How to Make a Pottery Wheel

how to make a pottery wheel

Are you wondering how to make a pottery wheel so you don’t have to spend thousands to a buy one?

It’s actually not as complicated as you think.

A pottery wheel is one of the most important tools for potters.

Whether you’re a beginner and you’re only getting your hands dirty with clay or you’re already a pro who’s been throwing clay for years, you can’t go without a pottery wheel.

The world’s earliest potters used mats which they rotated with their hands. They would roll the clay body into a thin, long strand and wind it around, turning the mat as they go.

It was around 5,000 years ago that ancient potters in Mesopotamia learned how to make a pottery wheel.

This sped up their work significantly. What took hours to create only took minutes. It also helped them create pottery with more symmetry.  

You too can learn how to make a pottery wheel without having to spend a lot of money on tools and materials.  

Why You Need to Learn How to Make a Pottery Wheel

Most people who want to learn how to make a pottery wheel do so because of one thing.

They don’t have plenty of room in their budget to buy one.

A pottery wheel isn’t cheap.

And you also need to consider other expenses. You’ll need to buy clays, glazes, and carving tools. Plus, you need a kiln for firing yousr ceramics.

If you’re not sure about the permanence of pottery in your life, it may be too early to lay down a significant amount of money to buy the best pottery wheel on the market.

Learning how to make a pottery wheel certainly does take more effort.

But if your goal is to save money, it’s a great way to start throwing without spending too much. Most people can learn how to make a pottery wheel for far less than a hundred bucks.

3 Types of Pottery Wheels

When you’re first starting to learn how to make a pottery wheel, you might be confused by how many options you have.

There are quite a few types of pottery wheels. And you’ll find so many online plans and designs for making them.

But all these types and plans share the same common principle. Each pottery wheel uses some sort of rotating mechanism to move the wheel head, where the actual throwing is done.  

1. Get your kicks on

In Asian countries such as Japan, India, and Korea, potters favor the kick wheel.

The kick wheel is the simplest type of wheel. It has a heavy flywheel at the bottom, typically weighing 165 pounds or more.

You power the kick wheel with your foot. The harder you kick, the faster it turns. The wheel head turns as long as the kick wheel keeps moving.

When you want to slow the wheel head down, you simply drag your feet over the flywheel.

You operate a kick wheel completely hands-free. This gives you all the freedom you need to use both your hands to mold and shape your clay.

If you want to learn how to make a pottery wheel, you might consider building a kick wheel.

It’s low-maintenance and will last pretty much your entire life if you build it properly.

It can also turn clockwise and counterclockwise so that it works for both right-handed and left-handed potters. 

2. A step up from the traditional potter’s wheel

A treadle wheel is an upgrade from the kick wheel.

If you’re going to learn how to make a pottery wheel, adding a treadle is going to come with a few more complications than making a simple kick wheel.

The treadle wheel works a lot like the kick wheel. The only exception is it has an additional lever that you move with your foot to turn the flywheel.

The treadle allows for smoother movements than a kick wheel.

You also get more consistent speeds on this type of pottery wheel.

The Leach wheel is the most popular treadle wheel design. It was named after studio potter Bernard Leach, widely regarded as the father of British studio pottery.

The Leach wheel stands on three legs to help it balance on uneven floors. It has a treadle with an adjustable chain so that it can be used by different potters.

You can learn how to make a pottery wheel with a treadle by using this plan from Simon Leach, grandson of Bernard Leach.

3. A true 21st-century pottery wheel

If you love to tinker with electronics, you can learn how to make a pottery wheel that runs on electricity.

Adding electricity is the biggest modern-day development on the pottery wheel.

This gets rid of the heavy flywheel and adds a motor in place.

An electric pottery wheel is more lightweight and portable. If you plan to bring your work to art festivals and craft classes, this is the best option for you.

It’s also easy to use for beginners. You don’t have to establish a rhythm between the movements of your hands and feet first. You can simply flip a switch and adjust the speed as you go.

But unlike traditional wheels, an electric wheel doesn’t last as long. There’s also the need to look after the motor, which requires regular maintenance and upkeep.

These detailed instructions will help you learn how to make a pottery wheel that runs on electricity.

How to Make a Pottery Wheel

There are many ways to learn how to make a pottery wheel. You only have to be creative about it.

If you’re a self-professed DIYer, you can build a kick wheel from scratch using plywood. You can also build an electric wheel using the motor of an old treadmill.

In a pinch, you can even learn how to make a pottery wheel using a mop bucket.

For true-blue do-it-yourselfers

If you’d love to work on a traditional wheel, you need to learn how to make a pottery wheel with a kick wheel.

You’ll need to build a frame and seat supports using two-by-four wood. Start with the back and floor frames before moving to the front and seat frames.

Next, build a flywheel using a piece of eight-by-four plywood. Draw two 31.5-inch circles next to each other. Cut the plywood in half using a circular saw and cut out the circles with a jigsaw.

Use a drill to create 1-inch holes at the center of each circle. Then attach floor flanges to each hole.

Using an extra-strong construction glue, attach blocks to one of the disks. The blocks will provide the weight for your flywheel. This will add torque and allow you to work with heavier clay bodies.

Glue the second disk on top of the blocks, making sure to align the center holes. Weigh the flywheel down with more blocks to so that everything sticks together.

When the flywheel is ready, attach a flange mount bearing to each of the holes and mount it to the base of the pottery wheel.

