Large and In Charge: Four Helpful Tips for Throwing Large Pots on the Pottery Wheel

1. The clay is beaten into a cone shape by holding the lump in the left hand and applying a downward beating motion with the palm of the right hand. Each time the clay mass is turned slightly in a clockwise direction.

The clay is beaten into a cone shape by holding the lump in the left hand and applying a downward beating motion with the palm of the right hand. Each time the clay mass is turned slightly in a clockwise direction.

The desire to throw large pots is something that just about every potter has at one time or another. And often it is met with frustration, especially if you are relatively new to wheel throwing. I used to think that I just didn’t have the strength to do it, and resigned myself to throwing medium-sized pots.

 

But there are all sorts of ways to throw large without breaking your back. Today, I am presenting some tips from large-pot-potter extraordinaire Nic Collins for upsizing your pots. I liked what Nic had to say here because it addressed some simple, but often overlooked, things to consider before you even put your clay on the wheel. Plus, it includes some great cross-section diagrams that clearly show what should be happening both inside and outside of the pot. Follow these tips and you’ll soon be in charge of the clay!

 

After reading the post, check out these videos from our video archives to see some other potters demonstrating ways to make large pots. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

 

2.The cone shape produced has no edges and a nice rounded base to it. This process makes the centring of a larger mass of clay much easier. It is well worth taking a little time to do it.

The cone shape produced has no edges and a nice rounded base to it. This process makes the centering of a larger mass of clay much easier. It is well worth taking a little time to do it.

Preparing your Kneaded Clay for Throwing on the Wheel
So your clay is now kneaded and de-aired and is the right consistency for throwing.

I have noticed during some of the teaching I have done that many potters who have been taught to throw using an electric wheel pay very little attention to the shape of the piece of clay they are about to use on the wheel. Sometimes it is almost a cube!

 

To help combat some of the problems of centering larger pieces of clay it makes sense to beat the clay into as uniform a cone shape as possible, before it goes onto the wheel. When I am starting to throw, much attention is given to the shape of the clay.

 

Using a Removable Plyboard Bat
Of course when the pot is completed you will need to remove it from the wheel. I find that a good-quality ply board bat works well. The hardwood ply that almost all local builder’s merchants supply is fine, simply cut as many circular bats as you can from one sheet. I would recommend a thickness of 9–12mm (3/8 –1/2 in.), cut into 30–36cm (12 – 14in.) discs. Alternatively, you can easily buy ready made wooden bats if you prefer. Bats can be simply attached to the wheel head by throwing some clay into a flattened disc and with a throwing tool making concentric grooves in it. The wooden bat can then be placed in the centre and tapped down, creating a firm seal.

A thrown disc of clay to attach the removable plywood disc.

A thrown disc of clay to attach the removable plywood disc.

Wheel head with pins.

Wheel head with pins.

If your wheel head has pins, you can attach a bat with corresponding holes by simply slotting it over these pins, which it much easier. However, although this method is very useful for removing a partly-thrown pot on its bat, which can then easily be put back on to the wheel already centered to continue throwing, it has a drawback in that when centering large amounts of clay the plywood bat can tend to lift off the pins. For this reason the disc of clay method, although slower, can often be better.

 


Want more tips for super sizing your pots?
Check out
Nic Collins’ Throwing Large in the Ceramic Arts Daily Bookstore!

 

 

Sketch showing fingertip throwing, not advisable for making large pots.

Sketch showing fingertip throwing, not advisable for making large pots.

Using the Hand as a Throwing Tool    

To many potters throwing would have been taught using the fingertips. I am proposing that you try using your knuckle or the heel of your hand. Throwing, using fingertips might be okay if you are only making small pots like mugs. Fingertip throwing with larger pots is not recommended. It will be very difficult to control the clay and will result in you not being able to lift the clay, and therefore a very uneven lift, and probably a wobbly rim. By using the knuckle of your right hand and applying pressure from the inside with the finger of the left hand, much more clay can be lifted in a more controlled way.

 

Lubrication of Clay When Throwing

Sketch showing the use of the knuckle.

Sketch showing the use of the knuckle.[/capti
on]It is always very good practice not to use excessive amounts of water when throwing normally, as if too much water is used, the clay being worked on will become saturated and eventually collapse. As is the case with my momentum kick wheel, most wheels for making large wares will have no wheel tray. So it is good not to use much water, as if water spills onto the flywheel it will become rather messy and difficult to use. When throwing large pots most of the work can be done using very little or indeed no water at all. Instead, use a softer clay rather than a harder one, and use a clay-slip lubrication rather than water. As you will see further into this book, most of the work will be done in the centring process by beating and shaping the clay without using any water. The large pot you are making will also be able to support more added clay more quickly, if you can use less water in the making process, as it will remain stronger and will not need so much time to dry and firm up again. 
 

[caption id="attachment_93299" align="alignleft" width="300"]Sketch showing the use of the palm of the hand for lifting larger amounts of clay. Sketch showing the use of the palm of the hand for lifting larger amounts of clay.

It is worth wedging up all the clay you think you will need for one vessel or piece of work, as you don’t really want to stop half way through in order to prepare clay. Once you learn the quantities that you can throw comfortably, you will have a better idea of how much you need, but when starting out it is a learning process. Approximate quanitites used for each ball are given in further chapters, depending on the piece being made.

