Any SDMB Potters? (the muggle variety)

I’m taking an eight week basic pottery wheel course this summer. Last night I had my first class, which I had been excited about for weeks.

So, the number one thing I was too embarrassed to ask the teacher:

Is it supposed to hurt?

My left hand is killing me - I have a scab on the base of my palm from where the wheel wore away the skin. I’m sort of afraid to go back. Am I doing something wrong?

That’s my question, but if there are potters here, I’d to open the discussion up to general topics as well - how you got into it and what you like to make, etc.

The wheel wore away your skin?

The only wheelwork I did was on an electric - and my palms were always on the very wet pliable clay.

Say more about the wheel. Maybe somebody who’s used that kind of wheel could help.

Ask your instructor what’s wrong with your technique. I haven’t thrown a pot in a long time, but the only pain I ever endured was find out my pot exploded in the kiln the night before (taking with it all my classmates’ work).

I mentioned it to another student, who said that eventually you develop a callus there and it won’t hurt anymore. It was happening while I tried to center the clay (at which, btw, I suck), from bracing the side of my hand/wrist against my knee and the wheel so the base of my palm would be steady and not get move when I pushed the clay toward the center.

I think this is an electric wheel. I mean, it definately runs on electricity. It sort of looks like a big record player on a stool, only the record is made of aluminum. There’s a foot pedal that you use to make it spin at different speeds.

I always started out with plans for a Harrapan burial pot but typically ended up with Chinese teacups. Large pieces are physically exhausting when you’re still learning. Keep at it. I wonder if surgical gloves would help? Might be worth a try.

I’ve taken 4 pottery classes over the last year, and I’ve got to say that, no, it never hurt, and no, I don’t have any calluses. I tend to use a fair bit of water, and even when centering (at which I suck, too) I don’t put much pressure on the wheel - I’m pushing in on the clay. Really, contact with the wheel should be minimal, even when centering.

I’ve tried several centering techniques, and I found coning to be the most effective, since so far I mostly do small pieces. I have my hands on either side of the wedged clay, and I push in and up, forming a fairly tall cone. From there, I push straight down on the top of the cone while keeping it even from the side. I’ve also found that the more water I use at this stage (up to a point) the easier it is to center. Still, after a bit over a year, I often have a time of it.

I see you’re in Baltimore - are you going to Clayworks? I take my classes in Annapolis (Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts) on Saturday mornings with the best teacher in the world!! OK, maybe there are other good ones out there, but I love Tina…

Feel free to email me if you have any questions. I’m not an expert by any means, but I’m new enough that I may be able to help - does that make sense? Too bad you don’t live closer to St. Mary’s county - I just finished setting up my own wheel and kiln at home. :smiley: You could come over and we could play together…

I don’t have any tips about your hand, since all my pottery experience consists of a 7 week beginner’s class. I don’t think you have to rest your hand too much on the wheel to center, though, just push inward. I also suck at centering, so my advice might not be worth much.

I’m starting the intermediate class next week, not that I really feel like an “intermediate”. I just need more practice doing simple things. I always end up with pieces that are too thick. Does anyone have any tips for pulling up the walls or just helpful advice in general?

Arien, most of my stuff is too thick also, at least to my eye. My teacher isn’t overly concerned. But, I find if I pull gradually and gently, I have better luck getting uniform walls, and that’s a good first step to thinner walls. I have killed way too many pieces by trying to pull too much too fast, and I wind up with a thinner section that collapses under the weight of the thicker clay I’ve pulled above.

Do you ever use a rib when you pull? Sometimes having a rigid piece to pull against makes it easier to control the thickness. Wheel speed can make a difference, too - you might try varying that and see if it affects your work.

Huh. Now I’m questioning the technique my teacher was giving us. She specifically was showing us how to stabilize your hand by bracing your elbow against your knee while using your right hand to press down on your wrist, so you push the clay in toward the center with the edge of your left hand. It does keep your hand from moving, but it also squishes the side of your hand to the wheel, which is where I had problems. So hearing from you guys that I’m not really supposed to touch the spinning wheel is both a relief and kind of troubling.

Maybe “coning” is another lesson, but we didn’t do anything like that this time. Maybe I should try it anyway. I was finding that I couldn’t tell if it was centered unless I wrapped both hands around the clay anyway.
FairyChatMom, got any pictures of your home setup? That’s pretty neat.