Use a galvanized steel pipe to serve as the wheel shaft. You can then attach the wheel head to the shaft.

The wheel head can be any flat, circular object you can use for throwing.

You can cut out an extra piece of plywood for this. You can also use a ready-made aluminum wheel head. Even a round cake pan filled with plaster works.  

For more detailed instructions, take a look at this complete plan to help you learn how to make a pottery wheel that uses a kick wheel.

Get the old treadmill out

Do you have an old treadmill lying around?

If you know how to work with motors or if you have someone to help you, you can use this to learn how to make a pottery wheel that runs on a motor.

Or if you’re determined about building an electric pottery wheel, you can go to a junkyard, where you just might find an unused treadmill you can get at a bargain.

You’ll also need plenty of plywood to make the frame, a v-belt from an auto parts store, and a motor controller. For a full list of materials and instructions, view this tutorial on Instructables.  

The first thing you need to do is to build the body. Use plywood to build a frame with three legs, similar to that of the Leach wheel. You can also staple rubber sheets to the bottom of each leg to keep the wheel from sliding.

Secure the legs to the bottom frame. Attach plates to the top of each leg. The wheel head will go to the top of each plate later.

Next, cut a disk from plywood to make the wheel. Drill a hole at the center of the wheel for a shaft to pass through. Insert pillow block bearings to the hole and bolt the shaft to the bearings.

Horsepower matters

Now that you have the body of the wheel, it’s time to work on the motor.

Disassemble the old treadmill and take out its motor.

Treadmills run on a wide range of horsepower. Low-end models can have as little as 1/6 horsepower, while more expensive treadmills can have huge 2 1/2 horsepower motors.

When you’re learning how to make a pottery wheel using a treadmill motor, you need to get familiar with this.

The higher the horsepower is, the more powerful the motor gets. This effects how much torque the flywheel can send to the wheel head. And the more torque you have, the easier it is for you to work with heavy clay bodies.  

It pays to check the horsepower of your treadmill motor before getting started. This gives you an idea of what kind of pottery wheel you’re building and what types of ceramics you’ll be able to make with it.

You also want to take the flywheel along with the pulleys.

You can buy a pulley from the nearest hardware store. Or you can build one yourself using Corian or Masonite. Next, attach the pulley to the main shaft using a v-belt.

Mount the motor under the body to make sure no clay water can get to it. You can also include a motor cover to make it waterproof.

Install the wiring and electrical box. You may want to enlist the help of an expert for safety reasons.

You can also build the wheel head out of Corian. Finally, attach a splash pan.

A mop bucket is more than just a mop bucket

Those 360-degree rotating map buckets you see on late-night infomercials aren’t just good for cleaning up spills.

You can use them to learn how to make a pottery wheel.

In 10 minutes, you’ll have a lightweight, inexpensive throwing wheel that took no woodworking or soldering to make.  

Aside from the mop bucket, you also need plastic flower pots, a drip tray, and some extra-strong glue to put everything together.

Take a look at the complete instructions to learn how to make a pottery wheel with a mop bucket.

First, fill the bottom of the bucket with stones. This will slow down the spin and keep the wheel from wobbling.

Take one flower pot and glue it to the inside of the bucket. Use a spirit level to ensure everything is level. Glue another flower pot to the underside of the bucket to increase its height.

Attach a paper bin to serve as the wheel head and use any container you like as a splash pan.

You can spin this wheel feet-free by using your hands.

3 Tips for Making a Pottery Wheel

When learning how to make a pottery wheel, there are a few things you have to consider aside from the construction of the wheel.

You need to factor in things like seating, splash pans, and the position of your arms and hands.  

1. Provide seating for everyone

If you’ll be sharing the wheel with other people, it’s best to use a separate stool.

But if you insist on adding one to the wheel, go for an adjustable seat that can be raised or lowered.

A seat that’s too short will have you straining to reach the clay.

And a seat that’s too high will have you bending forward too much and could strain your back and neck.

2. Watch your water

If you want to learn how to make a pottery wheel, think about whether you want to add a splash pan.

A splash pan collects the clay water and little bits of clay that may get thrown off the wheel head while you’re working.

This helps keep the area clean so you don’t have to mop up wet clay from the floor when you’re done.

You can also attach a hose to the splash pan so that it leads to a bucket below the potter’s wheel.

3. Get your arms comfortable

Working on the wheel for hours can strain your arms, especially if you’re working with heavy clay bodies.

If you’d like to have a spot for your arms to rest, you may want to add wooden armrests.

Some people prefer not to because they find that the armrests get in the way.

It depends on your preference. Since you are building your own wheel, you can position the armrests out of the way.

DIY Tips for Making a Pottery Wheel

If you know how to make a pottery wheel, you can save a lot of money on one of the essential tools you’ll need as a potter.

The most important thing you want to remember is you want to keep your wheel turning smoothly. You want to avoid a squeaky or wobbly wheel, unless you deliberately want to add some personality to your creations.

Start with a longer shaft first. This will help you adjust the height of the wheel to your preference if needed later.

Once you get the hang of using your wheel, you can add a few bells and whistles.

For example, you can make bats out of particle board. Some hooks secured to the side of the frame can also be a great way to keep your tools handy. You can also build an extra plate for your clay water bucket.

What other ideas do you have for people who want to know how to make a pottery wheel? Share them with us in the comments.


Posted on

June 4, 2020