How To Make A Clay Wedge
A clay wedge is made by folding the clay into layers (kneading clay) and working it back onto itself. First off, there are several ways to wedge clay. I will teach you the easiest way, often called the Rams Head wedging technique. It will take practice and repetition (like with most things in ceramics) to get the clay to the right consistency and shape, so don’t get discouraged.
Another wedging technique you could try is spiral wedging (tight spiral wedging) or shell wedging technique. But it’s a little more difficult. It’s still simple to learn, but harder than the Rams Head method. Mainly because you will need really strong hands and strong upper body strength. In the spiral method, you form a swirl pattern instead of a Ram’s head. The Spiral thoroughly mixes the clay by removing any lumps, making the clay more workable, and successfully eliminating air bubbles.
And lastly, there is wheel wedging (wheel throwing) or coning. This is where you throw your clay ball in the center of the wheel and cone the clay up and down several times. As the pottery wheel spins, you wrap your hands around the clay and form a cone. Then use your hand, like a karate chop, placing it on top of the clay and press the cone back down. This method takes a lot a practice to get it right. There are many factors in being successful. The main thing is to get your clay centered on the wheel. It looks a lot easier than it is. A lot of technique and practice is needed to wedge on a potter’s wheel. Every potter needs a good wheel, right?
This article does not apply to air dry clays or polymer clay.
Why Do You Need To Wedge Clay?
Wedging the clay is the most important phase in the pottery-making process. It determines whether the rest of the procedure will be simple or complicated. As a result of the wedging process, the clay is uniform throughout the work, removing little hard lumps and bubbles. Making the clay more pliable. You clay now has the same consistency through the clay body thus reduces the risk or danger of cracking when firing in the kiln.You will pay the price later if you try to shortcut this and skip this step.
Clay contains air bubbles, and clay may have hard spots. Wedging working out the hard spots and air bubbles so you have a smooth, consistent clay body to work with. When working with homogeneous clay, it is much easier to build ceramics and experiment with clay once it has been wedged.
Wedging clay is needed for both wheel throwing and hand building techniques to ensure uniform consistency.
Wedging Clay Is Necessary
- Removes Air Bubbles From The Clay
- The Clay Become Homogeneous
- Makes Clay Particles Align Making It Easier To Work With
- Smooths Out Any Lumps In The Clay And Improve Pliability
What Happens If You Don’t Wedge Clay?
If you do not wedge your clay, you will have air bubbles in the clay. This can cause your clay not to stick to the wheel or you will not be able to center your clay body on the wheel. Air pockets could also ruin your pottery when firing in the kiln. And lastly, you will have hard spots on the clay, making it more difficult to shape your clay.
If your clay body contains air bubbles, moisture will evaporate into the bubble cavity. The pottery will then explode in the kiln as it swells within the bubble cavity. So you can see that as a result, the clay did not break because of the air bubbles, but they facilitated the break, making it easier for water to cause the breakage.
Steps For Wedging Clay Using The Ram’s Head Wedging Method
1. Hand Positions For Wedging
I place the left hand behind the right hand. I hold the clay in the palms of my hands and my palms are facing inwards towards one another.
2. Prep Clay For Wedging
I am assuming you are working with pre-moist clay right out of the bag and not be using recycled clay, and you are not mixing colors like a stain. This is important because wedging recycled clay and coloring clay (using a Mason Stain for example) is more intense.
When mixing coloring, you may have to wedge the clay over 200 times to get the color completely blended in the clay. And I am also assuming you will use your hands, not a machine.
Sturdy Work Area For Wedging
Go to your table or sturdy flat surface work area. You will need at least a 24 by 24 inch square space to wedge on. The surface should be nice and flat and very sturdy because you will throw heavy clay onto the work surface. Ones of the simplest wedging surface is to lay down a piece of canvas on top of your table or surface or plaster board. You can use plaster board to lay on top of a sturdy surface if you surface is sturdy but not smooth. The plaster board covered in plastic will give you a good smooth surface. Just make sure to get a large enough piece of plaster board so it does not slide around on you while wedging. Or you could use a piece of plastic. Another option is to use a concrete board. Concrete boards can be purchased at most hardware stores. The usually come in 3 foot by 5 foot size. They are also sometimes called cement backerboard or hardbacker board.