I’ve been throwing pottery for the past 6 or so years, and I’ve never gotten a callous on my hands so I don’t think you should need to develop one. Coning is an important part of centering. You raise the clay up into a cone and then squash it back down. That centers the clay and helps remove any remaining air bubbles. When starting it isn’t all that important, getting the clay centered is enough.

The technique you describe of bracing your elbow on your leg is correct, but you will learn how not to rest your hand on the wheel. It shouldn’t be touching the wheel when you center, or just lightly resting on it. You may also want to wet the wheel more if this continues to be a problem, as you won’t get much friction if it’s wet.

Timing the speed of the wheel and the speed of your pull is critical. It takes a while to get both your hands squeezing the clay with the right pressure and pulling up at the right speed, matching that to the wheel speed and the size of your piece. It eventually comes together, but you’ll probably produce a few heavy pieces before you get there.

When you are practicing, it really helps to finish up the piece, then take your wire tool, slide it half way under the piece and cut it in half bottom to top. Then examine the wall thickness to see how much extra you have, or where the thin spots are. You might feel odd cutting your pieces up but it’s worth it in the long run.

Remember, it’s just clay. You’re the boss, you tell it where to go. :slight_smile:

I did pottery for fun (not profit) for a year or so several years ago. I, too, never quite got the hang of centering, nor wheel work in general, but I think I know what you’re talking about.

It may be that you are using clay with very heavy “grain” (?) I don’t remember the proper term for it, but usually beginners work with clay with bigger granules in it because it tends to be cheaper and more durable. This is opposed to something like porcelain, which is super-smooth and beautiful to touch, but is more difficult to control.

So, with the heavy granules, plus the unnecessary pushing on the wheel - I used to do this too, by the way - and perhaps not enough water, all combine to create the gravelly friction against your hand. Ow!

My suggestion: brace your hands/arms as instructed, but instead of pushing your right hand into the wheel, push up with your right hand a bit against your left, so you’re offering yourself some resistance, and it will keep your right hand just above the spinning wheel. It also can be a bit of a nice resistance workout.

As for adding more water, it’s probably a good idea. I tended not to use enough either. But do be careful, as I think TOO much water might make the piece slippery on the wheel.

Hope that helps. Good luck! Reading this made me miss potting. :slight_smile:

I remember in high school I’d be working on a piece and I’d finally get it to a decent height and general size (those big pieces were so tough) and Tony Symanzski would fling a clayball onto it while the wheel was spinning and I’d dork the whole thing into a useless pile of clay.

My mom is a potter, and I’ve done some throwing on an electric wheel.

I use a similar centering technique to the one you described, and I think you’re holding your hand too low to the wheel. It shouldn’t be resting on the surface of the wheel; it should be braced against the clay a good bit above the wheel. You should balance your elbows on your thighs a couple of inches behind your knee and angle your hands further upward. Try sitting a little closer to the wheel.

A word about water: It does help the clay flow more smoothly under your hands, but beware. If you use too much (as I often do) it can weaken the clay. Also, it can weaken the seal holding your clay to the wheel, so (especially if you’re holding your hands too low) you can accidentally push your clay off the wheel-head or bat. THAT is frustrating.

I’ll be posting some as soon as the studio is all done - next week, I hope…

That is called grog and having more of it does make the clay stronger and easier to build things with, up to a point. Clay bodies with less grog allow you to make more delicate and smooth pieces. Like pretty much everything with pottery, it’s a tradeoff.

Porcelain isn’t really more difficult to control when throwing, I find that it centers easier for example. The problem with porcelain is that it’s not too strong when wet, so you have to throw pretty dry and take care making larger pieces. It also warps a lot when firing, it’ll remember any time it was out of round during the throwing process. It’s frustrating to have a nice piece going into the kiln that comes out looking like it was made by vandals.

Finally got around to taking pictures. I’m not sure the arrangement will stay as it is - I may move things when I work down there.

Thanks for the pictures, FCM! I should probably also say I like to see pictures of anybody’s work, if they’d care to post them.

Also, my second class went much better. I managed to center clay without leaning on my arm to stabilize, so hopefully no more wheel abrasions.
Centering is still hard, though. But not as hard as making narrow cylinders. I never know when to stop, I had two peices that would have been great if only I had stopped while the going was good and not continuted working on them until they flew apart.

90% of pottery is knowing when to stop futzing.