A Couple of Helpful Tips for the Clay Studio

Wheel Wedging Board

Clay people are a clever lot. It never ceases to amaze me how many interesting and innovative tools and techniques ceramic artists come up with to make their processes more efficient or to achieve the end result for which they are aiming. And the great thing is, clay people are always willing to share their tips. We often get tips from our readers and we publish a few choice tips every month in Ceramics Monthly. Today, I’m sharing a couple of those with you here in the Daily, including the wheel wedging board (shown above) from Sylvia Shirley of Pittsburg, Kansas . Enjoy! – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

The Scrapper Keeper!
by Dawn Burnham, Mayberly, Ontario, Canada

the scrapper keeperI like to collect my clay trimmings for reclaim and I try to keep them off the studio floor so I don’t track them around, causing unnecessary dust trails and a huge health hazard. To make the scrap collection and clean up process easier, I found a clean, large, plastic drum and cut it in half. I kept the bottom intact except for a round notch that fits underneath and around the wheel head.

close up of the scrapper keeperGranted, some scraps fall to the floor but it’s not as messy as having trimmings flying everywhere. I also removed a third from the top of the drum so I can view my thrown pots in the mirror I mounted in front of my wheel. I use the mirror instead of constantly turning my head upside down or rotating the pot. Hope this is of some use to other potters.


Wheel Wedging Board
by Sylvia Shirley, Pittsburg, Kansas

Wheel Wedging BoardAlthough I hate to wedge and normally use the clay straight out of the bag, sometimes it just can’t be avoided. So I designed a neat little wedging board to use while sitting right at the wheel. It is easy to re-wedge collapsed pots on the spot instead of tossing the clay off to the side and forgetting about it. Cut a scrap of 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch plywood to fit the splash pan. It should fit into the back part of the splash pan and extend over the front edge. Cut the corners off the front edge, to protect your knees. Then cut a scrap of drywall to the same size and shape and run duct tape on the long sides to hold it in place. Attach some spacers to the underside of the board to raise up the front edge of the wedging board for better ergonomics. Wrap the whole thing tightly with heavy canvas and staple it to the back. The canvas will keep the paper and plaster bits out of the clay.

To use the wedging board, just drop it into the back of the splash pan and let it rest on top of the front edge. That’s it. It is the perfect size for wedging small to medium sized balls. You can also use it flat, hooked over the edge of a table.

Above: The wedging board placed inside a splash pan.
Below: Plans shown from top, bottom, and side angles.

Wheel Wedging Board schematic

**First published in 2010

  • Mike K.

    If the wedging board is tilted down-away from the potter, you’d have to bend way over the board to use it. You must have a very young back.
    Try standing, with the board on a tall table, slopping up & away. You will have the power of your legs and gravity working with you.
    My favorite saying, “work smarter not harder”.

  • The cut bucket idea is great.
    As for the wedging board, I don’t understand the need for the spacers or stoppers underneath. Why does it have to be in a slanted position ? Why all this fuss ?
    I sometimes use a simple broad plank put across my Shimpo wheel, when in a hurry and the wedging table is messy. Much simpler.
    But I agree with some of the comments here, wedging is much better done standing. It also has a calming effect on the potter, a sort of meditation and centering of the soul, instead of rushing to the wheel. Very much like the grinding of the ink stick on the ink stone before doing calligraphy. A very necessary step.

  • Carolyn E.

    When I want to wedge some scrap that has dried out enough in an old bag I just use the method that leaves you with a cone when done ( don’t remember the name) right on the aluminum surface of the wheel. Surprisingly it does work if not too wet and not too much. I primarily use scrap for catchers, as I am doing crystal glazes with porcelain cone 10 clay.

  • Charmaine W.

    I am def going to try the wedging board idea…
    Thanks for info
    Charmaine Johannesburg South Africa

  • Kathleen R.

    Thanks for all the good suggestions! I appreciate the contributions you have made to my strategy for throwing and taking care of my back. About 15 years ago I did have a German kickwheel that was waist high…. made out of cast iron I think. It weighed quite alot. I sold it at one point to a friend who needed a wheel because my knees and hips weren’t good enough to put that kind of stress on my physical form. Very cool concept…. at the time I didn’t have the resources to try and put a motor on it. I wonder now if that would have been possible?

  • Heather G.

    I learned to throw at a standing kickwheel. I think it is much easier on the back but it can be harder on your feet. A rubber stress reducing floor mat (available at hardware or restaurant supply warehouse) can help reduce fatigue. I have several in my studio but am most grateful for the one at the sink. I spend half my time cleaning/rinsing equipment.
    They are still making the Klopfenstein kick wheel. They are made of welded steel and last FOREVER. New ones are advertised in CM. I found mine used. You might find a used one too. Many schools used them and sell them when they make the switch to electric powered wheels.

  • I loved your ideas on collecting scraps, and the portable wedging board
    my Portable is plaster in a dollar store plastic tub with a sheet of canvass cut to fit .it sits on top of two 5 stacked gallon plastic paint, cement type cans with lids.I throw my trimmings and unwanted clay with water into these also.

