Have you ever dreamt of shaping a lump of clay into something beautiful, like pretty flower pots or strong bowls? You can do it with a fantastic invention called a pottery wheel! That’s the magic of pottery. All created by your own hands!

Here, we’ll show you how to use a pottery wheel. Don’t worry if you’re a beginner. In this guide, we’ll ditch the technical jargon and walk you through shaping clay into pottery in simple steps. No prior experience is needed—this is your chance to kickstart your pottery adventure and make something truly unique.

Ready to get your hands dirty and create something special? Let’s get spinning!

How to Use a Pottery Wheel for Beginners 

Hold on! Before you jump on the pottery wheel like a super potter, let’s gather our supplies! This guide will make things easy by showing you exactly what materials and tools you need to start your pottery wheel journey. Plus, we’ll break down using the pottery wheel step-by-step, so it’ll be a breeze!

Materials and Tools Preparation

Clay: Choose between stoneware or earthenware clay—they’re easier for beginners to work with. Clay should not be too stiff or too soft, like playdough, which can hold its shape when molded.

Pottery Wheel: If you’re a starter, a small pottery wheel that sits on a table is perfect. Make sure it’s sturdy, spins smoothly, and has different speed settings for different pottery shapes.

Pottery Tools: A starter kit should have a clay cutter (like a pizza cutter for clay!), rib tools to smooth and shape your clay (think curvy sticks), a needle tool for adding details, a sponge to keep things clean, and tools to trim the bottom of your pots.

Water Bucket: Keep some water nearby to sprinkle on your clay and keep it nice and workable. It’ll also help clean your hands when things get messy!

Towels and Aprons: An apron and a few towels will protect your clothes and help clean up.

A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Use a Pottery Wheel

Always remember safety first. Clay can get messy, so wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. Roll up your sleeves and tie back long hair to avoid getting caught in the wheel. It’s also a good idea to read the instructions for your pottery wheel before you get started.

Step 1: Set Up Your Workspace

Clean Up: Tidy up your workspace and wipe down your pottery wheel. You want a clean area so you can focus on creating your masterpiece, right?

Gather Your Tools: Put all your pottery tools like sponges, needles, trimming tools, and a bucket of water within easy reach. This way, you won’t waste time hunting for them later.

Step 2: Select and Prepare Your Clay

Clay Choice: Ask at a pottery store for clay that’s good for throwing on a wheel. Medium or high-fire stoneware is a great choice because it’s easy to work with and strong.

Wedging: Take your clay and knead it well on a flat surface. This gets rid of air bubbles and makes the clay smooth all the way through. This is crucial for preventing cracks during the firing process.

Step 3: Center the Clay to the Wheel

Put your kneaded clay in the exact center of the flat plate on the pottery wheel (called the bat). Press down gently but firmly to make sure it sticks well. This center spot is important for making your pot nice and even.

Step 4: Wet Your Hands and the Clay

Wet your hands and the top of the clay with a little bit of water. This will make it easier to move the clay around without it sticking to your fingers.

Step 5: Test Clay Consistency

Before you start shaping your clay, make sure it’s not too wet or too dry. It should feel soft but not mushy and hold its shape when you mold it.

Step 6: Center the Clay

Turn on the wheel to medium speed. Now, use both hands to press down on the clay evenly, trying to get it perfectly centered. This is like finding the bullseye—it’s the base for your whole pot!

Step 7: Open the Clay

With your thumbs, gently press down in the center of the clay to make a hole. Imagine digging a small well – the sides of your pot will grow up from here.

Step 8: Pull Up the Walls

Thinner and Taller: Use your fingers to carefully lift and thin the clay as the wheel spins. It’s like a slow dance – you need to move your hands together with the speed of the wheel to make the sides of your pot the right thickness and height.

Smoothing Out: Once you have the sides the way you want them, use a wet sponge or your fingers to smooth out the top rim. This helps prevent warping and cracking as it dries.

Step 9: Shape Your Piece

Now comes the fun part! Use your hands, special pottery tools, or even sponges to shape your clay into whatever you want it to be. This is where you can really show off your creativity!

Here are some techniques you can use to shape your clay:

  • Lifting: With your thumb on the inside and your fingers on the outside of the clay, gently but firmly press upwards to raise the wall. Maintain even pressure to avoid creating a lopsided pot.
  • Compressing: Use your thumb on the outside and your fingers on the inside to carefully squeeze the clay inwards, thinning the wall. Be mindful not to squeeze too hard, or the wall will become too thin and crack.
  • Ribbing: For a smooth, even surface, use a shaping rib (a curved wooden tool) to gently scrape and compress the clay from the inside out.

Here is the video:


Step 10: Wire Cutting Technique

Once shaped, turn off the wheel. Use a wire tool, pulling it steadily through the clay at the base to separate your piece from the bat.

Step 11: Remove Your Pottery

Gently lift the piece from the wheel and place it on a board to dry. Be mindful to maintain its shape. Be very careful as you handle it, supporting the bottom to ensure it keeps its beautiful shape.

The Journey Continues!

While the pottery wheel helps you shape your clay, there’s more to making a finished piece! Here is a brief guide on what’s next after using a pottery wheel:

  • Drying Slowly: Cover the piece with plastic or a cloth to dry slowly, preventing cracks. The piece should be bone dry before bisque firing, which might take several days.
  • Trimming the Base: Once your piece is leather-hard (a specific stage in drying), use special tools to trim and refine the bottom for a professional look.
  • The First Firing (Bisque Firing): After the piece is bone dry, bisque fire it in a kiln. This initial firing hardens the clay, preparing it for glazing.
  • Glazing: Once bisque-fired and cooled, you’ll get to add a colorful glaze to your creation!
  • The Final Firing (Glaze Firing): The final stage involves another firing at a higher temperature, where the glaze melts and transforms your pot into a beautiful, finished piece!

