How to NOT Trim Through the Bottoms of Your Pots

  This clip was excerpted from Design for the Soft Surface, which is available in the Ceramic Arts Shop!

One of the most frustrating things you can experience as a potter is getting a bit overzealous with your trimming and trimming through a foot (face it, we’ve all done it!). Today I am sharing an excellent trimming clip from Ben Carter’s DVD Design for the Soft Surface: Throwing, Handbuilding, and Slip Decorating.

In this clip, Ben shares his fool-proof method of determining the “safe zone” for trimming, which is one of the best explanations I’ve seen. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.


carterfinishedTo learn more about Ben Carter or to see more images of his work, please visit

**First published in 2013
  • Very simple method of determining the thickness of the untrimmed pot.
    Place a straight edge across the rim of the pot – bowl, vase whatever. Hold a vertical piece (I use a chopstick or something similar) against the straight edge down to the center of the interior bottom of the pot. Holding the vertical piece against the straight edge, transfer the straight edge to the outside rim. The distance between the bottom tip of the vertical piece and the surface on which the pot is sitting on tells you exactly the thickness of the untrimmed bottom.
    I use my hand to estimate the appropiate width of the foot.

  • Cassady .


    The point of this video doesn’t lie in whether or not he is doing it the “right” way. For his pots, that is the way that he does it, and he is sharing the info on how he makes HIS pots. I can guarantee you that he wouldn’t recommend his methods for all pots, as each style of pot has different thicknesses and for instance, wouldn’t withstand his “compression” method, or you wouldn’t be able to feel said compression due to having a thicker pot. The only reason his technique works is because he waits for his clay to dry to a very specific point, leaving the rim firm but the inside of the foot wet due to its thickness. That wetness of the clay in the foot allows him to achieve a less “machined” look after the trimming is done, which allows him to achieve a more “formed” look to the bottom of the pot, giving harmony to the pot instead of a visuallyj arring dichotomy. That being said, this isn’t to say that having a very machined, trimmed looking bottom and a very loose upper half can’t be aesthetically pleasing in a pot, it’s simply just not his preference for his particular artistic vision for HIS pots. Essentially, the point of these videos isn’t to teach tricks that will work universally, but instead teach tricks for someone who admires the artist’s pots and says “Hey, I wonder how I can make a pot in that style.” Of course, there are many means out there that can achieve the same end, yet they are usually interested in how THAT artist goes about doing it. After all, you probably wouldn’t use one of Van Gogh’s tricks in layering paint to paint a Picasso replica, but you certainly could to paint something in a style of your own that has influence from both of those artist.

  • DeeAnn Uhlarik, why take it so personal, this comment wasn’t aimed at you; it is merely a comment, and a true craftsman / or craftswoman in pottery can tell the thickness of a pot through their fingertips – it isn’t magical just an extra sense that has been developed over the years. This is not a critique of your ability or anyone else, it is merely a professional comment.Takeshi Yasuda knew just how much clay was needed for a particular pot, this wasn’t magic or a criticism of other potters, it was merely a skill developed over years and years of working with clay.

  • DeeAnn U.

    Nigel, I would caution you to remember that there are many ways to accomplish the same thing, and that we all learn and work differently. Also, to define who is a true craftsman based on your own definition is a wee bit arrogant. Sometimes true craftsmen do their work in unorthodox ways, but achieve real beauty.

  • Neat! I am a beginner and I was over zealous and did exactly what he said people do and that’s trip right through the wall. I didn’t really know how to measure everything and this was very helpful! Thank you!

  • Michael G.

    Ben, this is an excellent video. I follow your blog and enjoy your podcasts. Now, it’s a pleasure to actually see you work. You trim your pots softer than leatherhard, which gives the pot its freshly made characteristic. A little more difficult, yet you do an excellent job. Thanks for this.

  • A true craftsman can tell the thickness of the walls of the pot through their fingertips. In this instance the clay is a little too wet for trimming, the clay should be leather hard, so the clay is removed in a clean crisp way, also when its leather hard by simply tapping the pot lightly and listening to the echoing sound you can judge the thickness of the pot without resorting to pressing gently on the clay and risking distortion. After trimming the foot ring, it is a good idea to gently rock the base of the pot on a hard surface to leave a slight bevel, this will result in a slight shadow from the foot ring on a flat surface giving the impression that the pot is floating above the surface rather than seeming to be a part of the surface. (ie resting on it rather than floating above it)

  • Beautiful work. I may have to go over the video again because, it’s me, not you, I don’t quite get the way you measure the inside from the outside. It looks like a good technique; I just need to practice it. Thanks for sharing your tips and talent.

  • This was terrific. I already use some of these techniques, but I did learn some new things also. The main thing that I learned was to trim until the clay gives a little. Your work is beautiful.

  • Daniel S.

    Alt last! Somebody who doesn’t want to deliver sloppy work as we see much to many nowadays under the excuse of being ‘handmade’ or ‘artistic’ or ‘free expression’. This video is great! Congratulations. It is an example to all of us.

  • I’m just returning to pottery and this was a great review plus I learned some new tricks.

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