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How to Make Pottery: A Step by Step Guide for Newcomers

pottery making

Pottery has been around for thousands and thousands of years. In fact, the oldest known pottery vessel is over 18,000 years old! Since then, pottery has reached all parts of the world and has been used in societies new and old for food and drink purposes or artistic and creative expressions.

Clay pottery making today is a fun activity that beginners and masters alike can enjoy. Once you get used to the potter’s wheel, the feel of the clay, and the pottery process, you’ll uncover a great new hobby and life-long skill.

In this article, we’ll dive into the details and discover the pottery process: how your creative work turns into a tangible bowl, cup, pot, or beautiful object that you can admire and appreciate.

Step 1: Clay Choice

The first step to making a pottery piece is to buy the appropriate clay[1]https://ehs.princeton.edu/health-safety-the-campus-community/art-theater-safety/art-safety/ceramics.

At this point, you should ask yourself what kind of piece you’ll be making. Do you want to make a bowl, a plate, or a vase? Or are you making an abstract piece for decoration?

These questions are important, as they affect the type of clay you should buy, the equipment you should use, and what heat you should fire in the kiln.

Porcelain: 

  • Great for functional pieces like bowls, plates, or cups, as it can sustain both low and high heats

Stoneware:

  • A cheaper option than porcelain, stoneware is also great for dinnerware pieces, as it’s durable and safe for ovens and microwaves

Earthenware:

  • Perfect for larger vases, jugs, crocks, or plant holders

Also interesting: Pottery Wheels for beginners.

Step 2: Clay Preparation

Clay preparation is essential, as it ensures no air bubbles are present and protects your piece from exploding in the kiln.

First, cut a piece of clay off of your clay block using a wire cutter. Then, wedge or knead the clay into a ball with your hands. Roll the clay back and forth on a flat, dry surface while applying pressure. Follow this process for a few minutes. Next, using the wire cutter, slice the clay in half and check for air pockets. If any appear, press the clay back together and continue to wedge and knead. If there are no air bubbles, press the clay together and roll the clay into a ball.

Step 3: Potter’s Wheel

Now that your clay is prepped, it’s time to use a pottery wheel.

  1. To begin, make sure the ‘bat,’ or the disk attached to the head of the wheel, is clean.
  2. Then, using a wet sponge, dampen the bat.
  3. Align the clay in the center of the bat and firmly press down until all sides are flattened on the bat’s surface.
  4. Once your clay is in place, increase the speed of the wheel, wet your hands with water, and position your elbows firmly on your legs or knees[2]https://libguides.eastfieldcollege.edu/c.php?g=209681&p=1383830.
  5. Next, compress the clay and push and pull the clay upwards between your hands.
  6. Make sure your hands are still wet, and gently push your left hand over the top of the clay and press down while steadying with your right hand on the outside of the clay.
  7. Follow this pattern of raising the clay upwards and pushing back downwards to center the clay on the bat correctly.
  8. Once centered, use two thumbs to press in the middle of the clay and make an opening. Make sure that your fingers are wet during this process and your elbows remain secure on your legs.
  9. Now, enlarge the opening by pressing one thumb in the middle of the clay while using the opposite hand’s fingers to keep steady pressure on your thumb. Be careful not to go all the way through the bottom of the clay.
  10. Next, you can start to form the desired shape of your vessel. Place your index or middle finger into the opening. Use your opposite hand to guide your index or middle finger along the inside of the opening, and gently pull back towards your body.
  11. You can also use one hand on the inside of the vessel and one on the outside to push the clay and elongate it to your desired shape.
  12. You can get creative with different pressures and by pulling and pushing from the inside and outside of the clay to make the shape your own.
  13. Finally, use the sponge to smooth out the clay if you wish.
  14. Use wire to separate the piece from the bat by placing the wire directly underneath the bottom of the clay and pulling it towards yourself in one smooth motion.

Also interesting: What is a pottery wheel.

Step 4: Drying

Your clay object will now have to sit out for a week or more until it is completely dry with zero moisture content. When the clay is completely dry, it’s called bone dry, and it becomes extremely fragile. So, remember to handle your piece with great care and attention.

Step 5: Bisque Firing

Your project is now ready for the first firing in the kiln! Remember to use the utmost caution if using the kiln on your own, as it can cause serious injuries or death.

The temperature at which you bisque fire your project is critical.

  • Earthenware: Low fire range between cone 06 and cone 2
  • Stoneware: Mid fire range between cone 3 and cone 7
  • Porcelain: High fire range at cone 10
  1. Make sure the kiln is clean free of debris
  2. Check for any safety hazards
  3. Place your pottery in an evenly centered position in the kiln
  4. Program the kiln at the correct temperature
  5. Allow enough time after firing for the kiln and your pottery to cool down

Also interesting: Pottery Wheels for Kids.

Step 6: Glazing

Now that your piece is bisque fired, it’s ready for glazing.

Make sure to select a glaze that can fire at the corresponding temperature to the type of clay chosen.

You can glaze your project by either dipping it or brushing it on.

First, make sure that your piece is free of any dust. Try wiping it down with a wet sponge or cloth to make sure it is completely clean. Then, make sure to mix the glaze thoroughly before dipping your piece into a bucket of glaze or using a brush to paint it on.

Step 7: Glaze Firing

Once your glaze is dry, your piece can go back in the kiln for its final firing. Again, it’s essential to be aware of the temperature that your clay and glaze can fire at in the kiln. If fired too low, the glaze won’t vitrify or adequately fuse together. At temperatures too high, the glaze can melt and run off the pottery.

Follow the same steps for bisque firing to glaze fire your pottery. Also, make sure to handle the piece gently, so the glaze doesn’t become loose.

Now, after waiting for your piece to cool, you can unload the kiln and enjoy your stunning and unique pottery!

As you continue to practice with different types of clay, techniques on the potter’s wheel, applying glazes, and becoming accustomed to the kiln, your skills will continue to get better and better. No matter what, stay patient, positive, and enjoy the process as you learn.

Also interesting: How to make a pottery wheel.

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