How to Make Ergonomic Pottery Throwing Sticks

Examples of egotes (Japanese throwing sticks).

 

As we saw last week in the three finalist videos from our DIY Clay Tools Video Contest (Don’t forget to vote for your fave! Voting closes tonight at midnight Eastern Standard Time), ceramic artists are pretty clever when it comes to making tools to suit their needs.

David Ogle became frustrated when the throwing sticks he bought were too unwieldy for making the narrow necked forms he was interested in. So he set out to make his own custom throwing sticks. In today’s post, an excerpt from our new free download Pottery Throwing Tools: A Guide to Making and Using Pottery Tools for Wheel Throwing, David explains how to make his ergonomic custom curved throwing sticks. Check out the article below, and then download your free copy of Pottery Throwing Tools: A Guide to Making and Using Pottery Tools for Wheel Throwing! – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.


Being a sculptor as well as a ceramic artist, I’m familiar with all manner of wood and metalworking tools. I’ve made the majority of my own ceramics tools over the years of working with clay because in the early days (the 1960s) there weren’t nearly as many choices of commercially-produced tools as there are today. When you wanted a “pear corer” trimming tool, you went to the local hardware store and purchased a real pear corer. If you wanted a modeling tool, you just got a piece of hardwood scrap and made one.

Another reason for making your own tools was that the tools that were available might not have been “just right” for the forming, carving, trimming or whatever task was at hand. So tool savvy ceramists just modified or made entirely new tools to suit their needs. Most of the tools available from the ceramics tool manufacturers today, potters and sculptors have invented and made at one time or another over the years.

Tools and supplies needed to make a curved, narrowneck egote are common and easy to locate.

Most recently, I’ve been working with saggar-fired narrow-necked porcelain bottle forms. I’ve always made my own pottery throwing sticks (egotes), also referred to as Japanese throwing sticks. The pottery throwing sticks available from the pottery suppliers were always too cumbersome for making the tight and narrow curves and shoulders of my narrow-necked forms.

My first attempts at curved pottery throwing sticks were very time consuming and required a lot of meticulous work for forming and sanding the rounded ends. Through experimentation, I discovered an easier method for creating these tools with “ball” ends that simulate the shape of a fingertip.

CAUTION: Follow all safety instructions when operating power tools!

Tools
I make several variations of the pottery throwing stick, but the one illustrated at the bottom of the photo can be made with readily available simple tools and materials. The tools needed are simple- they include a scrap piece of ¾-inch hardwood (maple preferred, but a close-grained hardwood such as walnut, cherry, birch, or even pear wood can be used). Also, two ¼×2-inch hardwood dowels, a saber saw (band saw, if available, makes cutting out the form much easier), a half-round rasp, a round rasp (sculptors wood rifflers make rounding wood easier), a flat rasp, coarse and fine sandpapers, a 6-inch piece of ½-inch PVC pipe (used as a contouring sanding block), epoxy (or any waterproof glue), and hardwood balls (½ inch and 1¼ inch, available at local craft, hardware stores, or mail-order woodworkers catalogs). The balls may be wooden beads or drawer pulls. Not shown are a drill and a ¼-inch drill bit.

Fig.1 Trace the natural curve of your hand to create a tool that conforms to your throwing position.

Fig.2 Be sure to leave extra wood on each end of the egote to facilitate drilling the holes.

Fig.3 Find the center, cut out the curved form and drill ¼-inch diameter holes for the dowel connectors.

Procedure

Start by tracing the natural curve of your hand as if it were in the shoulder forming position (figure 1).

Sketch a corresponding curve leaving equal amounts of extra material on each side of the ends (see dotted lines) to facilitate drilling the holes for the dowel rods (figure 2). Draw intersecting lines to find the centers. Cut out the curved form with a saber or band saw.

Fig.4 After using epoxy to attach hardwood dowels to wooden balls, test fit the parts, then trim excess wood from the ends on all four sides.

Mark the center with the awl and carefully drill through the center with the ¼-inch drill bit, about ½-inch deep (figure 3). Wooden balls intended to be used as beads often have ¼-inch holes predrilled all the way through. If not, clamp the ball in a vise and drill a ¼-inch hole through each one.

Trim off the excess wood down to the dotted lines on each end using a band saw or saber saw (figure 4).

Mix the epoxy according to the package instructions and fill the holes in the curved handle and the holes in the wooden balls. Insert the hardwood dowels and press the balls into place (figure 5). Make sure the joints between the balls and the handle are filled with the epoxy mixture.

After the epoxy has thoroughly cured (when it is no longer tacky to the touch), cut off the excess dowel protruding through the ends of the balls. Begin shaping and rounding the handle with the rasps (figure 6).

Using the coarse and fine sandpapers, smooth the tool. Use the round rasps and sandpapercovered PVC pipe on the concave side and the flat rasps and a flat piece of sandpaper covered wood on the convex side until the tool feels comfortable to the touch (figure 7).

Fig.5 Epoxy the dowels into the drilled holes on the stick. Trim off the dowels after the glue dries.

Fig.6 Use wood rasps to begin to rough out the final shape.

Fig.7 Use coarse then fine sandpaper to smooth the entire tool until it feels comfortable to the touch.

Tip: Wipe the tool with a damp cloth to raise the grain and allow it to dry. Sand again and repeat this a couple of times for a very smooth finish.

You can finish the egote with an acrylic spray or soak it in mineral oil. Occasional sanding may be necessary after a few uses, but you’ll find the tool improves with age after a little breaking in.

Comments
  • Pete G.

    These are cool, Dave. I like to make my own tools too, from bamboo and various hardwoods. I have a big electric skillet kept full of a wax mixture, and I like to “french-fry” my finished wooden tools in it. I melt the wax at 150 F., and leave them floating there until the bubbles stop. That’s the sign the wood has become saturated, and I then pull them out and do a quick buff with a rag. The wax keeps the tools from rotting, if I forget to take them out of the water when I’m done throwing. Ribs, profile-tools, cut-off sticks…they all get “the treatment”.

  • Analia I.

    Excellent!!!you really explained it very clear!!!!!

  • Anne A.

    Wow! I really like these well thought out tools. I’ll be raiding my husband’s workshop to try it out!

  • Christine W.

    Great idea. I’ve wanted one of these tools but couldn’t find it at my local supplier. Thanks

  • Diana M.

    another great idea – I made a couple of “throwing sticks” years ago from ….. wooden coat hangers, so part of my shaping work had already been done – it just needed refinement and clean up …. but not as much curve allowable as yours – thanks for the info.

  • Stephen M.

    David’s approach to tool making is very like my own, but I differ slightly in that I make mine out of Green (unseasoned) wood, and I keep them wet in containers full of water with with minute amount of disinfectant.
    This is a “trick” I picked up from a Korean Potter; I find it keeps them really slick, and helps to reduce wear a little.
    One of my favourite materials are prunings from a Contorted Willow Tree!

  • Mesquite limbs work well. All shapes and sizes. I cut a slightly larger branch just above and below the junction with smaller limb. The smaller becomes the stick and the chunk of larger branch is quickly shaped into the ball. A bench grinder makes short work of it. The curves and odd shapes are all easy to find on these trees. Free and takes only 15 minutes or so to make several tools. After some use they beautify themselves and get more comfortable to use. I also like to leave a notch or something on the top of the finished stick, to orient the tool when the working end is completely out of sight.

  • Helen B.

    Brilliant tips, I was looking to buy the turning tools …now I can try and make some of my own, keep up with the tips guys I look forward to reading them.
    Helenbrewis@btinternet.com

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