Some potters will use a silicone baking mat. I never had much luck with them. For most of my work they are just too small. they come in different sized, but most are about 12 by 16 inches or so. It might be worth a try if you are wedging small amounts of clay.
Also, make sure the table you are wedging on is that the right height. Wedging on a table too low will cause back pains. It’s a lot easier to wedge clay on a table set at the proper height.
Set Height Of Work Table
If you feel back pain, your table is too low. If you feel pain in your shoulders and upper arms, then your table is too high. I use a table a little above my hip height and while wedging.
I keep my back straight and lean into the clay as needed. This technique saves my back and gives me more control over the clay.
When the clay sees me approaching, the clay knows who is the boss, ha!
Start by unwrapping the clay from the plastic. Inspect the clay, making sure it’s the right type of clay. Then cut off a piece in the size you will work with.
How Much Clay To Wedge
I am assuming for our purposes here you cut off a piece 1.5 to 2 pounds. You can go smaller if you want. The size depends on the form or how big the pot is you will be creating.
It’s good to know the weight of your clay, so I would suggest you weigh your clay before wedging. I always like to know how much clay I am using and I primarily go by weight.
3. Put Your Back Into It
Please the clay body in front of you. You will use your hands, arms and legs to push and pull on the clay. You will need to be forceful and lean into working the clay in a wedging motion. This is where you will show the clay who is the boss. Grab the clay with both hands and pull it toward you.
Be careful not to fold the clay. Folding clay created air pockets.
Wedge with your entire body, not just your arms. Keep your elbows straight and put one foot in front of the other, relying on your lower body and upper back to do most of the work.
4. Form A Square Shape
It’s going to be much easier to start the wedging process from a square shape. So pick up the clay and throw it into the flat surface (wedging board) or your wedging table. Do this several times until you have a nice square clay shape. This method loosens up the clay.
5. Wedging Clay
Start by pushing on the top of the clay square. Push down then, using your fingers, pull the clay back up. When you are pulling on the clay, pull toward you, primarily using your fingers. Then push the clay back primarily using your palms. The shape you will end up with a Rams head shape. The clay will look kind of like a Ram’s head.
How Many Time To Wedge Clay?
A good rule of thumb is to wedge at least 20 to 40 times right out of the bag. On average I wedge clay fresh out of the bay at least 30 times. Wedge at least 100 times if you’re working with clay that has been recycled.
6. Continue Wedging
After about 10 to 15 times of pulling and pushing on the clay, you will get into a rhythm and the Ram’s head will appear.
I Have a Pancake Shape, Not A Rams Head, What Now?
After pulling and pushing, if you do not get a Ram’s head and your clay body looks more flat (like a pancake or burrito) then you are pushing too much. You are focusing on the push part and need to pay attention to pulling.
So, correcting what you are doing, you will need to pick up the clay body and throw it down on the table a few times to get the clay back into a square shape. Then restart the pulling and pushing technique.
7. Stop To Mist The Clay (Add Water)
If you notice while you are wedging, your clay is getting dry. You will need to stop and mist your clay with a bit of water. Be careful not to use too much water, all you need a light mist. You want your clay dry enough but not too wet.
8. Side Air Bubble Removal
After wedging your clay for 20 to 40 times. The number of times you push and pull will depend on several factors. The size of the clay body, the type of clay and your experience.
Pay attention to the sides of your clay body. You will see where the clay has folded on to itself. You will need to pick up the clay body and pat the side of the Ram’s head, compressing the clay so that there are no fold lines. It’s an important step to get rid of any air bubbles/pockets in the clay.
9. Middle air Bubble Removal and Inspection
For those of you who want to make sure you have removed all the air bubbles, then form your clay into a square by throwing it onto the flat surface of the table. Then take your mudwire (some potters call this a wire tool or wire wedging) and cut the clay body in half. Inspect the bottom of each cut area of the clay, looking for air pockets. The main purpose of this process is to remove air pockets in clay.