  • Miranda B.

    Hi Kathleen, I’m pretty sure that was John Glick posting about throwing while standing; there is alot of information on his set-up in CM archives… I personally throw with my wheel up on cinder blocks while I remain seated much lower than the “norm”… having the wheelhead at belly-button height reduces bending… I have short legs so it works for me, but if you are tall I recommend sitting high enough for your legs to be stretched out, but this means your wheel needs to be that much higher!Hope this was helpful.

  • For Tall people Or people with bad backs ,
    I put my wheel on adjustable height extension legs and locking castors, I also use an adjustable hight and tilt comfortable armless, office chair, I can change its position to help me get up and streach! I was also taught to put a brick or two under the foot that is not on the pedal to keep you balenced this will also help your back. After your pottery session try a warm-hot shower,or bath, if you dont have acess to a warm water pool, jacuzzi and massage.
    Joanne Atl N ceramics handbuilding and pottery meet up

  • Kenneth B.

    KF at 8:30 AM 16 January

    I’m back into pottery after a 50 year vacation and am appreciating the comments here…I have lower back, knee, wrist, shoulder, brain and other issues unmentionable…with a wheel still boxed under my carport. I can’t visualize some of the scrap collection methods mentioned, but will no doubt figure one out for me….most things evolve over time.

  • Alice H.

    To keep trimming scraps off the floor,I use 2 cheap or used cutting mats the kind you use in the kitchen to chop on. They bend easily and I attach them to the inside of my splash pan using a couple lumps of clay on the edges to secure.

  • Marsha K.

    Think the scrap guard is a great idea. Wish I’d thought of it.
    I’d never sit to wedge. My massage therapist said to stand and walk around a bit every 20 minutes for my back’s sake.

    I enjoy all the varied aspects and great ideas of our craft that Ceramic Arts Daily gives us. Thank you.
    Marsha Koenig

  • What fun to read all the postings here. I should have made a drawing of the drum, but. Its origin was a local carwash…45 Imp. gal = 55 US gal. It was formerly used for detergent so no nasty chemicals to worry about.

    I would think a recycling centre or country dump would be thrilled to have this sort of container removed (instead of chipping).

    I want to thank Ceramics Monthly and Daily for printing the ‘TIP’. Have received emails from all over …England, New Zealand, New York, requesting the above info……..in the middle of winter, its great to be in touch with all of you.

    Dawn Burnham

  • Kathleen R.

    John who posted January 11th… could you elaborate on throwing while standing? How high is your wheel? If anyone else wants to contribute too…. I’m really needing some feedback. I had 10 levels of my spine fused five months ago… am adapting my studio and trying to find a way I can continue with a back that doesn’t bend. I feel like I’m back in my first class… I realized I have to start from scratch…. throwing cylinders just to practice from this new position. I would love to have feedback from anyone who has come up with ways to continue throwing without being bent over the wheel. I’m also thinking that it may be time to have a pug mill to reclaim clay as I can’t lift the way I used to. A slab roller might be in my future too…. Will see how this year goes! Any comments? (I’m not a full time potter…. that didn’t wreck my back. Genetic scoliosis.)

  • Patricia P.

    a good place for barrels is a local pop bottling plant. They get their syrup in large (55 gal) food grade plastic barrels which you can buy. Locally, I pay $5. Then, with a saw I cut them to whatever shape I need them.

  • David D G.

    I wedge on top of the wheel head using a large wooden bat set over the standard wing nut heads installed in the wheel. I turn the wheel head a little each time so the wear is distributed evenly and avoid creating flat spots in the bearing that might cause vibration.
    I do not see any problem with using this method or the wheel head directly if this is used as a stop gap measure and not a primary means of wedging. It is a a real time saver to have something handy while I am right at the wheel. Also, some porcelains require fresh re-wedging right before throwing and this is very good for that.

  • A wheel head has to be kept level. I am afraid that pressure from wedging would compromise this. I have found that reclaimed clay has more elasticity if it is left to age a bit. But if it works for you, great.

  • Nancy S.

    Even if you don’t use the wheel wedging board on the wheel, it’s a great design for a homemade wedging board. Thanks!

    As for barrels, you can get 55-gallon rain barrels for $8-12 if you know where to look. In central PA, there’s a place on Rt. 104 called “Route 104 Barrels” – Google for the website if you’re interested.

  • Charna S.

    Being a potter and a massage therapist, it is a great idea to get off your buttresses…stretch and wedge your clay on the table. Body mechanics is so important as I have wished I was taught in pottery many years ago when I first started.

  • Frank B.

    I think the off center pressure would be very damaging to the wheal head and tray.

  • Reader L.

    I think the wheel wedging would put an excess of stress on all the wheel parts. Especially the surround.

  • Thanks for the great tips. I just stopped trimming everything, life’s better 🙂 I have been working at a studio that is totaled much of the time, I use porcelain so I have been wedging on my wheel head using a wood composite bat with wheel pins. I have a small living space so everything has to serve duel purposes.

