Ceramic Tools

Make Your Own Pottery Tools and Save Money on Pottery Supplies

Ceramic tools can get pretty expensive if you're buying the good ones. Some of them are well worth purchasing. For what little they cost, I wouldn't bother to make them on my own.

A good example of this is a clay needle. You can buy a clay needle at any store that carries pottery supplies for a couple of dollars. A needle is an awesome tool, full of uses, and worth the money to get a sturdy one.

On the other hand, other pottery supplies can get rather costly and homemade ceramic tools often work better. They can also be customized to suit your needs. Here are my favorite homemade tools:

1) Cutting Wire - A cutting wire is a very useful tool. You use it for cutting hunks of clay off the block for throwing. You can trim the rim of your pot by cutting the wire through the clay wall at the top. You definitely need one to cut your pot off the wheel when it is finished.

The issue with cutting wires is that they tend to get kinks in them if you aren't careful with them. When they get kinks they have to be replaced. With a spool of heavy fishing line you can have an endless supply of cutting wires.

Make a cutting wire by connecting heavy fishing line between two old ink pens or two small dowels with holes drilled through the center. You can customize the wires to different lengths and use different weights of line for different purposes.

(If you use ink pens, pick the kind with the clips. You can knot the fishing line under the clips to keep the line in place.)

A thinner, shorter line serves very well for trimming the rims off pots. For heavier applications, like cutting pots off the wheel, a thicker, longer line is better.

Tip: A thin, light piece of string with no handles attached works well for cutting pots off the hump. It takes some practice to get it down but try it.

With the wheel spinning slowly, lay the string along the base of the pot. Once the string has wrapped itself around the pot pull the string decisively through the clay.

2) Special Ribs - Ribs are invaluable ceramic tools for shaping and forming specific clay pot patterns. Many potters will hand carve a rib just for throwing one specific style of pot. Make a rib using scrap wood, hard wood, or an old music CD. Simply cut it and sand the edges to the desired shape.

3) Forks and Fabric - Never underestimate the value of everyday objects to create amazing homemade ceramic tools. My favorite example is something I did on accident.

I was making thirsty coasters one day. You've probably seen thirsty coasters. They're made of unglazed clay that is fired, but not to full maturity. Thus they are hard, but they still absorb water from the bottom of the glasses that sit on them. They're really cool.

Anyway, I was rolling out slabs of clay and I stopped to rest for a moment. I laid my wrist down on one of the smooth slabs and stuck my woven wrist band into the clay.

When I looked down I saw this great, organic, recurring pattern in the surface. So, naturally, I took off the wrist band and started rolling it into the surface of the clay. To this day, it's one of my favorite surface designs. Plus, it's so simple.

Another of my favorites is carving into your pot with a fork. You can do this while the wheel is spinning to create cool banding textures. Or you can do it after the pot has dried a bit and create a patchwork or crosshatch pattern.

This is the kind of thing that makes the difference between a really interesting pot and a "looks just like every other pot you could buy in a store" kind of pot.

All that to say, look around your house. Find the textures. Work them into your clay. Experiment on a flat slab of clay first.

Roll fabrics onto the clay. If you do this on a pot, here's a tip:

1) You want it dry enough that it won't collapse, but not yet leather hard. If it's leather hard it won't take an imprint. Too wet, and it will stick to your fabric and make a mess. Also support the pot on the inside with your other hand.

4) Wooden Paddles- Paddles are excellent for adding texture to your pottery. They can have a pattern carved into the wood, or they can be wrapped in textured fabric. They can be made out of plywood, or any other kind of hard or soft wood.

Make a paddle:

Using a skill saw cut a 3" by 12" block that is 1/2" thick. Carve out a handle in one end that is 5" long. This leaves you with a 3" by 7" block to carve patterns into or wrap with fabric.

Using a paddle:

To use your paddle, support the pot from the inside with one hand. With the other hand, "paddle" the outside of the pot.

There are two purposes to paddling:

1) Thinning and shaping the pot- You can actually stretch and thin the pot using the paddle. In this case the pattern will be dispersed over the whole pot. The pattern helps to prevent the paddle from sticking to your slightly-less-than-leather-hard pot.

2) Adding texture- Texture can be added to specific areas of the pot just by gentle, focused paddling. Again, be sure to support the pot where necessary.

Let's see, what are some other good ceramic tools?

5) Your Hands- This may sound obvious, but your hands are often underestimated in the throwing process. We train our hands over and over to follow the exact same routine from centering to cutting the pot off the wheel.

With all that routine we forget to experiment with our hands. So, experiment. Try pulling up your pot in a different way, with a knuckle or the edge of your palm.

Use your thumb and finger nails to create undercuts, indents and bands.

Curl your finger over the top edge of your pot to create a wide, rounded rim.

Let's see, what are some other good ceramic tools?

6) A Foam Bat- If you haven't checked out Emily Murphy's pottery blog, it's really amazing. See her tips for making a really simple, yet effective foam trimming bat.

Best of luck in making your own ceramic tools and Happy Potting.

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