Pottery Wheel Techniques: Mastering the Basics for Beginners
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. Prepare your pottery wheel
  2. How to center the clay
  3. Opening the clay
  4. Lifting and forming
  5. Trimming and finishing

Ready to get your hands dirty? Perfect, because we're about to explore the fascinating world of pottery wheel techniques. This guide will walk you through the basics, teaching you how to pottery wheel like a pro. Whether you're a complete beginner or just need a little refresher, this guide will have you spinning pottery in no time. So, let's dive right in and get started!

Prepare Your Pottery Wheel

Before you start shaping and molding, there's one very important step: getting your pottery wheel ready. Thankfully, it's as easy as 1, 2, 3. Follow these steps to ensure you're all set for some pottery wheel action:

Cleaning Your Wheel

First things first: a clean wheel is a happy wheel. Remove any residual clay or debris from your last session. Use a damp sponge or cloth to wipe down the wheel head and bat pins. This step is not just about cleanliness—it also helps ensure your clay will stick to the wheel when you start.

Securing the Bat

Next, you'll need to secure the bat on your pottery wheel. The bat is the flat disc you place your clay on. Make sure it's firmly attached to the wheel head. If it's wobbly or uneven, your clay will be too. Remember, you want your clay to dance, not your bat!

Preparing Your Tools

  • Water Bucket: Keep a bucket of water close by. You're going to need it to keep your hands and clay wet as you work.
  • Pottery Tools: Make sure your pottery tools are within reach. You'll need a wire tool for cutting clay, a rib for smoothing, and a needle tool for precise shaping.

Now that your pottery wheel is ready, you're all set to start learning how to pottery wheel. Up next, we'll talk about centering the clay—an important first step in shaping your masterpiece.

How to Center the Clay

Centering the clay is a pivotal step in mastering how to pottery wheel. It might seem a bit tricky at first, but with practice, you'll be centering clay like a pro in no time. Here's how you can achieve a perfectly centered clay ball:

Positioning the Clay

Start by placing a ball of clay smack dab in the middle of your bat. Give it a firm press downwards to secure it to the wheel. Keep in mind, the size of the clay ball should be manageable for you. Starting smaller can make the process easier for beginners.

Wetting the Clay

Next, dip your hands in the water bucket and wet the clay. This reduces friction, making the clay easier to manipulate. But remember, too much water can make the clay slippery and more difficult to control—so use just enough to keep things moving smoothly.

Applying Pressure

Now, it's time to start the wheel. As it spins, place your hands on either side of the clay ball. Apply gentle, even pressure. The goal here is to align the clay particles in a vertical direction, which helps to stabilize the clay as it spins.

Perfecting the Process

If the clay starts to wobble or move off-center, slow down the wheel and reposition the clay. The key is consistency and patience. With time, you'll be able to feel when the clay is perfectly centered—it will spin smoothly and your hands will move effortlessly around it.

The ability to center clay is an important skill in learning how to pottery wheel. Once you've mastered this, you're ready to move on to the next step: opening the clay. But we'll save that exciting process for another section!

Opening the Clay

Opening the clay is the next step in the journey of learning how to pottery wheel. This is when you start shaping the clay to form the walls of your pottery. Here's a simple guide to help you understand and master this process:

Creating the Initial Indent

With the clay centered and the wheel spinning, wet your hands and place your thumb or index finger in the center of the clay ball. Apply gentle downward pressure to create an initial indent, or well. This is the birth of your pottery's inner space!

Deepening the Well

Once you have your initial indent, it's time to deepen it. Using your fingers, slowly and carefully press down into the clay. Be careful not to go too deep—you don't want to break through to the bat! A good rule of thumb is to leave about a quarter inch of clay at the bottom.

Widening the Opening

After you've reached a good depth, start widening the opening. Keep your hands steady and use a slow, outward motion. Remember, the opening's size will determine the shape and size of your pottery piece, so take your time and be deliberate with your movements.

Smoothing the Inside

Once you're happy with the opening, wet your hands and smooth the inside of the clay. This will remove any uneven spots and prepare the clay for the next step: lifting and forming. But we'll cover that in the next section!

Opening the clay is a crucial step when learning how to pottery wheel. It might take a few tries to get it right, but don't worry—each attempt brings you closer to becoming a pottery wheel master. So keep practicing, and have fun!

Lifting and Forming

Now that your clay is open and ready, we'll move on to the next important part in the "how to pottery wheel" guide. We're going to lift and form the clay—this is where you'll really start to see your pottery piece take shape!

Getting a Good Grip

First things first, you need to get a good grip on the clay. Wet your hands and place them on either side of the clay, fingers pointing down. Your palms should be parallel to the wheel, and your thumbs should be touching. This position will give you the control you need for the next steps.

Lifting the Clay

Now, for the magic moment — lifting the clay. Keeping your hands steady, slowly move them upward. As you do this, apply a gentle inward pressure. You should see the clay walls start to rise and thin out. This is where your pottery starts to get its height and shape!

Forming the Shape

Once you've lifted the clay, it's time to form the shape. This is where your creativity gets to shine. Fancy a vase? Go for it! Want to make a bowl? You do you! Just remember, the top should be narrower than the base to ensure stability.

Smoothing the Outside

Finally, use a sponge or your hands to smooth the outside of the clay. This removes any lumps or uneven spots, leaving you with a beautifully smooth surface to finish and decorate. But let's not get ahead of ourselves — there's still one more step in our "how to pottery wheel" guide!

Lifting and forming is the heart of pottery wheeling. It's where you'll see your lump of clay transform into a work of art. So take your time, be patient, and above all, have fun!

Trimming and Finishing

Now that you've successfully lifted and formed your clay, we're ready to move on to the final steps of our "how to pottery wheel" guide. Let's dive into the world of trimming and finishing—the final touches that make your pottery piece truly stand out.

Trimming the Excess Clay

Firstly, you need to trim off any excess clay from the base of your pottery piece. Here's how to do it: while the wheel is spinning, hold a trimming tool steady against the base of the piece, and let it cut away the unneeded clay. Remember, the goal here is to make the base clean and even.

Adding the Finishing Touches

Once you've trimmed off the excess clay, it's time to add those finishing touches. This could be anything from carving a design into the clay, to smoothing out the surface with a sponge, to adding a handle or spout. The sky's the limit here. These details will give your piece its unique character, so don't be afraid to get creative!

Let it Dry and Fire it Up

After you've added your finishing touches, let your piece dry completely. This could take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on the size and thickness of your piece. Once it's dry, it's time to fire it up in a kiln. This will harden the clay and set your design. Remember, patience is key—don't rush this process!

And there you have it! You've learned the basics of how to pottery wheel from preparing the wheel to trimming and finishing your piece. Now, it's your turn to get your hands dirty and start creating. Happy pottering!

If you're looking to master the basics of pottery wheel techniques, be sure to check out Meghan Yarnell's workshop, 'Pottery Basics: Everything You Need To Know.' This workshop is perfect for beginners who want to learn the fundamentals of pottery and start their journey in the world of ceramics. Don't miss this opportunity to learn from an experienced potter and enhance your skills!