Many people take classes in pottery or ceramics either in school or as a side activity, although some simply start to learn on their own through the use of videos and books. There is no right or wrong way. However, surely once you have gotten a taste of it, you will want to delve deeper into the craft to develop your own unique pieces and get creative. This is easily attainable at home with your own supplies. This guide is meant as a how to for beginners who are looking to get started with ceramics at home. It will discuss clay, tools, and wheels specifically, making this an ideal introduction for those looking to create at home and fire at a local ceramics shop. If you are interested in learning about firing tools for personal or educational use, please see the Kiln Buying Guide
Cones and Choosing Clay
Be aware that there are two main types of clay. There is hobby clay (polymer clay
) and "real" clay. Hobby clay is meant to be baked at fairly low temperatures, say in your oven at home. These are usually meant for decorative purposes and not the same in quality as the other clays which must be fired at extremely high temperatures.
When it comes to firing clay, you'll find that you are faced with something called a ''cone'' this is both a device and a measurement. The devices are called pyrometric or self supporting cones. In the other sense of the word, a cone is a measurements used to define heat thresholds. It refers to the amount of heat that a clay needs to be fired at, and comparatively, the amount of heat that a kiln is capable of providing. This is very important to understand both when using your own kiln or when renting out someones kiln.
The cone scale starts from the cooler settings 022 (oh twenty-two) to 01 (oh one) and from 1 to 10 for the hottest settings. The cone is basically the heat threshold of the clay. So, picture an 06 clay, which should fire around 1800°F, being fired at a level 6 temperature setting, which is close to 2200°F. Such low temperature clay, often called "earthenware" clay, will not be able to withstand the heat and it will melt. In this situation, a "stoneware" clay would have been a better choice since it is meant to hold up to high heats.
When buying clay, you'll need to pay close attention to the cone number labeled on the clay. Then when you go to fire it you can tell whoever owns the kiln that you are using "x" clay. When firing with your own kiln, you should also keep in mind what type of clay you are buying, but you will also want to purchase a cone. Wikipedia
Witness cones and large cones are also used in the firing process, and are usually meant for determining when the firing has been completed. Small cones and pyrometric bars are used with a Kiln-Sitter, a mechanical device in electric kilns that automatically shuts off the kiln once it has reached the ideal temperature.
Setting Up Shop
Now that you know the basics about cones and clay, now you can move on to the other things that you will want to get started making pottery and clay goods. If you have a garage, shed, or workshop that you can use to set up a pottery making place, all the better. Otherwise, you'll have to clear an area in your kitchen or bathroom (or anywhere that isn't carpeted).
* You'll need a comfortable table and chair.
* Cover the table, floor, and surrounding areas with newspaper to keep it from becoming dirty and dusty.
* Get a sponge for cleaning up.
* Use Tupperware, a glass container, or a bowl to fill with "slip".
* Purchase a spray bottle that you'll use to keep the clay moist while working with it.
* You'll also want some thin plastic bags or containers on hand for when you finish so that your work doesn't dry out between sittings.
* An inexpensive rolling pin
is for smoothing out the clay before working with it.
* A fettling knife serves multiple purposes from cutting to carving, slicing, shaping, and more.
These are just the basic necessities. Now you'll also want to consider some of the tools that you'll need for creating more diverse projects with your clay. For beginners, I would suggest purchasing a set of tools. They usually include loop tools, cleanup tools, clay cutters, and more. You may want to try those made by wax carver sets
About Wheels and Throwing
Some potters prefer using their hands to work the clay while others prefer throwing it. Pottery wheels for throwing clay are not necessary for home use if you are simply taking a ceramics class as a one time deal. However, if you are a student or aspiring potter, you may be interested in having your own. The reasons for which are similar to those for investing in your own kiln. The biggest advantage is that you can practice throwing anytime you want from the comfort of your own home. There's no waiting for class. You just go to your work space and start.
When buying a wheel, you'll want to consider a few things. The first consideration is the power. The motor is measured by horsepower, typically from a half to one. For most beginners and hobbyists, 1/6 to 1/3 hp is sufficient. It will provide enough torque for centering small amounts of clay (around 50lbs), which is all you'll need. However, if you want something a little more advanced, 1/2hp is the most popular choice by seasoned throwers. Professional wheels are usually around 3/4hp and are used for centering a hundred pounds of clay at a time. Don't forget that with more power, more noise is often the result.
'''Portability''' Keep in mind that beginners are often well suited for portable wheels. They handle very little clay, but are fine to learn on, and can be toted with you if you travel often.
'''Kickwheels''' These are very heavy wheels used by those who prefer whisper quiet throwing. They are not powered by a motor, but by ones own energy. They can be used alone or as a tool for trimming.
'''Reverse Mode''' clockwise depending on the angles that you feel most comfortable with when trimming and shaping.
'''Work Bench''' You may opt for a wheel with an attached work bench. It makes it convenient to store your tools by your side while you work.