Using a Pottery Wheel to Make Cool Slab Built Pottery

Making Horizontal Wheel-Thrown Slabs and More!

slab built pottery

Most of us don’t think of the pottery wheel when we think about making slab built pottery. But there’s no reason to overlook this piece of equipment when slab building. The pottery wheel can yield some pretty cool results as you can see in the image to the left.

In today’s post, an excerpt from his book From a Slab of Clay, Daryl Baird explains how you can use the wheel to make a slab with a spiral texture, which is quite challenging with any other method. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

slab built potteryThe pottery wheel presents two ways to make slabs‚ horizontally and vertically (which is covered in From a Slab of Clay). The horizontal approach might be the least-used, but wheel-thrown slabs have some unique properties and there are those who actually prefer them.

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A comparatively thick slab of clay is spread out on the wheel head then allowed to firm slightly. After drawing a cutting wire across the bottom on the slab, it’s lifted from the wheelhead and laid on the work surface. As expected, lifting and transporting the clay to the work surface deforms the circular slab; but this can be minimized by first underscoring the periphery of the slab with a trimming tool then rolling it up and onto a rolling pin or sturdy cardboard tube.

Working with slabs
In From a Slab of Clay you’ll discover everything you need to know about working with slabs. From setting up a proper working space to selecting the right tools and equipment—including complete instructions for building your own slab roller—Daryl doesn’t miss any details. Includes 16 slab project demonstrations and a gallery of selected works from ceramic artists.

Read more and download an excerpt 

slab built potteryOptionally, the wheel-thrown slab can be allowed to firm up on the wheel head after cutting. This firmer slab loses some of its workability but it can be lifted and transported with less deformity. Clay slabs thrown on plastic or wood-composite bats can be removed from the wheel head and placed next to the work surface before removal. Bats made from plaster can be especially useful since plaster wicks moisture from the underside of the slab while it’s going through controlled drying on the top surface. As the clay firms up and starts to shrink, it releases from the plaster bat with little or no effort.

slab built potteryIt’s important to develop a technique where you can apply even compression of the clay across the surface, from center to edge. Doing so makes for a stronger slab that’s more likely to keep its shape. What makes wheel thrown slabs distinctive are the concentric and spiral textures that can be added to them. Running a finger across the clay as the wheel spins can make a simple, spiral ridge. More detailed textures can be applied using roulettes, stamps or any combination of them. Once the slab is decorated and released from its bat, it can be cut into shapes or wrapped around a form.

**First published in 2013.


  • Peter S.

    I thought I had invented this, but I see I’m far down the line. I, like John Lowes, use roofing felt to make it easier to get the slab off the wheel. I store the slabs between sheetrock squares to set up.

  • Wow, great ideas, John. I love the idea of using a slab like this, but I’ve never actually done it. I’m going to try it this week though. And I have some roofing felt I’ve been saving so I’ll have to give that a go.

    In addition, if you don’t want to run a wire under the slab you could also use canvas bats. Mine are dipped in slurry to prime them. After that all I do is dip them in my water bucket and then smooth them down to the wheel head or a solid bat with a 3 – 4″ drywall knife (wide putty knife). They can peel off too, once the piece has firmed up a bit. They’re great for making plates and platters.

  • Along those same lines, you can soak a roofing felt “bat” in warm water and using clay slurry, or clay wads, attach that to a plastic bat on the wheel and then throw your slab. Then when you are done you may run a wire under the roofing felt and take off the felt bat and slab. The roofing felt makes it easier to handle and work with the slab. You can cut your pieces for assembly through the clay to the roofing felt bat, do any texturing or stamping, then once all the pieces are ready, flip the slab onto a ware board and peel the felt off the clay, or peel them off carefully textured side up.

    Another method is to make the wheel slab extra thick and run a wiggle wire horizontally through the middle, ala Mark Peters, and get two textured slabs.

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