Best Pottery Wheels: In-Depth Buying Guide For Beginners
You don’t need a lot of tools and equipment to pick up pottery. But a pottery wheel is one of them if you want to throw clay.
There are a lot of different models to choose from that vary a lot in terms of price and quality. If you can’t choose which wheel to buy, this article will help you.
Let’s go over the best wheels, some cheap wheels for beginners, and what to look for in a pottery wheel.
Best pottery wheels
When buying a potter’s wheel, it’s best to stay with the well-known brands such as Bailey, Brent, Lockerbie, Shimpo, Soldner, and Speedball.
They aren’t the cheapest option, but their wheels are worth the investment, and you can be sure that you don’t get a wheel that will break down within a few weeks.
Here are my 3 favorite wheels that I recommend you check out first:
1. Shimpo VL Whisper
The VL Whisper by Shimpo is my favorite and has been one of the best-selling wheels for the past decade.
It has a direct-drive DC motor with 1/2 horsepower and 400 watt. But at the same time, it’s very quiet compared to other wheels, which is great if you want to use it at home.
The wheel is 14″ in diameter and can center up to 100 lbs. That’s enough for even more advanced potters.
All the components are of high-quality, so you rarely see any technical problems with this model. And if anything does pop up, you can always use the standard 5 year warranty.
Some other nice features of the Shimpo VL Whisper that you might appreciate are the moveable floor pedal, the option to rotate the wheel in both directions, and adjustable legs.
Capacity: 100 lbs
Wheel diameter: 36 cm / 14 inch
Weight: 54 kg / 120 lbs
Speed: 250 RPM
2. Bent C
Brent is another common brand that has a series of different pottery wheels. You can normally recognize their wheels directly by their bright yellow color.
The Brent C model comes with a strong 3/4 horsepower 7 amp DC motor. Of course, it’s difficult to have a motor that is both very strong and very quiet. So although it has an electronic noise filter, this wheel isn’t as quiet as the Shimpo VL whisper.
The wheelhead of 14″ in combination with the strong motor lets you center up to 225 lbs of clay, which is more than double the Shimpo wheel, and enough even for bigger pottery projects.
However, if you aren’t planning on throwing that much clay, you won’t need such a strong motor. In that case, you might want to look at the Brent B instead, which has a cheaper 1/2 horsepower motor. On the flip side, if you need a stronger motor to throw even more clay, you can take a look at the Brent EX which has a 1.5 horsepower motor.
Capacity: 225 lbs
Wheel diameter: 36 cm / 14 inch
Weight: 45 kg / 100 lbs
Speed: 240 RPM
3. Speedball Clay Boss
If you are looking for a cheaper wheel for beginners that can still last you throughout most of your pottery career, I would recommend the Speedball Clay Boss.
The Clay Boss comes with a 1/2 horsepower motor, which unfortunately is belt-driven and thus can be a bit noisy.
It can handle up to 100 lbs of clay and has a 14″ wheelhead, comparable to the Shimpo VL Whisper.
What really stands out is of course it’s price. Costing somewhere around $800, it is roughly half the price of the other two wheels we mentioned.
Another big difference is that this wheel only ways roughly 80 lbs, which makes it much lighter than most other wheels. This makes it more portable, but also less sturdy and stable. So it’s a trade-off you have to consider for yourself.
If the motor isn’t strong enough for your needs, you also have the option to upgrade to a stronger model within the Speedball line.
Capacity: 100 lbs
Wheel diameter: 36 cm / 14 inch
Weight: 36 kg / 80 lbs
Speed: 240 RPM
Cheap pottery wheels for beginners
There are a lot of cheap pottery wheels available online that often cost even less than $200.
You might try out one of these as a low-budget alternative when you are just starting out. However, they can’t really compare with the wheels listed above, because they are relatively small, have a weak motor, and tend to break quickly.
However, people always ask for cheaper alternatives, so I have mentioned two very affordable option below.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you starting out with either of them, but if they are all you can afford, it’s better than nothing. They could also be a good gift for a beginner potter.
Once you want to commit to pottery more seriously, you can always buy a better wheel.
Alternatively, you can try to find a used pottery wheel from one of the major brands above. But depending on where you live, this isn’t always an option.
1. Mophorn small pottery wheel
If you are looking for a small-sized pottery wheel, this model by Mophorn could be an option for you.
Due to its compact size and low price it is popular among beginners.
The capacity isn’t explicitly specified, but it’s not too high (1~3lbs). So keep in mind you can only work on small projects.
It takes up little space and weighs only 33 lbs., so it’s easy to move around or use at home.
Capacity: <3 lb
Wheel diameter: 25 cm / 9.8 inch
Weight: 14.3 kg / 31.5 lb
Speed: 300 rpm
2. Mophorn big pottery wheel
This second model by Mophorn looks similar to the first in terms of maximum centering capacity, wheel diameter and speed.
However, this one comes with its own platform, so it’s much easier to use it while standing.
The speed can be controlled with a pedal and is maintained until changed. So you don’t need to constantly push the pedal down. However, there is also the option of just using the on and off switch if you prefer.
It also comes with a detachable basin, which makes it much easier to clean the mud after you are done.
Capacity: ~3 lb
Wheel diameter: 25 cm / 9.8 inch
Weight: 14.9 kg / 32.9 lbs
Speed: 300 RPM
What to look for when buying a pottery wheel
The most important factors to consider when buying a new pottery wheel are the power and RPM of the motor, the centering capacity, the wheel size, and durability. Additionally, you might want to pay attention to the weight of the wheel, the foot pedal and other accessories.
