Wheel Throwing Video: Centering, Throwing and Trimming Tips From an Expert Potter

It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how well I think I know a technique, when I see another potter doing said technique, there is almost always something that I pick up from that potter’s method. It is especially true when the other potter has been doing said technique for a long time.

So with today’s video, we go back to the basics in wheel throwing. In this excerpt from Beginning to Throw on the Potter’s Wheel, master potter Robin Hopper shares some tips for centering, throwing and trimming. But even though the techniques covered are basic, it’s not just for beginners. Watch the video and learn from this accomplished potter. Plus, I have included some bonus wheel throwing tips below. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

More Throwing Tips!

If you have taken the usual precautions after throwing and still have trouble with the bottoms of pots cracking, place the wedged clay on the wheel so the roll or spiral of the wedge is lying on its side, not on end. To ensure this alignment, pat the clay into a cone immediately after wedging. (If you use a pug mill and do not wedge your clay, place the pug on its side rather than on end.) This method can eliminate virtually all bottom cracks and is especially effective when throwing plates and large, flat-bottomed pieces.

Trimming the foot of a large-diameter plate or platter can be a problem. The pressure of the trimming tool tends to press the plate bottom down toward the bat. For plate support when trimming, try gluing a piece of firm foam, about 2 inches thick, to a bat. The foam is then trimmed to approximate the interior diameter of the plate foot. A leather-hard plate is then placed on the foam, which will not mar the surface, but will provide ample support while trimming.

A kitchen spatula with a wooden handle will make a variety of throwing tools. The hardwood handle, if sharpened to a point, is an excellent separating stick for removing clay from the base of a freshly thrown pot before it is cut from the wheel head or bat. The rubber part is equally useful as a rib, or it can be cut and sanded to form a decorating rib.

If your main form of exercise is wedging and throwing clay, try sitting on an exercise ball (yoga ball) to get a free workout at the wheel. I use a 65 to 75 centimeter ball, which sits in a stabilizing ring. The amount of inflation will determine the seated height. Both the ball and the ring were purchased from a sports equipment store. The ball is not only good for an abdominal workout but it also seems to work the lower back, glutes and inner thighs. Need a break? Just lie on your stomach over the ball. It really does give you a good workout. The first time I used it, I felt like I had been riding a horse all day when I got off!


  • Allison S.

    I learned a great technique for centering a piece to trim and haven’t had problems since (centering to throw is a whole other story though!). I’ll try and explain it in a way that’s easy to visualize: To begin, my wheel turns counter clockwise. Make a shape with your hand that loosly mimics the curve of the piece you are centering (sometimes I find curving your hand a little more then the piece helps). Place your left hand vertically on the wheel in the curved position in a spot that is roughly the distance away from center that your pot should end up. Start the wheel going at a slow throwing pace and with your right hand’s fingers, gently tap the pot into the center, tapping and pushing it into place against the left palm. Sometimes I find the base of my palm near the wrist has the most contact and sometimes it’s the whole palm that does so mess around and see what works best. As you tap, be careful of the piece as it will want to move away from you and could fly off the wheel. Use the left hand to keep it from doing that and tap with the right hand slightly towards you!

  • I’m just learning to throw. I’m not having any problems centering, because I’m using Robin’s method. I just ordered the video. I’m sure there’s lots more I can learn from Robin. Excellent instructor. I like that he explains the technology of why to do something a certain way – like the centering. Made perfect sense to me.

  • i love that grip .. how ever im not to sure if it would work on thin stuff,,, i will try this tho, even tho i feel better just cutting the problem away .

  • Gisele G.

    bravo je ne comprends pas votre langue mais vos gestes sont precis merci de nous montrer vos videos grace a vous je vais m ameliotrer en tournage car j adore ça
    un grand merci
    mamie gisele

  • Catherine C.

    Thank you so much for this. I’ve been struggling with centering yet I have no issues trimming. This was very valuable for me.

  • Melissa T.

    I wish you had shown a clip of how to recenter a pot when you are going to trim. I have the hardest time getting my pot centered for trimming. I’m excited to try the claw technique and even the exercise ball.

  • Centering the clay isn’t particularly difficult for me, though I know many people struggle with it, but I’ve always hated trimming, and he makes it look so easy! I’ve never heard of (or seen) anyone using the “claw” to fix the top of a piece…I’ll definitely have to try that next time!

  • Robin’s tip about doing most of the centering activity on the left side of the wheel ended a few years of iffy centering for me in one or two sessions on my wheel. Once I felt the clay “want” to go to center I never have had a problem centering since. I also see that I have been using the “claw” incorrectly, and I will work on that in a couple of hours.

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