  • I made a similar catch pan using a mortar mix pan I found at Lowe’s. It is 24″x34″,18″ deep. black corregated plastic, I cut the end off and slit the bottom to fit around the wheel head. It cost $20 and is large enough to hold my water bucket, tools and all slop, trimmings ect. When I want to collect to recycle, I just slip it out from under the wheel and sort of fold it, tip the stuff into a bucket,add water and stir.

    Since I made this, I haven’t had to mop the floor in weeks!!!

  • Shelley G.

    I too like to reclaim my clay. While it cost just enough, it’s an expense that I choose to reserve at my discretion. I like the idea of the plastic drum. As for the wedging board, because I have a bad back, I can see the practicality in wedging while sitting. Sometimes, it just hurts too much to stand and wedge. Thanks. I will definitely be looking for a resource for both applications. Thanks again.

  • Denis R.

    For years I have used a piece of thin (about 1/16) flexible aluminum sheeting about 10-12″ wide. I wrap it around the wheel inside the splash basin of my shimpo. I turn down the exposed corners to blunt them. Some trims get on the floor, but most are caught, and I empty the basin periodically.
    Denis Rauchman

  • Pauline H.

    I have used a wedging board situated in my wheel for some time now, but not nearly so sophisticated as this one. I am going to adapt mine tomorrow – thanks for the diagrams.

  • Shirley P.

    OOps, forgot to add–buckets can be purchased for about $5-$10 at places like Home Depot or any lumber supply store. I sometimes get them free at fast food, home town restaurants or bakeries. They come to these businesses filled with everything from pie fillings to pickles.

  • Shirley P.

    I have a Lockerbie wheel which has a large apron out front. To catch scraps, I use an empty clay box and a C-clamp to hold it still. Leaves very little debris on the floor and all that’s caught is recycled. The wheel wedging board would be a boon to any potter who takes their show on the road and does demos.

  • My version of the drum is to use 3 large clamps. The type of clamp, that you would squeeze the handle to lock and press a leaver on the handle to release. I place the clamps on the drip pan at 8:00, 12:00 and at 4:00 then I take a long strip of plastic (painters drop sheet), hook it over the clamp handles and let the rest of the plastic fall between the wheel and the drip pan. Works like a charm.

  • A great idea but I have learnt to take constant breaks from the wheel sitting position – getting up and doing a bit of wedging relieves the strain on lower back

  • Juliet O.

    I’m totally with you on saving scraps: I hate wasted material. For those who do cannot find a plastic barrel (a rain-runoff collector barrel would do; but it would be pricey)- try a large plastic trashcan; they’re usually less than 30 bucks at Lowe’s, Home Depot and WalMart. Cardboard placed behind your wheel will direct the cast-offs toward the trash can and when you’re done for the day, you can put the lid on it!

  • I never sit when throwing; too hard on a previously injured spine. I stand when throwing and have an ideal height work bench for wedging. However, for you younger, supple, resilient potters, the wheel wedging board is a “cool” idea.

  • Allan W.

    The Giffin grip brings my trimming surface higher than the edge of my splash pan so I use a piece of a mylar about 7 inches wide. I wrap it so that it fits inside my splash pan (so it has to be fairly long) and tape the edges to keep the shape. It’s affective and doesn’t take up a lot of room in the studio.

  • You don’t have to use a plastic drum if you can’t find one. I started out doing something like this just using a cardboard box, and I ended up using a large plastic washtub. You should be able to find one at any place where they sell supplies for livestock or maybe even Walmart, etc.

    Mine has about 1/3 cut out from the front, and there’s a hole cut out of the bottom so it can slot under the wheel head. I don’t trim all that much because I prefer to throw thin and do most of my finishing before I take the pot off the wheel, but this is great for platters, large bowls, etc.

    As for the wheel wedging board, Wow! Great idea! People with flimsy splash pans may have problems with this, but I don’t see it hurting my Brent. I use my pug mill mostly, and if I collapse a pot, I scrape it off and put it in the hopper, but I can see using this in certain circumstances. And what great drawings!

  • It would be nice to see a laid-out drawing of the drum trimmings-catcher, complete with dimensions. Also would be good to hear speculations about using other materials–possibly mylar– in case one can’t find a drum. The idea seems really good.

  • When I do demos at craft shows i wedge on the wheel and it has yet cause issue. i like the board and i really like the bucket.

  • [email protected] [.

    I REALLY like the drum idea. The blue base looks really large. Can you elaborate on where you got the drum, or what kind it is, and how you cut and built it?

  • Sharon W.

    Ditto on getting up from the wheel to rewedge collapsed pots and to take a needed break and calm down.

  • Jennifer B.

    If I collapse a pot, its probably a good idea that I get up from the wheel, take a deep breath, and rewedge on my little plaster slab. Regroup, then return to the wheel.

  • Don’t Throw such thick pots, and dont flop pots.

  • I love the convenience of the wheel wedging board but I worry about it adding extra stress to the wheel. I’d love to see other potters thoughts about my concerns.

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