 

 

For more great wheel throwing tips, be sure to download your free copy of Five Great Pottery Wheel Throwing Techniques: Tips on Throwing Complex Pottery Forms Using Basic Throwing Skills.

 

 

 

 

Comments
  • Good tips. I do large pots and fought in the early days with many of the things you’ve mentioned. Your tips would have saved me a lot of effort. Nice, thanks – Bill

  • If your bats are coming off while using bat pins, your bat pins are either too loose or you are being too aggressive on your pulls. I can center and pull 20-25lb pieces with no issue on a bat. At the school I teach at if I have a wheel that is having issues you can use a grip mat that helps things stay in place and you don’t have to deal with putting down clay.. just some thoughts.

  • I find a small wet piece of paper towel over the pin before the bat is placed on the head is all that’s needed to keep it on the wheel during aggressive pulls up on the clay.
    Here is a trip to centering larger amounts of clay quickly:
    First divide the total amount of clay into to pieces and pat into round balls or flat cones. Next center one ball of clay and cone it up and down an few times using some water but not to much. Then take the second ball of clay and throw it on top of the first and you can then center the two pieces together rather quickly and with less upper body strength than it would take to center the whole amount of clay at once. It’s important to not allow air to sandwich between the two pieces of clay, so make sure the bottom one humps up a bit and the one you throw on top is rounded on the bottom before you throw it.
    BTW, the use of elbows is legal (in most states) for centering too! HA, HA!

  • I use a combination… wheel with pins, soft clay blobs on the wheel, then the bat goes on top of that, smacking it into place with fists of palm of hand. The pins alone aren’t enough to keep the bat in place. ‘Flying bats’ are messy!
    If I don’t cut the piece from the bat, I can put the bat back on the wheel and, using the pins, the piece is already centered for more work.
    Thanks for this article! Well written.

  • You don’t mention treating the bats if you decide to cut them out yourself. Mine were made at home back in the early 70’s with two coats of boiled linseed oil applied, one coat at a time with drying time between coats. Every 5 years or so I clean and scrub the bats, allow them to dry, and recoat. My bats haven’t warped. Only two of them show signs of wear at the holes for the bat pins.

  • Great sketches! BTW I use the exact same bat-fastening method as shown here…been doing it for 30 years at least! I keep a heavy tapered hardwood stick on the table, with which to slowly pry the bats loose after the piece is done.

  • I made my bats out of waterproof MDF (multi density fiberboard)they kind to your hands don’t rot or mould and are easy to clean.

  • If you don’t have the strength to throw the large amounts of clay all at once, you can start with whatever you can manage, then leave a wedge-shaped “spear point” at the top rim. Take the pot off the wheel, and throw a bottomless ring. Measure the circumference of the rim of your first piece, and flare out the rim of your bottomless ring to that circumference and divide the rim with a v-shaped groove all around the circumference. I use a wooden knife-shaped tool and have the wheel going slowly. The cut edges should be splayed out a bit so as to minimize the possibility of trapping air in the groove when you join the two thrown pieces. Refine this so it’s nice and even all around, then use the knife tool to carve back the ring at its base so that it isn’t attached too firmly. You need a little attachment though, because it has to be turned upside down.

    After the base piece has hardened enough to support the new weight (keep the rim damp with a damp cloth or etc., and the ring too, if needed)place the base back on the wheel pins. Turn the ring upside down and fit it to the base’s pointed rim. The pointed rim goes inside the groove.

    At this point you will be “throwing” downward to join the seam. (I don’t score the seam, but you can do that if your clay requires it.) Start above the bulge and smooth the inside and outside walls downward. I use my fingers so I can feel what I’m doing — to avoid trapping air. If you do trap air, just poke through all the way a couple of times with a needle tool and smooth the bubbles out. Once the two pieces are joined, throw the new ring to the desired thinness. You can do this all day and make a pot way taller than your kiln will take (if you can lift the pieces back and forth), so don’t forget to measure!

  • My husband made me bats out of polycarb which means no warping and very kind to the hands! The pins that are easily removable from my wheel head are plastic wall plugs cut to length creating a tight fit but with ease of removal and there is no risk of hurting my bats but more importantly my wheel head. When the pin looks a little worse for wear just cut a new one. Pack of a hundred only a few dollars but so far am still on my first

  • (Veering off the topic of throwing large a little bit)- I bought a grip mat for $8 or $10 bucks and had great success for a while keeping bats on the wheel. When it wore out- too soon, I thought- I got a piece of synthetic chamois and cut several circular pieces the size of the bats and cut bat pin holes in them. These have lasted several years with no apparent wear or damage. I think this stuff holds even better than the commercial mats.

  • Wonderful post! the sketches are great as I have had trouble pulling up and seeing how to hold your hands is marvelous. Thank you so much. Also there are good tips in the comments.

  • Great Lakes Clay in Elgin, IL has a terrific unit called the Versa-Bat. It seems a bit expensive to start, but is extremely well made. I have used it for 3 years and would not be without it. The biggest advantage is that it uses square inserts that take up much less room on storage shelves. Far, far quicker than pasting a wooden bat to the wheel with clay, and has the advantage of being perfectly recentered if you need to add something or do some additional shaping.

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