Slap and press the two clay halfs back together and start the wedging process over again. I call this the stack and slam method or slam wedging. I stack the two halves, one on top of another, press together and then slam on the table surface. I do this several times until I’m satisfied I have removed all the air bubbles.
What is a Plugmill?
A pugmill, also known as a pug mill, is a machine that mixes clay into a plastic form. Pottery, bricks, cement, and some elements of the concrete and asphalt mixing processes are examples of industrial usage. A plug mill is a machine that is used to mix, compress, and recovers clay. They’re powered by electricity and come in a variety of forms and sizes, which is useful if you’re working with large volumes of clay.
In a large-scale studio or classroom where a lot of clay is used, recycling the leftovers by hand is not always an option.
The task may be tedious and time and very consuming, not to mention taxing on the wrists and hands. But here is where a plugmill comes in handy. Unfortunately, they are not cheap and usually cost upwards of $2,000.
This is one reason why pugmills are such highly sought-after pieces of equipment for projects that include the reclaiming and recycling of significant amounts of clay. And if you have a lot of recycled pieces, a plugmill can quickly pay for itself by not having to buy as many blocks of clay.
Their ability to turn waste into usable clay is unquestionably the best alternative available to potters. Due to the massive internal mixing blades in these industrial machines, we can use them to thoroughly reconstitute clay to a desirable consistency and, in certain situations, to additionally remove air from clay bodies.
It is possible to revive clay that has dried out or gotten too stiff to work with a little water, ran through a pugmill, which helps to uniformly distribute moisture throughout the clay body and bring it back to life.
Once again, this might be an excellent alternative to manually wedge clay, particularly if the action causes stress in your wrists or arms. Pugmills can save both time and money by operating in this manner.
Some pugmills are equipped with an additional vacuum mechanism, which serves to remove air that is inevitably trapped in the clay during the mixing process. It is because of this that the motion of a pugmill is comparable to the act of wedging, with the exception that you can pass through somewhat bigger amounts of clay.
Clay that has been de-aired is preferred by many potters, particularly those who work with on a potter’s wheel. It is possible to reduce the number of errors, such as pottery breaking during firing due to trapped air pockets, by removing air bubbles from the mixture during mixing.
Even without the addition of a vacuum feature, most pugmills perform an excellent job of reducing the quantity of air that is folded into a clay throughout the manufacturing process.
The bottom line plugmills are great!
Summary How To Wedge Clay The Easy Way
Steps to wedge clay:
- Hand Positions For Wedging – Place the left hand behind the right hand. Hold the clay in the palms of your hands and palms are facing inwards towards one another.
- Prep Clay For Wedging – You will need a table or sturdy flat surface to work on.
- Put Your Back Into It – Wedge with your entire body, not just your arms.
- Form a Square Shape – It’s easier starting with a square shape.
- Wedging Clay – Start by pushing on the top of the clay square. Push down then, using your fingers, pull the clay back up.Be careful not to fold the clay. Folding clay created air pockets.
- Continue Wedging – After about 10 to 15 times of pulling and pushing on the clay, you will get into a rhythm and the Ram’s head will appear.
- Stop To Mist The Clay – Mist clay with water if it gets too dry.
- Side Air Bubble Removal – Pick up the clay body and pat the side of the Ram’s head, compressing the clay so that there are no fold lines. It’s an important step to get rid of any air bubbles in the clay.
- Middle air Bubble Removal and Inspection – Take a mudwire and cut the clay body in half. Inspect the bottom of each cut area of the clay, looking for air pockets.
- Congratulations you are now done wedging clay.
Galaty, M. L. (2010). Wedging clay: combining competing models of Mycenaean pottery industries. In Political Economies of the Aegean Bronze Age: Papers from the Langford Conference, Florida State University, Tallahassee, 22–24 February 2007 (pp. 230-47). Totton, Hampshire: Oxbow Books. https://www.torrossa.com/en/resources/an/5328369#page=237
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