Hey, did you know, one of the most crucial aspects of throwing ceramics on the wheel is getting your clay properly centered? You want the walls of your pottery to have the same thickness, and you don’t want to work too hard to achieve this, right? So let’s jump in and talk about centering clay on a potter’s wheel.
What Is The Best Way To Center Clay On The Wheel?
Centering clay on a pottery wheel is all about positioning your body in the center with the potter’s wheel. Place clay in the center of a clean wheel. Once in the center, brace your elbow on your upper leg. From your elbow to the center of the wheel, your palm should be in a straight line. As the wheel spins, the heel of your palm will force the clay inward to the center of the wheel.
Why Is Centering Clay On The Wheel Important?
For starters, working with centered clay is just easier and the most important part of wheel throwing. It affects the rest of your wheel throwing (throwing pottery). The walls (wall thickness) will be uneven if your clay is not dispersed. Always center your clay before you start opening walls or pulling walls.
When picking a throwing clay for a beginner, the most crucial characteristic to look for is one that has good plasticity.
Plasticity is the clay’s ability to keep its shape when worked, to produce a smooth and unbroken surface. Select a smooth clay that has been recommended for throwing on a potter’s wheel, not a hand-building clay. If you’re having difficulty with your clay and it feels as if you’re throwing sandpaper, you may be using handbuilding clay rather than throwing clay. Technically, any sort of clay can be used for wheel throwing, but some types are stiffer and more difficult on the hands than others. Generally, you want a smoother clay but not a porcelain clay unless you are a pro.
Become one with the clay. When centering, it is beneficial to have your body in the proper position. Put your legs as close to the splash pan as possible. Keep your arms firmly in place and your back as straight as possible. Incorporate your entire body into the clay. Instead of simply your hands and arms participating in the centering process, this technique allows your entire body to take part in it.
How To Center Big (Enormous) Blocks Of Clay?
Let’s go for some huge clay, shall we? Start by cutting off a block of about 10 pounds. Oh wait, I see you are on the weak side. OK then, take 5 pounds. Make sure you weigh the clay. No cheating. Remember, I said we were going for a big block, right?
Beginners, please use a pound of clay or smaller than five pounds, ha! 1.5 to 2 lbs of wedged clay should be good.
In order for the clay to adhere to the wheel head, it must be clean and moist. Using a damp sponge, go over the entire surface. If you use too much water, the clay will slide off the wheel’s head as the wheel spins faster and faster.
1. Wedge The Clay
No slacking on this part. You want to really compress the clay. Show the clay you are the boss. Go for about 50 times, and 5 minutes. And yes, this can be your workout for the day.
Make no compromises. You’ll wind up wasting more time attempting to center clay that hasn’t been smoothed out. Wedging your clay thoroughly removes small hard patches, and you will notice a more uniform consistency throughout your clay while throwing.
Why Wedges Are Great!
The most critical step in the pottery-making process is wedging the clay. It establishes how easy or hard the rest of the process will be. Wedging removes tiny hard lumps and bubbles from the clay, resulting in a homogeneous consistency throughout the entire piece. If you try to shortcut this and skip this step, you will pay the price later.
During the throwing process, you may notice little bubbles or hard chunks of clay. Unfortunately, your pottery will not turn out the way you had hoped. Because homogeneous clay is much more manageable to work with, it makes it much easier to manufacture ceramics and to play with clay after it’s been wedged.
2. Ball The Clay
Next, make a really nice size ball. Your clay needs to be round, just like a ball. If you went for 10 pounds, then you should see your clay take the shape of a basketball. Ha, Ha! But if you are wimpy, and went for lessor poundage, then your clay should look like a very large softball.
It’s very important to make sure your clay ball is round because when you throw it at the center of the wheel, you want the clay to spread out and cover the center of the wheel evenly.
3. Inspect Your Ball Of Clay
Look for cracks in the clay that could trap air. You do not want any air trapped between your clay and the wheel. If you throw a clay ball on the wheel and there is a crack on the bottom, then air will become trapped, not good.
If the air pocket is large enough, your clay will never be able to center itself because air is lighter than clay and will constantly throw your clay out of alignment.
Knead the clay thoroughly to remove any air bubbles and to smooth out any unevenness. So take a little time on this step to inspect your clay ball.
Make certain that the clay you place on the wheel has a rounded bottom and is not flat at the bottom. If the surface is flat, the likelihood of getting air trapped between the wheel and the clay increases.
There are a variety of reasons your clay is difficult to work with. If you prepare your clay balls and then leave them out for an extended period, they will get hard. It is critical to cover your clay balls or place them inside a plastic bucket. It keeps them contained while still keeping the clay moist. Place a sheet of plastic over the plastic bucket.
Now, you can take a quick break. Your arms and hand are probably in shock after the clay workout, ha! It’s now time now to wet the wheel. Take a sponge and get it wet, but not too wet. You want the face of the wheel to be damp but not have standing water on the wheel. Having a damp wheel will help the clay stick to the wheel.
4. Throw Onto The Wheel Center
Throw the clay onto the center of the wheel and give it some nice, firm slaps with your hand.
As soon as you have thrown your clay on the wheel or bat, push it as close to the center as you possibly can, then seal the bottom by pressing down around the ball of clay using both hands.
