A Potter's Tools
by Brad Sondahl
There are many ways of making pots, so potters have highly individualized needs for tools.  This is one reason that I make or modify many of my tools.  This site is to show the different tools I use in making pots, and how they are used.
Although pottery can be formed without the use of any tools, many tools have evolved as extensions of hands, or to do things that hands can't do.

You can see my specifications for a useful two level wedging table here.  (This is really the only tool necessary for clay preparation.  I recycle hundreds of pounds of clay each year just by wedging the clay briefly by hand.  Visit my tips page for how to do that.

When the clay is wedged, a scale is valuable for determining the amount of clay a vessel will be made from.  I use a spring scale, commonly used for estimating shipping weights for packages.  They occasionally are inaccurate, but will suffice...  I frequently measure twice the amount of clay needed, then wedge that amount into a kidney  shaped mass and cut it in two on the cutoff wire attached to the wedging table.

(this is the typical state of my wheel, with many of the tools I use on it.)
The potter's wheel probably deserves a whole article to itself.  But in a nutshell, there are kick wheels and electric wheels.  Kickwheels are cheaper, slower, and can be made by someone with some knowledge of carpentry.  Electric wheels are as essential to a production potter as electric saws are to a carpenter.  Both electric and kick wheels do the same thing, but electric wheels eliminate a lot of extra time and motion.  I learned on kickwheels, have built a kickwheel, and much prefer electrics for the reasons cited. But if you are a beginner or hobbyist, either is fine.  (And if you're a pro who uses a kickwheel, you're entitled to your opinion also.)

The first tool I apply when making a pot is the sponge on a stick. For many potters the sponge floats in the slop bucket (where it frequently vanishes), and some even hold it in their hand while making pulls on the clay.  I prefer having it on a stick (for the same reason paint brushes have handles), so as to apply water quickly and accurately over an area I want lubricated, or to remove excess water from the bottom of forms.  I make my sponge and stick by sticking a stick into a sliced cube of synthetic sponge, and wrapping it tightly with fishline at the upper end, tying with several square knots to finish.  Also shown is the cheap commercial kind sold at paint departments--it's good for cleaning crevices to remove glaze.

The next tool likely to be used is the rib.  Ribs can be used on the inner or outer surface of pots to smooth, stretch, or compress clay surfaces.  I have used wood, plastic, and metal ribs, and prefer plastic ones made from credit cards.  Metal ones can be dangerous when they get into recycled clay.  Here are some rib shapes I use:

Mostly I use one rib at a time, finding the surface which closest approximates the form I am working with.  Sometimes two can be used at once, as illustrated.

continue to page 2.