Groovy Ceramics: How to Use Scraps of Molding as Pottery Shaping Tools

Creating grooves in clay with wood molding scraps!

Pottery Shaping Tools

Grooved deep bowl, 10 in. (25 cm) in diameter, stoneware, fired to cone 10 in reduction.

Potters and ceramic artists are very open minded when it comes to their tools. The general rule of thumb seems to be, if it’s not nailed down, test it out as a pottery shaping tool — actually, even the nailed-down things have probably been considered. So when Frank James Fisher noticed a bunch of trim scraps at a local home center, his thoughts immediately went to “clay tool.” He asked the lumberyard if he could have the scraps and they turned out to be a fun wheel throwing rib tool.

Today, Frank explains how he has turned these scraps into handy shaping tools. Next time you’re at a lumberyard, ask for some of the scraps and try them out. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

I recently discovered several remnant pieces of wood molding from a past home remodeling project in my garage. I was especially intrigued by the concave and convex curves and ridges on the profile. It sparked my curiosity. What if a clay bowl were grooved along the rim with this profile? I sliced off a small cross-section of molding with my miter saw and thirty minutes later I sat at the wheel reveling in the groovy designs left by my new toy.

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Anyone who has wandered the aisles of a home improvement center knows the range of molding styles and profiles is quite extensive. The store in my neighborhood allows customers to pre-cut their molding purchase at the store, so there’s a cart in the molding/trim aisle that has a saw and a basket to collect the scraps. After asking, I was allowed to keep any small scraps from their scrap bin. My collection of molding tools quickly grew to a half dozen interesting profiles (figure 1). After a little experimenting, the different profiles brought a nice design feature into my work. The complex groove pattern complements the soft spiral I like to create in the basin of bowls and platters.

This article was excerpted from the pages of Pottery Making Illustrated.
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Pottery Shaping Tools

A selection of molding profiles suitable for use as ribs.

Several tool manufacturers produce a wonderful array of wood and metal profile tools for use with clay. But there are three interesting sculpting advantages that a scrap of molding can provide. First, the varied sizes of the ridges and the concave and convex curves of the profile can be very extreme. The molding is not made to carve perfect grooves into the clay. In fact, some of the nooks and crannies on the molding may not be mirrored successfully in clay since some details might be too deep to be captured. This can result in void areas in the band of grooves; however I don’t mind these, as I like the variation and space that results. Sometimes the slurry creates interesting ridges in these void areas, which adds design interest.

Second, the molding profiles are sometimes dramatic, with large bulbous curves. When the clay rim is pressed along the surface, the full rim is shaped to match these major curves. The grooves are not just cut into the clay surface, but the shape of the clay rim follows the curve of the profile. The resulting rim can then be gently modified or exaggerated further depending on the desired effects.

The last advantage relates to clay thickness. Because the clay conforms to the molding profile, it does not need to be extra thick to accommodate deep recessed carving. When using a piece of molding, there will be thick and thin spots, but extra clay is not needed in the rim to compensate for the grooves. I throw a rim with an average thickness and let the clay follow the profile’s shape.

Creating Grooves

Begin by centering, opening, and pulling the clay into a standard bowl form, either tall or wide and open. To create grooves

Pottery Shaping Tools

Press the molding into the rim while supporting the outside.

in the rim of the bowl, begin by wetting the rim surface, (inside and outside), with a damp sponge. Select a piece of wood molding that aesthetically fits the rim and determine which will be the top or bottom of the profile. Wet the wood molding profile and position it against the rim as the wheel slowly spins. Place your other hand under the rim on the outside surface (figure 2). This hand will support the clay as the wood molding is pressed down. Your fingers can also press the clay into the void areas of the molding. It is not critical that the entire rim come in contact with the full surface of the profile. The major ridges and high points will leave a groove. The result is a clay rim with a roughly uniform thickness. As the molding is pressed against the clay, the rim may also be tilted out and down or stretched outward to slightly open-up the bowl. If the ridges are too sharp or there are globs of slurry to clean away, use a sponge and smooth out the surface as the wheel rotates.

Clean and round the rim edge with a chamois. Create a shallow recessed slot with the chamois between your fingertips. Gently pinch and compress the clay on the rim edge. The edge of the rim is bent further downward in the same motion. A cross-section shows the angle of the rim as well as the depth of the grooves made in the rim by the profile tool. The angle created compensates for the upward curl of the rim as the clay dries and shrinks. The thrown bowl is wired free from the bat and trimmed as desired.

**First published in 2011.
  • great to see someone else using this idea, its brilliant and glad others get to know this tip

  • Richard W.

    I have used a long piece of crown molding as a form for a strip slab of soft clay. When it has firmed up a bit, cut the strips with beveled ends and make a box with ornate curved sides.

  • Diana G.

    My lumberyard gives free samples of all their molding. I have used the samples in handbuilt projects and will now use them on thrown pieces. Thanks for the clip.

  • Sally L.

    Was wondering how I might use a bunch of metal picture frame moulding samples I was just given (the short pieces you see displayed in a picture framing shop). Now, armed with the details you’ve provided, I’m going to try them. Thanks. Not as much variety in the aluminum, but I imagine triangular and rat-tail files could be used to easily add some details.

  • Cool think I’ll be off to the hardware store too. Neat idea have done slip cast for years. I am back in college and took a couple ceramic classes .Now I’m doing some wheel work and hand building too love the creativty of it all. There are so much that can be used just need to keep mind open.

  • Speaking of glaze recipes, there are some fantastic books out with tried and pretty good glazes for electric and gas kilns, also some of the glaze recipes that are a base glaze for colourants to be added to, are a good way to start until you get the ideal 3 or 4 glazes
    To be a good potter I reckon you only need a few well done glazes, otherwise the public get confused about what colour they want and if there is so much choice they can even walk away without buying anything
    Just a thought Jan – cheers Natalie

  • What a great idea, I am also off to the lumber yard to see if I can get some left over moulding, or maybe even the scrap yard too
    Thanks for sharing this great idea

  • Ben S.

    Been doing this since I started since I work with wood. I make my own shapes well. Anything with a shape can be used.

  • Jan P.

    realy good ideas all we need now is some more NEW GLAZE RECIPES yes we have the free gift ones but a lot of them are not so good as we cant get some of the materials at the other side of the world so we test till we get something to work but occionally one does work yay

  • Subscriber T.

    A really good idea and lovely glaze too. I asked my local club for my old membership card back and explained to the attendant that I wanted it for a profile etc. He saved about 30 other cards for me when I went in the next time he gave them to me and offered more!!! That was so nice. you are limited in size with them though. A great idea but I have found the pine wears away rather quickly too.

  • Tina H.

    Thank you you are one awesome, terrific, imagaintive, resourceful, creative guy.
    Thanks. Another tool is old credit cards that you can cut to any creative design you want and they bend. Yeah! Isn’t life fun!

  • Kate T.

    I would use the molding on the outside of the bowl. Hold the molding and gently push from the inside of the bowl into the molding. I also never wet my wooden tools.

  • Pat C.

    Looking forward to trying this. Did you sand, curve, round or angle the edge before using or did you just leave it with a sharp cut edge?

  • Debi L.

    Oh this a fun idea and I already have a few molding scraps around from our remodel!

  • Christine P.

    Bye folks, I’m off to the lumber yard!
    Beautiful glazing on the bowl, as well. Thank you for sharing.

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