Pinch Pots 101

Basics of Pinch Pot Pottery Technique

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The potter's wheel did not appear in history until 4,000 years ago. Prior to that, pinch and coil construction methods prevailed as the main techniques humans used to form clay. Even today, pinching remains a valuable, creative, and satisfying way to work with clay and can be used to form many types of pieces.

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    The Value of Creating Pinch Pots

    Producing pinch pots is the most direct method there is for interacting with clay. You push, and the clay responds. You pinch, and again the clay responds. You can learn a huge amount simply through the experience of directly modifying the clay's form. Pinching is a great way to introduce anyone to clay.

    Pinching also teaches tactile sensitivity. Through this process, you learn to rely on your fingers to tell you information about the clay. You also develop a kinetic awareness of form and of the thickness of walls and floors.

    This tactile awareness can enhance your pottery skills across the board. By creating pinch pots, you can continually refine your ability to work by touch, rather than by sight alone.

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    Types of Pottery You Can Make With Pinching

    Pinch pots may be small, but they allow your creativity full rein. Most pinched pottery is less than 6 inches in diameter, but it can be larger. Pinch pots can range from chunky, substantial pieces to very thin-walled and delicate pieces. Pinch pot vessels can be decorated in many ways, but there does seem to be an added affinity between pinch pots and burnishing, a method that brings a gloss to unglazed pieces.

    Pinching isn't just for vessel forms, however. Many clay whistles and pipes are made through the pinching method. Sculptural forms are also possible. Most of the most fun and relaxing pinching objectives is to make little pinch pot animals.

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    The Physics of Pinch Pots

    To paraphrase Isaac Newton, an action will produce an equal and opposite reaction. In working with clay, this means that the clay will move away from pressure. How the pressure is applied directly affects how the clay responds to it.

    When making a pinch pot, after opening the clay, the tip of the thumb is used on the lower part of the interior of the pot. That pushes the clay at the bottom outward, widening the pot's floor, without having the entire ball of clay flare outward.

    By working with controlled pinches, you can control the shape of the pot. If you pinch indiscriminately, without thinking about how the clay will react and where it will move, you will loose control.

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    Pinching Tips

    There are some simple pointers to keep in mind when making your own basic pinch pot:

    • Work in a spiral from bottom to top.
    • Use the tip of your thumb on the interior, while supporting the exterior with your other hand.
    • Weld deep cracks immediately, using a tiny amount of slurry or slip. If desired, minor stretch cracks can be left as a textural effect.
    • Use a potter's needle to trim the pot's rim when the clay is leather-hard, or you can leave it untrimmed.
    • Smooth or burnish the pot with a wooden rib, if desired, when the pot is leather-hard.