Before the Firing

After the Firing

Common Rookie Mistakes and Troubleshooting

Making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process in pottery. Each error teaches you something new, helping you become a more skilled and confident potter. Here are some common problems beginners face when using a pottery wheel, along with the tips. Please check them and always remember patience and practice are your best tools for overcoming these common hurdles:

Mistake 1: Not Wedging the Clay Properly

Skipping or improperly wedging the clay can lead to air pockets, which might cause the clay to explode in the kiln or lead to uneven drying and cracking.

Solution: Spend adequate time kneading your clay with a method like spiral or ram’s head wedging to ensure it’s homogeneous and air-pocket-free.

Mistake 2: Centering the Clay Incorrectly

Failing to center the clay properly on the wheel can lead to wobbly pots and difficulty in shaping the clay uniformly.

Solution: Patiently practice the centering process. Use your body weight effectively, leaning over the clay and applying steady pressure with your hands. Remember, centering is foundational in wheel throwing; your patience here pays off in the later stages.

Mistake 3: Applying Inconsistent Pressure

Inconsistent pressure when opening the clay or pulling up the walls can lead to uneven thickness, which might cause your piece to warp or crack.

Solution: Maintain a steady and consistent pressure when working with the clay. Use the sensitivity of your fingertips to gauge the clay’s thickness as you work, adjusting your touch as needed. It’s helpful to practice this with closed eyes to enhance your tactile sensitivity.

Mistake 4: Overworking the Clay

Spending too much time on one piece, especially with wet clay, can lead to over-saturation and weaken the structure, potentially causing collapse.

Solution: Work efficiently and decisively. If the clay begins to feel too moist or starts to sag, stop adding water and consider starting over with a new piece of clay if necessary. Learning when to stop is as important as knowing how to shape.

Mistake 5: Incorrect Wheel Speed

Using a speed that is too high or too low on the wheel can complicate the centering and shaping processes, making it harder for beginners to control the clay.

Solution: Adjust the wheel speed according to the task at hand—slower speeds for centering and opening and slightly faster speeds for pulling up walls and shaping. The right speed offers better control and results in a smoother finish.

Mistake 6: Not Using Enough Water

Not applying enough water can cause the clay to stick to your hands and prevent smooth movements, making shaping more difficult.

Solution: Keep your hands and the clay sufficiently wet to reduce friction. However, be cautious of using too much water, which can weaken the clay. It’s about finding the right balance for smooth operation.

Mistake 7: Avoiding Complex Shapes

Sticking to simple shapes due to fear of failure limits learning and improvement opportunities in pottery.

Solution: Challenge yourself to try new shapes and techniques. Experimentation is crucial for growth. Start with basic cylinders and bowls, then gradually advance to more complex forms as your confidence builds.

Safety Practices for Using a Pottery Wheel as Beginners

  • Dress safely: Wear clothes that fit and remove dangling jewelry to avoid getting caught in the wheel. Tie back long hair.
  • Know your wheel: Before starting, learn how to turn it on/off, adjust speed, and understand safety features.
  • Start slow: Use a slow speed at first to control the clay. Increase speed as you get comfortable.
  • Sharp tool care: Handle pottery tools with care, keep them organized, and put them away when done.
  • Clean spills: Clay and water may make surfaces slippery. Clean spills right away to prevent falls.
  • Minimize dust: Clay and glaze dust can be harmful if inhaled over time. Wet down your workspace to reduce dust. Wear a mask when handling dry materials or cleaning.
  • Good posture: Maintain good posture while working at the wheel. Take breaks to stretch and avoid strain.
  • Protect your hands: Wash your hands after working with clay and use moisturizer to prevent dryness.
  • Kiln safety (if applicable):  Learn safe kiln use, including ventilation, firing schedules, and protective gear.

Tips on Practicing and Improving Pottery Skills

Learning pottery takes time and practice, but it’s a fun and rewarding journey! Here are some suggestions I’ve summarized to help you get through the journey painlessly:

  • Focus on the basics first: Learn wedging, centering, pulling up walls, and shaping techniques. These are the foundation for everything else.
  • Practice regularly: Set aside regular time for practice. Even a few hours a week can make a big difference. Consistency is key!
  • Explore different clays: Each clay has its own personality. Experimenting helps you adapt your skills to new materials.
  • Keep a pottery journal: Track your projects, including what worked and what didn’t. Note the clay type, techniques used, glaze applications, and kiln temperatures for future reference. This helps you learn from experience.
  • Start with achievable projects: Don’t get discouraged! Start with simple projects that match your skill level and gradually increase complexity.
  • Learn from mistakes: Everyone makes mistakes, even pottery masters! Analyze them and keep improving.
  • Take classes or workshops: Get professional guidance, feedback, and inspiration from others.
  • Watch tutorials and demonstrations: There are countless online tutorials and classes for pottery that can offer new perspectives and techniques. Visual learning can be a great way to pick up new techniques.
  • Experiment with new forms and techniques: Don’t be afraid to try new things! This is how you discover your unique style.
  • Join a pottery community: Connect with other potters online or in local clubs for support and inspiration.
  • Be mindful while working: Focus on the present moment. This improves concentration and makes the process more enjoyable.
  • Critique your work: Look at your finished pieces and identify areas for improvement. This helps you set goals for future projects.


There you have it! You’re now equipped to explore the wonderful world of pottery, knowing how to use a pottery wheel and starting with confidence. Remember, practice makes perfect (and pretty pots!). Every piece you throw brings you closer to your pottery dreams. So keep creating!

And to share the joy, we’d love to see your creations! Share your projects and be part of a community eager to support and inspire each other if you’re interested.

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