Sometimes it is best not to throw the clay but to set it down firmly, then pat with your hands. This way, the clay is centered. When throwing, it can go off to one side. When this happens, you really need to start over or you will need to push the clay to the center using the palms of your hand. Using the palm of your hand, lean into the clay using your body weight and push back to the center by using your palm.
5. Use The Palm Of Your Hand
Beginners spin the wheel and smooth the clay at the base of the ball with the fingers of the right hand to form a ball. You can use your index finger or thumb. While you’re doing this, use your left hand to keep your right hand steady.
Get your hands wet first before you turn on the wheel so your hand slides easily around the clay. If your hands are not wet, your hands will not slide around the clay. As you center and the clay dries, you may simply lubricate it by softly squeezing a damp sponge without moving your hand to water.
During the centering process, if your clay feels dry on your hands, it means that you don’t have enough water or slip on your hands. Slowly remove your hands from the table and submerge them in water.
Whenever your wheel is turning too slowly, you may notice that your clay is shifting your position more than you are shifting the clay. A kick wheel allows you to control the speed of the clay, but you’ll need a lot of strength to do it. So if using a kick wheel go grab an energy drink and kick faster.
When you increase the speed of the wheel, you will notice that you have more control over the centering of the clay. You want to increase the speed of the wheel to med-high or all the way to high, if possible. I’ve discovered that the fastest speed is the most effective for me. Once your clay is centered you can slow your wheel slower to construct your ceramics.
Be generous with the water at the start of the process. Using less water as you continue to learn pottery and develop your skills will allow you to use less of it. This is advantageous because if there is too much water in the pot, it will soak into the clay and damage the pot. More water, on the other hand, will assist you in getting the knack of centering without clinging to the clay in the beginning.
For the pros who are using five pounds or more of clay, start at the bottom of the clay and squeeze upward. When working with large clay balls like over 5 pounds, work from the bottom upward. Small clay balls are easy, right? At this point, you should move the clay with your hands and not the other way around. Don’t let the clay move your hands. You will need to show the clay who is the boss, right?
Your body should be positioned as close to the wheel as practical. After having clay with no air bubbles, the next most crucial thing is to have a good body position. With your head directly over the ball of clay, your elbows tucked into your ribs, and your hands wrapped around the clay, you should be ready to start.
6. Start Coning The Clay
Now the fun part begins. Start by coning the clay up and down. Some folks will call this step wheel wedging while centering. As you are doing this, make sure your hands are wet. Cone the clay up and then press the clay back down, keeping the clay in the center at all times.
Most skilled potters employ ‘coning up,’ which is a procedure for achieving a cone shape (or gumdrop shape) on the wheel, but it requires the clay to be centered beforehand and may be skipped in many circumstances if the clay is adequately prepared.
If you were terrible at throwing and your clay is not centered. And you have clay at the base that is not centered, then take some off at the base.
Remove excess clay at the base. Take a flat modeling tool (wooden rib will do to) and press on the base, removing the clay as you spin the wheel. This clay will never be centered, so it’s best to just remove it.
7. Keep On Coning The Clay
For the beginner or lightweights, who use less than a couple of pounds of clay. While the clay is spinning, the idea is to center it such that it is exactly symmetrical and there are no wobbles. Using your right hand, press the palm of your hand against the side of the clay. Then, using the blade of your left hand, press down on top of the clay as if you were giving it a karate chop to the clay. Also be careful not to push too hard in one direction otherwise you will push the clay off center. Always keep your hands damp to prevent them from becoming stuck to the clay surface. Sticking is not a good thing.
Yes, it’s going to take some time. Keeping coning the clay using both hands. Apply even pressure using your outside hand and inside hand. Hand position is important so adjust as needed. One hand on top pressing down (like a karate chop) and the other hand cupping the clay around the outside as the wheel turns. Then cone up. Then press down using both hands with one hand on top and the other hand around the base. Then inspect the base and trim off the excess that is not centered. You will need to do this several times until the clay is centered.
When you can place your hands on the clay while the wheel is spinning and they don’t wobble, the clay is centered. This is one of the most difficult methods to master.
8. Shape Your Clay
If you are going to make a platter, then you will end up with a flatter clay in the center of the wheel. Or if making a tall vase, then your clay body will be up higher. Basically, you want to end up with the clay body in a suitable position for what is coming next. And that will be whatever you are planning to make. My suggestion is that if you begin with a large amount of clay, make a big bowl, right?
If you are new to centering clay, then I suggest you start off by throwing one pound and work up to larger clay balls. Once you are good at one pound, you can move up to two or three pounds. After which you can throw even larger clay balls, like five pounds or more. Once over five pounds, you are a pro!
The key to centering clay on a pottery wheel is to situate your body in the middle of the potter’s wheel. Place the clay in the center of a clean potter’s wheel. Brace your elbow on your upper leg once you’ve reached the center. Your palm should be in a straight line from your elbow to the center of the wheel. The heel of your palm will force the clay inward to the center of the wheel as the wheel rotates.
It will take a lot of work before centering becomes easy and you become “one” with the clay, so practice and practice and keep on practicing. Clay has a mind of it’s own and you need to practice to show who is the boss!
Peterson, S., & Peterson, J. (2002). Working with clay. Laurence King Publishing. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=hJ4BOhm-XicC&oi=fnd&pg=PA8&dq=How+To+Wedge+Clay&ots=sqI8oBwnGm&sig=NnNyDhF8yak-UJJ5I-QHkp99uJU#v=onepage&q=How%20To%20Wedge%20Clay&f=false