Basic Pottery Hand Building Techniques

Older black man forming pottery on wheel in studio

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Movies like Ghost have certainly cemented the image of throwing clay on a wheel in our collective consciousness, but you don't actually need a wheel for pottery. A good pottery wheel is expensive and can require a lot of space in your house that you might not be ready to devote to a hobby. Before potters had the wheel, they were creating spectacular pots and clay forms using only clay, their hands, and a minimum of tools they brought function and artistry together. If you're thinking about taking up pottery but don't have a lot of money or space for a pottery wheel, there are several methods to hand form clay. Below are the three most common forms of producing hand-built pots.

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    Pinching Pots

    Pinching clay pot

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    Created from a single lump of clay, pinch pots are often the first forms created when beginning to work in clay. These pots are made by literally pinching the clay into the shape you desire, no other tools are necessary. The pinching technique is easy enough for even young children to learn.

    Due to the technique's limitations, most pinch pots are fairly small, holding perhaps one cup to one and a half cups by volume. However, you can make larger pinch pots if you really put your mind to it. If you’re not sure if working with clay is for you then starting with a pinch pot is a perfect economic test run. All you need is clay and a table to work at.

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    Coiled Pots

    Coiled clay pot

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    Have you ever rolled a worm or snake out of clay? Then you were on the road that leads to coiled pottery. Coiling is a simple technique but it can produce some fantastic pottery. Use your imagination to create some one-of-a-kind pieces. Learn the basics of building coil pots with these easy to follow instructions. 

    Using coils, forms are built up into the desired size and shape. Coiled pots can take on any number of forms, and can be tiny or huge. The coils may or may not be completely welded together, depending on the desired surface effect. The coiling technique doesn't require you to use extra tools but they can help with finishing design elements—you can use tools to completely smooth out the coils or you can leave the nice ribbed texture as is.

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    Slab Pots

    Slab of clay

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    If you’re looking to try your hand at something a little harder than a basic pinch or coil pot then you might be ready to try a slab pot, which is formed by joining flat slabs of clay together.

    Slab pots tend to be a bit tougher to produce, technically speaking, than those created using other techniques. The slabs of clay need to still be wet enough to produce strong seams, yet also firm enough to be able to hold up their own weight when placed vertically. Also, joints in slab-built pieces are more likely to crack or split during drying and firing, so extra special care must be taken with them when the pot is being built.