Let’s discuss all these factors one by one, so you know what each of them is and what to look for.
Most people nowadays use an electric pottery wheel. That of course means that you need a motor to keep the wheel rotating
The motor needs to be strong enough to keep the wheel moving fast. Depending on how strong your motor is, you will be able to center more or less clay.
One way to judge how powerful a motor is, is by looking at its horsepower. A good pottery wheel has somewhere between 1/4 to 3/2 horsepower. Having more horsepower is nice. But if you aren’t planning on throwing large amounts of clay, you don’t need to pay for an expensive motor.
Most people also want to factor in how noisy the motor is. In general, a stronger motor also makes more noise. But before actually trying a wheel, it’s difficult to estimate how much noise the motor will make. So if you want a quiet wheel, I recommend sticking with the Shimpo VL Whisper.
Motors can also vary in size a lot. And size doesn’t always correlate with how much horsepower it has. If you have to option between two motors with the same power, you normally want to go with the bigger motor.
This sounds counterintuitive because the bigger motor will be more difficult to more and requires more space. But bigger models generally also heat up slower during operation and will last longer.
How fast the wheel can rotate is measured in rotations per minute (RPM) and can used to give an indication of how strong the motor is.
A good pottery wheel will have a maximum RPM around 240 to 260. Unfortunately, not every manufacturer will provide this information for their models.
3. Centering capacity
The centering capacity indicates how much clay the wheel can handle at once. If you go over this limit, the wheel might start to rotate at and RPM that is too low. Or sometimes the wheel with repeatedly start to accelerate and decelerate.
You should find a wheel with a centering capacity that is high enough for your projects, so you need to know roughly how much clay you use.
Most hobby potters don’t work with more than 20 lbs at once, so buying a wheel with a centering capacity way above that would be excessive, and a cheaper wheel might serve you just as well.
However, you might to work on bigger projects in the future. So don’t buy a wheel that can handle exactly the amount of clay you use now.
The wheelhead is the surface you get to work on, and you want it to big enough for any pot, cup, or plate you might want to make.
Most studio wheels are 12″, 13″, or 14″ in diameter. However, cheap pottery wheels are normally considerably smaller (<10″ in diameter).
Additionally, having a wheelhead that can easily be removed or replaced is also beneficial, since it will make any repairs considerably easier.
5. Foot pedal
For most pottery wheels, a foot petal is used to control how fast the wheel is rotating. While shaping the clay, you continuously need to adjust the RPM, so having good control on the speed is important.
First you want to check if the foot pedal or if you can move it. Having a movable pedal is preferable since it lets you choose with which foot you want to use it, and you can raise it by placing it on something else.
Secondly, you want to check the sensitivity of the foot pedal. If the pedal is too sensitive, tiny movements will result in big swings in RPM, and vice versa. The ideal sensitivity depends on your personal preference though. And as long as the sensitivity isn’t too bad, you can normally get used to it after a while.
More important is how fast the wheel responds to the input. With some models there is a delay between when you press on the foot pedal and when the RPM of the wheel actually starts to change. If this delay is too long it can be difficult to work with.
Some cheap pottery wheels don’t have a foot pedal at all, but have a button or switch to choose the speed. This gives very little control over the RPM and you probably don’t want to touch it when your hands are covered in clay. So it’s best to stay away from these wheels.
A pottery wheel costs a pretty penny. So you don’t want your new wheel to break after just a few months. That’s why I recommend buying from one of the major brands. Most of them make very durable products and have excellent customer service when something does break.
Of course, there is no way of knowing how long a wheel will last without trying it out. But a good indication is the material that the frame and wheel are made out of. Steel lasts the longest, followed by aluminum and plastic.
Another indication of durability is the warranty that comes with the wheel.
Most major brand will give a 5 to 10 year warranty on new pottery wheels. So you can be sure that your wheel will at least last you a decade (and in most cases much longer).
If a pottery wheel doesn’t come with a warranty or if it’s very short, it’s better to go with a different model.
7. Splash pan
A splash pan is placed around the wheel and will collect any water while throwing or trimming scraps. Surprisingly, the splash pan isn’t always included in the price, even though you can’t really use a wheel without one. So make sure to check if you need to buy the splash pan separately.
If the pottery wheel comes with a splash pan, you also want to check if it can be removed or if it has a drain plug. This will make it much easier to clean it later on.
The portability depends on the size and weight of the frame of your wheel and the motor. Most wheels are quite heavy (>100 lbs) so they aren’t easy to move by yourself.
If you don’t have a lot of space available, you might be better off going for a lightweight wheel such as the Speedball Clay Boss.
Some models also come with small wheels at the bottom, which makes moving them a lot easier.
The cheap pottery wheels for beginners I mentioned earlier are considerably smaller and weight less. So if portability and storablility is your main concern, you might want to go with one of those. But for most people, it’s not worth the trade-off.
I know that there are many pottery wheels to choose from and many factors to consider when buying. That’s why it’s such a daunting task to buy your first wheel.
In my opinion, the best pottery wheels are:
The Shimpo VL Whisper is a solid choice overall and is very quiet. The Brent C has a lot of extra horsepower, so it can deal with more clay. And the Speedball Clay boss is a relatively cheap and lightweight option.
Of course, if you are just starting you will need more than just a wheel. So you’ll probably be interested in reading one of the follow articles as well: