How to Prepare Your Space for Working With Clay

Setting up your ceramics studio

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If you've recently started working with clay, you'll need to take a number of steps before you can start molding clay, especially if you're working out of a home ceramics studio. From installing clay sink traps for clog-free cleanup to checking your clay for homogeny and stiffness, these preparatory steps will ensure your overall throwing success.

Whether you're building your own home ceramics studio or just want to cut down on the amount of time you're spending not creating beautiful works of art, knowing the proper ways to prepare to throw clay can greatly reduce the mess and mishaps of ceramics-making.

Proper preparation means you've got more time to spend getting your hands dirty, so once you've read the following and made sure your area is ready, you can start off your ceramics journey by centering clay on the potter's wheel and starting it up.

  • 01 of 06

    Installing Proper Drainage

    One of the biggest issues for in-home ceramics projects is that cleaning off excess clay down the sink can clog your drains. For this reason, before you even think about centering clay on the ceramic's wheel, you should make sure you install the proper drainage system for the sink you plan to use when cleaning up your gear.

    Fortunately, there are a number of relatively inexpensive and easy-to-install clay sink traps on the market, or you can even build one yourself. In any case, you definitely want to get one of these before you start making ceramics in your home because the cost of unclogging clay from home plumbing is much higher than a simple sink trap.

  • 02 of 06

    Clip Your Fingernails

    Trim your fingernails before throwing.

    Beth E Peterson

    Once you've ensured cleanup won't mess up your plumbing, the next thing you'll want to do to prepare doesn't involve clay at all. It may seem like a small detail, but the truth is that making sure your fingernails are clipped as short as possible will avoid multiple problems while throwing.

    Fingernails are all too likely to poke, gouge, rip, and scratch clay. On the wheel, this can mean the destruction of a pot at practically every stage of creation. At the same time, if the clay catches your fingernail at high speed and at the wrong angle, your nail can be painfully torn!

  • 03 of 06

    Gather Your Tools Together

    Pottery tools gathered and ready for throwing on the potter's wheel.

    Beth E Peterson

    Next, you'll want to gather all your necessary tools before you begin to touch the clay, to avoid spreading a mess across your workspace. Make sure each of these items is within reach of the potter's wheel, and that there's a drop cloth or tarp to catch any accidental drips between the wheel, your clay, and your tools.

    You'll need a half-gallon container or bucket of water or slurry placed conveniently to your right hand (for right-handed throwing). Your throwing liquid should be as close as possible to the wheel head in order to reduce dribbles.

    You'll also need dampened sponges and your chamois, a bucket for slops and scraped clay, a bucket of water for cleaning hands and tools, plenty of bats, and a few slips if you want to use them immediately after throwing.

  • 04 of 06

    Fixing Your Clay's Stiffness

    Water can be wedged into stiff clay to soften it more.

    Beth E Peterson

    Check your clay to make sure it is the right stiffness for throwing. Clay that is too stiff or too soft is nearly impossible to work with. With some experience, you will discover the right stiffness for you as you work on the wheel.

    Clay that is too soft can be firmed up through wedging on either canvas or plaster. Make certain there is no plaster dust or particles before working on plaster surfaces.

    For clay that is too stiff, you can wedge water into it. On your wedging table spread the clay out into a rough slab and sprinkle with water. Fold the clay inward, so that the water is encased and wedge until the water is fully incorporated into the clay. If the clay is still too stiff, repeat.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Creating Homogeny in Your Clay

    For good throwing, your clay must be homogeneous in terms of stiffness. For example, bagged clay that has been sitting around for some time may be stiffer on the outside than in the interior.

    Even if there are no air pockets in the clay, this clay will have to be wedged to reach a uniform stiffness. Otherwise, the changes in stiffness can make it impossible to throw evenly and keep the clay on the center of the potter's wheel.

    A lack of homogeny in clay can also cause problems when it comes to firing it in the kiln, so even if you're able to successfully throw non-homogenous clay on the wheel, it might shatter if portions dry much faster than other portions.

  • 06 of 06

    Make Sure Your Clay Is Air-Free

    Clay mixed by de-airing pug mill and showing no air pockets when cut open.
    Beth E Peterson

    Air pockets in the clay will disrupt centering and throwing, can often cause blebbing, and in severe cases will cause the pot to blow apart in the kiln. Clay must be either completely wedged to remove air pockets or have been processed by a de-airing pugmill in order to safely be thrown and fired.

    You'll notice air pockets as small bubbles—either burst or sealed—on the otherwise smooth surface of the clay. Although you can often just wedge clay to get rid of bubbles, clay that has been left in water too long might need further processing.