Glazing Wheel: A Resourceful Potter Makes the Ideal Tool for Glazing Large Clay Pots

Glazing Large Clay Pots with the Glazing Wheel

large clay pots

How many times do you find yourself wishing you had a giant vat of glaze to dip a large clay pot into because it is too big for your five gallon bucket? Of course, even if you had that giant vat, chances are you would have a piece that is too heavy and unwieldy to dip anyway. That’s when potter Daniel Johnston’s glazing wheel would come in handy. Johnston, a maker of very large pots (see exhibit A, above), fashioned his glazing wheel out of necessity. Preferring the look of poured or dipped ceramic glazes to brushed or sprayed, Johnston had to come up with a system of pouring his glazes that minimized waste and gave him the look he wanted.

Today, Daniel shares how he made his glazing wheel and discusses how he glazes large clay pots. Plus, he tells us a little about the large-jar construction techniques he learned in Thailand. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

My slips and glazes are applied to the large clay pots by pouring. The jars sit on a glazing wheel I built using a spindle from an old car. The spindle is welded to a metal frame and a wooden bat is bolted to the top of the spindle. It is surrounded by a barrel that catches the glaze as I pour it over the pot. The frame sits just high enough so that a 5-gallon bucket can slide under the barrel. A 2-inch hole in the barrel allows the glaze to drain into the five gallon bucket. There is very little glaze wasted using the glazing wheel. This is particularly important to me, because I process and refine my own glaze materials. It can take as long as five hours to sieve just a couple of gallons of my glaze.

The quality of the glaze application is important. I prefer the freshness from pouring slips and glazes to the surfaces attained by brushing or spraying them. Pouring glazes over raw clay also allows time to decorate by wiping through the slip or glaze.

Five Great Ceramic Glazing Techniques

Pick up new glazing techniques when you download this freebieFive Great Ceramic Glazing Techniques.


large clay pots

Savin Silakhom and Thongwan Sirwan coiling large clay pots in Savin’s workshop in Phon Bok, Northeast Thailand.

How to Make Large Clay Pots (Phon Bok, Northeast Thailand)

The pots in Phon Bok, Northeast Thailand are made using a coiling technique. For both large and small pots, construction begins with a ball of clay (approximately 15 pounds) placed on a wooden wheel and beaten into a slab using a short piece of bamboo to form the bottom of the pot. The wooden wheel is simply a large chunk of wood skillfully carved into a disc that rests on a wooden spike. The pots are made in sections and the potters work in pairs. One potter makes the pots while the other potter spins the wheel and rolls the coils. It is not uncommon for a pair of potters to produce ten large clay pots a day.



large clay pots

The walls are built by using small coils that are 6 inches long and 1 3/4 inches thick and weigh about a pound. The first section is coiled to about 18 inches tall. The next step requires the help of another potter to spin the wheel. The potter uses a curved wooden rib on the inside of the pot and a large straight edge rib on the outside of the pot to compress and shape the coils. Once the first section is complete, the potter will move to the next wheel and start another base. This step is repeated ten times, giving the first pot a chance to dry enough for the second section to be added. Most of the large clay pots are made in three sections.

large clay pots

Large clay pot by Daniel Johnston

Do you make large clay pots? Share any tips you might have in the comments below!

**First published in 2009.
  • Pat W.

    I found rolling even coils to be time consuming and frustrating, so I used the wall mounted extruder and extruded the clay right onto the pot which was sitting on a banding wheel lazy susan. I used a slot shaped die the thickness that I wanted the finished wall, which was quite thin (1/4 inch), because these pots were to be udus, an african type of ceramic drum. They were only 2-3 feet tall, so rather smaller than the ones in the photos. Also, since they had round bottoms, they needed to be fired sitting in a much thicker form, otherwise they slumped and cracked in the cone 10 firing.

  • Meu Deuse incrível e maravilhoso, impensável que alguem tenha tanta gana.
    “My God it is umbelievable and awesome, unthinkable that some one has all this dispositon”
    Muito obrigado.
    “Thank you.

  • Michael G.

    Bonnie, I love your post. People ask me what I am going to do when I get old. I’m 63 now and I make big pots. I tell these people that I will make big pots when I am older. Now I can direct them to you and say: “See, it can be done.” Age may present its own set of challenges, but we don’t have to stop doing things because of our age. Thanks for that story, Bonnie.

  • Bonnie S.

    I waited until I was about 85 yesrs old when I was asked to show a friend how to throw large pots. I had observeed the process but in my over 60 years of potting, had never attempted doing it. I went to his studio and we worked for three weeks. I wound up making 25 in that time period and finished them by pit firing. I never felt as exhilarated as I did when I got to the top of each pot, standing on boxes as I am rather short, and closing up a nice narrow neck. Mine were limited to 25″ tall because of the electric kiln size. I was able to lift and handle each of my pots no matter the size as I threw the wall about 1/4″ thick. A collection of the bisque fired pots is shown in the VaseFinder website in my album. The large pitcher shown on the first page of my website wss published in the Lark Book 500 Pitchers. My pots were not glazed except for a few that I brought back to my own studio and poured the glazes in the process shown in this video.

  • Is glazing started at the bottom or the top and how does that affect the narrow bottom being covered evenly?

  • It would be interesting to know the finished thickness of such a large coiled pot, the joining method, and how in the world did he glaze the inside? Thanks, Baba

  • Pat- go to youtube and put large coil pots or Thai potters or (I think) Korean potters. There are all kinds of videos. I teach high school ceramics and my students are fascinated by all the videos you can find for pottery making on youtube.

    Big thanks to Ceramics Daily and CM mag. They make my life as a teacher sooo much easier!

  • Patrick C.

    I can’t get a sense of how the Thai pots are actually built and shaped? The pictures don’t show what the text describes. A video would be great – but alas – I know that might not be practical. In fact, I don’t see many videos of large hand built pots. Time lapse would be cool. Thanks, Pat

  • @Sharon & Paoletta: I’m certainly no expert, but I’ll bet he doesn’t glaze the interior of those pots. At that size, they’re probably not being sold to hold liquid (despite what the originals in Thailand are used for.)

  • Jennifer H.

    Claudio – I posted an image of a finished Daniel Johnston pot above. It is not the one he is glazing in the pictures but it can give you an idea of what his finished work looks like. There will be more images of his work in the upcoming October issue of Ceramics Monthly too!

  • Great tip. I love to make large pieces and this method of glaze application would work well for me. However I am also interested in how he glazes the interior of the pot. I often leave a wide opening that will allow me to spray the interior.


  • Claudio L.

    Nice tip but, I often wonder why you don’t show the finished pot on many of these great tips!!!

    Claudio, Japan

  • How does Daniel pour the glaze on the bottom part of the pot and how does he control glaze thickness resulting from the drips?

  • I tried to subscribe to your magazine, but it does not allow for a canadian city, province or postal code on the order. Do not sell the magazine in Canada? Eva

  • Sharon J.

    I love this idea. I hate the waste and pollution of spraying my crystalline glazes. How does the wheel spin? Do you turn it by hand, or is it motorized?

  • Thanks for sharing! Great way to catch glaze. I am left wondering how he does the inside of those large pots?

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Enter Your Log In Credentials
This setting should only be used on your home or work computer.

Larger version of the image

Send this to a friend