Do you want to pick up pottery as a new hobby? You are not alone!
Even today, pottery is still a surprisingly popular hobby, considering humankind has made pots out of clay for centuries.
However, useless dirt doesn’t turn itself into beautiful pots and vases.
So let’s take a look at the complete pottery making process step by step.
1. Deciding what to make
The first step is to decide what you’ll be making. Some common pottery projects include bowls, dishes, cups, mugs, vases, ashtrays, incense holders, pitchers, etc.
When choosing your next project, you should consider both your own skill level and what tools you have available.
For example, if you don’t have a pottery wheel, you can consider some handbuilding techniques or slab pottery projects.
2. Choosing the clay
There are roughly four different types of clay that you should know. The biggest difference is the firing temperature that’s required. Here is a quick overview:
- Earthenware clay: ideal for making smaller vases and cups because it has a low firing temperature.
- Stoneware clay: works well for larger bowls and other dishes, but requires a higher firing temperature than earthenware.
- Porcelain clay: has a much higher firing temperature than either earthenware or stoneware and is ideal for any kind of pottery.
- Ball clay: works well in making highly sculptural pieces that require a lot of strength. Ball clay is a special kind of clay that is used in ceramics and pottery. For example, when someone says they’re working with ball clay, it means they’re working with the specific type of material used to create items such as plates, cups, and sculptures during the pottery-making process.
If you don’t have a kiln, you can consider using air dry clay. This type of clay doesn’t need to be fired, but is also a little less durable than regular ceramic clay.
For more information, you can read our guide on air dry clay.
3. Preparing the clay
Whenever you buy a new batch of clay, there is a possibility that there are some small air bubble inside the clay. Alternatively air bubbles can form if you combine two or more pieces of clay.
These bubbles can cause some big problem. For example, when throwing the clay using a pottery wheel, the clay might suddenly collapse.
Another problem occurs when firing the clay. Because small pockets of air will make the resulting pots very brittle.
So before you start working with your clay, you have to make sure that there are no air bubbles present.
There are several ways to remove the air bubbles, but most techniques come down to “kneading the clay like dough” until there is no air pockets left.
4. Center the clay on the wheel
Now that the clay is ready, you can move it to the pottery wheel. Give it a good smack to make sure that it sticks to the wheel.
To center the clay, you’ll need a lot of speed and a lot of water. If the clay feels dry, don’t hesitate to add extra water.
Once you feel no more movement while keeping your hand still, you know the clay is centered.
You don’t need to center all the clay. Only center the clay that you plan on actually using. Since you’ll cut away the bottom part anyway, you don’t need to worry about the base of the clay.
Depending on what kind of object you are making, you want to give the clay roughly the same dimensions. So wide and flat for plates and bowls, or narrow and long for pitchers and vases.
5. Create the desired shape
This is where the fun starts! You finally get to give the clay the shape you want.
Use your thumb to slowly press down on the clay from above. This will make the clay hollow and will decide how long you want your piece to be. Then slowly more outwards to widen the base.
Of course, it’s not as easy as it sounds. There are a variety of techniques you can use to make different shapes. But those would each deserve their own post, so we’ll discuss them in more detail later.
6. Remove the finished object
Once you are happy with the final shape, you can remove it from the wheel.
Use a piece of string to cut your piece free from the rest of the clay, and then carefully try to lift it.
You don’t want to press too hard when picking up the clay, since you might dent it while it’s still wet.
A commonly used technique is to form V signs with your index finger and middle finger and lift the clay from the bottom.
7. Dry the clay
The clay needs to rest before you fire it in the kiln. This might take a few days depending on the type of clay you used.
Once the clay is leather dry, you can trim the clay or add a signature. This is of course completely optional.
You know your clay is ready to be fired if it has become stone dry.
8. Firing the clay
Next is the firing process. During this process the clay is heated to high temperatures (>1000 F) and becomes hard. The exact temperature depends on the type of clay you used.
Since firing requires such high temperatures, it’s best to fire several items at the same time to keep the price low. If you don’t have a kiln available at home, you can also consider a firing service or ask a local pottery studio.
After the first firing, you’ll end up with bisque-ware, which is still very porous.
To make your pots and plates waterproof and food safe, you’ll have to apply a glaze and fire them a second time.
Glazing the pottery will also make sure that the resulting pieces are microwave safe and dishwasher safe. But it’s important to use the right glaze, because if it doesn’t match the clay very well, it may lead to crazing.
9. Sanding your pieces
Once your pieces have cooled down again, you can give them a quick sanding to make sure there aren’t any shape pieces.
And that’s it!
That’s the complete pottery making process in just 9 steps. Hopefully it doesn’t look too intimidating. It’s completely fine to fail the first time.
You can always sign up for a pottery class if you need more help or read some more of our articles on pottery.