As a full-time functional potter I try to keep my pots affordable by limiting the amount of time invested in each piece. My primary focus is form, and I often try to make the pots interesting by altering them right on the wheel. Faceting is a favorite altering technique. Dividing the exterior surface of a pot into individual planes imposes an architectural structure to it—an exciting element of formal drama, simplicity, and elegance. Here are a couple of ways I facet bowls, although the technique would apply to any vertical-sided form.
• A cheese cutter that cuts a thin slab and has a roller that prevents the wire from cutting through the wall of the pot.
• A curled wire tool or a stretched spring
• A Surform rasp for beveling edges
• Standard throwing and trimming tools
Faceting a Bowl with a Cheese Cutter
Throw a vertical cylinder with a bowl curved bottom and an evenly thick wall (approximately ½ inch). A vertical wall makes it easier to cut the facets in a downward movement without slumping. Leave enough clay on the bottom to trim a foot.
Make sure the cheese cutter is wet. Wet the outside wall of the piece with water or thin slip to help the roller slide. It’s best to cut by drawing the cheese cutter down from the rim to as close to the base as you desire (1). It helps to keep the cheese cutter perpendicular to the wall of the pot so the thickness of the cut and widths of the facets are even. If you turn the pot while you cut—easier done on a treadle or kick wheel—you get diagonal facets (2).
I usually start cutting without planning the number of facets, and about 2⁄3 to 3⁄4 of the way around I use my thumb and forefinger as calipers to roughly measure the remaining uncut wall and estimate how many more cuts will fit. Alternately you can mark the rim or wall to make even cuts.
1 For straight facets, throw a vertical form and draw the cheese cutter from the rim down toward the base.
2 For diagonal facets, slightly turn the pot on the wheel while cutting and keeping the cheese cutter perpendicular to the wall of the pot.
3 After cutting the straight facets, use your inside hand to flare out the wall to the desired bowl shape. Try not to touch the outside.
4 After cutting the diagonal facets, continue to shape the bowl with your inside hand while keeping distortion to a minimum.
Once the facets are cut, use your inside hand to flare out the walls to the bowl shape you want (3, 4). You can’t touch the outside wall without altering the facets, so go easy. Keep distortion to a minimum by using ample water and pressing with your fingers flat on the wall. (Fingertips show ridges through the wall. Flaring with a sponge applies torque on the wall so the facets twist.) Make sure to make the curve of the inside of the bowl continuous at the point where the base meets the wall. Stretch the rim carefully first, then flare the belly and lower section. Stretching the bowl after cutting the seams diminishes the harshness of the individual facets and helps to unite them visually, bringing the piece together into a whole.
When the piece is leather hard, use a sharp fettling knife or a Surform rasp to bevel any fragile rim edges. A sponge, chamois, or your hands can be used, but take care not to mush up the facets. Trim the foot and stamp the piece.
Faceting a Bowl using a Curled Wire
Throw a vertical cylinder with an evenly thick wall (thicker than you would for the cheese cutter tool). Cutting with an unsupported curled wire (as opposed to a cheese cutter) requires being sensitive to variations in thickness, especially with pots of narrow diameter where the wall has a tighter curve. Decide the number of facet cuts and widths you want. Mark the rim or wall of the bowl to help guide the cut placements (5).
It may help to divide the form into sections by running a finger up the inside wall at regular intervals and flattening wall sections before cutting with the wire (6). Wider panels are possible this way, and you avoid creating very thin spots at the center of the facets (7).
5 To facet a bowl with a curled wire, throw a thick vertical form and decide the number of facet cuts and widths you want.
6 Another option before faceting is to divide the form into sections by running a finger up the inside of the wall at regular intervals.
7 Cut the form from top to bottom with the curled wire. Wider panels are possible when the form is slightly squared before faceting.
8 After the pot reaches leather hard, slightly bevel the rim edge without mushing the facets, then trim and stamp the piece.
I enjoy the surprising patterns achieved by drawing the curled wire sideways or back-and-forth as I cut downward (8). This is really fun! You can pair facets to relate to or contrast each other—remember, an even number of facets requires some planning.
Thin spots from thickness variations will respond differently to the stretching and can easily tear, so go easy until you develop a sense of what your clay body will accept. If you begin to feel a washboard-like texture with your inside hand, back off. Again, make sure the rim is stretched out to nearly its final diameter before flaring out the lower section.
Cut the foot, bevel the rim, and stamp the piece when it’s leather hard. Whatever you do, have fun—no learning comes without failures, and there will always be another pot! Make sure to vary, change, and adapt your materials and tools to do what you love.
Guillermo Cuellar has been making wheel-thrown stoneware pots since 1980. Born in Venezuela, Cuellar moved to Shafer, Minnesota, in 2005 and is part of the community of potters in the region. Cuellar has been a host artist for the St. Croix Valley Potters Tour since 2009. To learn more about his work, visit www.guillermopottery.com.