetitive slice, roll & smack technique.

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