Understanding Pottery Making

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Creating Pottery by Hand

While hand building is considered the oldest pottery making technique, it is also viewed by many as the most intricate. Its versatility is only limited by one’s imagination. To try your hand at hand building, you’ll need a bit of clay and a lot of creativity. Handmade pottery usually has a more rustic and rugged appearance compared to the smooth surfaces of pottery made on a wheel – which contributes to its appeal. The three fundamental hand-building techniques are pinch, coil, and slab construction. These methods can be used individually or in combination to create unique pieces.

The easiest way to begin working with clay is to make a pinch pot. Start by kneading the clay into a small ball the size of your fist. To create the center, “open” the pot by poking your thumb into the clay to make an indentation. Then slowly pinch and shape the sides, adjusting the thickness of the walls as you go. Consistent wall thickness is important to ensure even drying and prevent cracking. Once the pot is around 75% dry, known as “leather-hard,” use a wooden rib tool to smooth out the sides.

Coil construction is a technique that Native Americans used to make bowls. To start, roll the clay into a long, thin cylinder slightly thicker than a pencil. The most challenging aspect is maintaining a uniform thickness throughout the coil. Join the ends to create a circle and stack the coils on top of each other. Use your fingers or a wooden rib tool to smooth the inside of the coils as you join them together.

Slab construction is ideal for creating objects with right angles, such as boxes. While it is the most complex of the three hand-building techniques, it can be mastered with practice and patience. To create the slab, spread the clay out on a smooth surface using your hand, then roll it out with a rolling pin, ensuring uniform thickness. You can use yardsticks on either side of the clay and roll until the sides are even with the stick. Use a ruler and knife to cut square pieces for the bottom and four sides and let them dry until they are leather hard. Scratch a criss-cross pattern into the edges where the pieces will join, then create a paste of clay and water called slip to bond the pieces together. The slip should be the consistency of yogurt. Brush the slip onto the criss-cross areas and assemble the box. Use a damp brush to smooth out the edges where the clay joins together.

All hand-built pottery should dry gradually to minimize the risk of cracking. Next, we’ll discuss pottery throwing on a wheel.


1. What is pottery?

Pottery is the art of forming objects from clay and firing them in a kiln. It is one of the oldest human inventions, with archaeological evidence dating back to 24,000 BC.

2. What are the different types of pottery?

There are three main types of pottery: earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. Earthenware is fired at a lower temperature and is more porous than stoneware. Stoneware is fired at a higher temperature and is denser and less porous than earthenware. Porcelain is fired at an even higher temperature and is white, translucent, and non-porous.

3. How is pottery made?

Pottery is made by shaping clay on a potter’s wheel or by hand, and then allowing it to dry. Once the clay is dry, it is fired in a kiln to harden it and make it permanent. Glazes can be applied to the pottery before the second firing to add color and texture.

4. What is a kiln?

A kiln is an oven used to fire pottery. Kilns can be electric or fueled by gas or wood. They can reach temperatures as high as 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. What is glaze?

Glaze is a liquid mixture of minerals that is applied to pottery before the second firing. When the pottery is fired again, the glaze melts and forms a glass-like surface on the pottery. Glaze can add color, texture, and protection to the pottery.

6. What tools are used to make pottery?

Some common tools used to make pottery include a potter’s wheel, clay, a kiln, a kiln shelf, a glaze brush, a sponge, a wire tool, and a rib tool. Additional tools may be used depending on the specific techniques and styles of pottery being made.

7. What is a potter’s wheel?

A potter’s wheel is a tool used to shape clay into a symmetrical form. It consists of a spinning wheel head, a foot pedal, and a motor. The potter uses their hands to shape the clay as it spins on the wheel.

8. How long does it take to make pottery?

The time it takes to make pottery depends on the size, style, and techniques used. It can take anywhere from a few hours to several weeks or months to complete a single piece of pottery.

9. What is the history of pottery?

Pottery has a long and rich history, with evidence of its use dating back to ancient civilizations such as the Greeks, Romans, and Chinese. Pottery has been used for functional purposes such as storing food and water, as well as for artistic expression.

10. What is the significance of pottery today?

Today, pottery is still used for both functional and artistic purposes. It is a form of self-expression and creativity, and can be found in homes, galleries, and museums around the world. Pottery making can also be a therapeutic and relaxing hobby.

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