my step by step process for making handmade pottery

1. sourcing clay

I typically use a darker stoneware clay body that has a good amount of grog and sand.  This gives my work more character and texture.  Recently I have been experimenting with porcelain to mix things up.  Each clay has a different consistency and character.  My current clay of choice is 308 BROOKLYN RED CLAY from Standard Ceramics.  When I lived in Japan I have mixed locally sourced clays that I found with commercial clay bodies.  That yielded some great results (see below).

locally sourcing clay for pottery

2. preparing clay

Wedging is the technique of mixing and rolling clay to make it consistent and air bubble free.  The method I use is called Spiral Wedging and it's a technique that took me months to master.  It's a process of kneading the clay with a slight rotation that helps push out any air bubbles within the clay.  Air bubbles will cause issues when throwing the clay on the wheel and if they remain in the clay during firing, they can cause the clay body to break or even explode.

spiral wedging clay

3. center clay on wheel

Another technique that can cause new potters a lot of frustration.  It will help you make well formed pieces where the body wall has an even thickness.  Below you can see a photo of myself centering some porcelain on the wheel.  I typically "throw off the hump" which is a method of using a large amount of clay (15+ lbs) to make multiple pieces from the one amount of clay.  I will record and upload a video of the technique as it's a little difficult to describe.

how to center clay on a potters wheel

4. create form (throwing off the hump)

I form a smaller amount of clay at the top of the hump that I use to create a piece (cup, bowl, plate etc).

pottery technique throwing off the hump

5. use string to cut piece off the hump

Once I have completed forming my piece, I use a neat technique that helps me quickly and accurately cut off your piece from the larger amount of clay.  

6. place on ware board to dry (leather hard)

You want the pieces to dry evenly and to a dryness that is perfect for trimming.  

storing freshly thrown pottery pieces

7. store pieces covered for 1-2 days

how long to store freshly thrown pottery work

8. trim pieces when leather hard

Pieces can be trimmed on the wheel or by hand.  I use wooden tool when trimming by hand as it gives a much more refined look and feel.  

hand trimming pottery wear foot

9. add signature and store to dry (bone dry)

bone dry pottery pieces

10. bisque fire 

loading a bisque pottery kiln

11. glaze

Pieces that have been bisque fired are much easier to glaze as it adheres to the clay body.

glazing bisque fired pottery before final firing

12. glaze firing

There are a number of different types of kilns that you can use for the final glaze firing.  Basically there are 4 types based on the fuel used - Wood, Oil, Gas and Electric.  My preferred method of glaze firing will always wood fired.  The unique and rich results you can get from wood-fired pottery is unrivaled.  

wood fired pottery kiln firing

13. sand/grind

After the glaze firing is complete, pieces usually need a quick sand or grind to ensure any sharp edges are removed.

14. fin!

finished wood fired pottery pieces