Pottery is an ancient art form that has captured the hearts and minds of people throughout history. For many, pottery is like magic or creative alchemy. You take a lump of clay and – using your bare hands and a workbench or a pottery wheel – you can make something completely unique. Whether you are hand-building a vase or throwing cups, bowls or plates on the pottery wheel, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of playing with clay.
If you’re new to pottery, you can gain a lot from attending one of the many pottery courses, classes, and workshops with talented ceramicists all over the country first. But, if you’ve done that or you’re simply eager to find a pottery wheel for sale, you’re in the right place. Keep reading for tips, tricks, and handy advice. Oh and make sure you read our beginners’ guide to pottery
What is a pottery wheel?
A pottery wheel is a fast-moving turntable used to shape clay into round vessels, pots and decorative objects. You can buy electric pottery wheels or manual ones in a range of sizes and styles.
Manual pottery wheels, also known as kick wheels or treadle wheels, rely on flywheels and momentum rather than electrical power to operate. Kick wheels are a traditional pottery wheel design that features a large flywheel at the bottom that you can push with your foot. They are great if you need to throw pottery without relying on a power source.
Treadle wheels, such as the Leach treadle wheel, are also operated using your legs and feet. The difference between a kick wheel and a treadle wheel is the treadle. Much like on an old sewing machine, the treadle – or lever –works in harmony with a crankshaft to power the fly wheel and is said to offer the capacity for smoother running.
Electric pottery wheels are powered by – you guessed it – electricity via a foot pedal and buttons or a control panel. Designs vary depending on whether you’re buying new or second-hand, so some will come with an attached seat, others with accompanying stools to sit on. Since throwing pottery is a messy business, most of them will have a plastic or wooden splash pan too.
The best clay to use on a pottery wheel is a bag of potter’s clay rather than the airdry stuff. If you’re just starting out, try earthenware or stoneware clay. The difference between the two is that earthenware is fired at a lower temperature, so remains porous and therefore cannot go in the dishwasher. Stoneware clay is fired at a high temperature so is food safe (depending on the glaze you choose) and non-porous.
How to use a pottery wheel
Pottery wheels are surprisingly difficult to get the hang of. Ultimately the goal is to get the clay on the wheel, centre it, keep it centred and make something from it. Start with a bag of stoneware or earthenware pottery clay, a clay cutting wire, a set of scales, and a wooden table or workbench. Now it’s time to wedge and weigh your clay.
Wedging is preparing the clay for use, kneading it in a specific way to remove air pockets and any unwanted elements before putting it on the potter’s wheel. Whether you choose the spiral or bull’s head wedging method, there is a bit of an art to them both and this stage requires practice. Check out YouTube for some great videos showcasing both techniques.
Next up, it’s time to weigh out each ball. The weight for each ball of clay will vary depending on what you are making – if you’re not sure, aim for 1lb or 2lb balls to start with and go up or down from there.
The centring process is essentially like wedging but on the wheel, giving you the opportunity to gradually get your clay into position so your vessel can begin to take shape. The master potter Florian Gadsby has a fantastic video guiding you through this process.
To centre the clay involves slamming the ball down in the middle of the wheel head when it’s stationary. Then, once you’ve pressed the foot pedal down, get it to a high speed and use your wet hands on the clay to secure it in the centre before ‘coning up’. Body posture and hand positioning is very important throughout to ensure it doesn’t fly off.
How much is a pottery wheel?
Pottery wheel prices vary from around £50 for complete projects (not for the fainthearted!) through to £500-£1,900 for a good quality second-hand model. Ebay and Facebook Marketplace is a great start, as is the private Facebook group Pottery Equipment For Sale & Wanted. Brands to look out for include Potterycrafts Alsager / Podmore & Sons, Shimpo, Cromartie and JW Ratcliffe And Sons.
When you’re buying anything with a motor second-hand, if you’re not mechanically minded, it’s worth taking someone along who is to check it over before buying. Ask whether it turns clockwise or anticlockwise, have a go on it if you can and observe it as it runs at different speeds.
It might sound obvious, but it’s also important to check the dimensions to ensure you can get it through the door at home. Most pottery wheels can be taken apart and put back together again, but – speaking from experience – it’s a hassle you can do without. Decent gloves and a sack truck will also make your life a lot easier.
New electric pottery wheels cost anywhere between £850 to over £2,000 depending on the make and model. Shimpo, Skutt, Cowley, Rohde, Discus, Brent, and Gladstone are just some of the many great brands to look out for.
Physical and online retailers such as Bath Potters, Scarva, Clayman Supplies, PotteryCrafts and Potclays are all incredibly helpful when it comes to questions, advice and aftercare. Amazon stock entry-level pottery wheels online too.
Ultimately, whatever style or brand of pottery wheel you decide to settle on, Hartley and Noble can produce throwing batt systems to fit most wheel heads with or without batt pins.
7 of the best pottery wheels to buy
Designed for entry-level potters, the Skutt Prodigy is a great balance between price and power. The 1/3 HP motor has been tested for endurance, the foot pedal is durable and well-designed too. If you need to remove the wheel head and splash pan, simply twist and pull up.
Alsager Studio Electric Pottery Wheel
Strong, sturdy and a real workhorse. This full-sized Alsager Studio Electric Pottery Wheel was made by Podmore and Sons and is built to last. It’s also worth saving the eBay seller Polware Pottery as they regularly stock good quality second-hand pottery equipment.
Shimpo RK 55 Potters Wheel
If space or noise is an issue this belt-driven, lightweight wheel from Shimpo is a good shout. The two-piece splash pan makes for easy cleaning, while the reversible motor accommodates left or right-handed throwing.
Rohde HMT500 Pottery Wheel
The Rohde HMT500 is an absolute beauty. Built for the workshop, this potter’s wheel has the power for everyday use. We also love that it’s quiet, reversable, and has a large, easy to remove splash pan. Its ergonomic design means you’re sure to be throwing in comfort too.
Discus Craftsman Mini
The Discus Craftsman Mini pottery wheel is a powerful, compact tabletop electric potter’s wheel that can be operated by a hand controller or foot pedal. Developed in the UK by an ex-Rolls Royce engineer, this little gem is ideal for beginners and professionals alike.
Shimpo RK-5T tabletop wheel
In the market for a lightweight, compact and affordable pottery wheel? Take a look at the Shimpo RK-5T. Weighing in at just 12kg, this tabletop wheel can still handle large amounts of clay – up to 9kg, to be exact.
Gladstone Special Needs Wheel
If accessibility is on your mind, the Scarva Special Needs Wheel is a great bit of kit. While the splash tray and wheel head are standard size, the height of it all is completely adjustable to suit you and other users. The legs are wider to enable you to put a chair or wheelchair in place. Meanwhile, lockable castors enable it to be moved and stored easily.
4 of the best pottery wheels for kids
Start ‘em young! Pottery is a great creative hobby for kids and adults of all ages. Not only does it improve motor skills, this mindful practice encourages problem solving, freedom of expression and a sense of pride when they’ve made something they love.
Grafix Pottery Wheel
This fun pottery kit includes a foot-pedal powered pottery wheel, modelling clay, tools and paint. Suitable for children aged 3+.
Cool Maker Pottery Cool Studio
So cool they named it twice! This battery powered wheel acts as a turntable, enabling you to mould your own creations using air-dry clay. Tools, paints and clay included. Suitable for ages 8+.
Tip Top Pottery
Super-cute battery powered pottery wheel with an adjustable speed control. It won’t take up too much space in the cupboard either. Includes clay, tools and paint to create vessels and vases. Suitable for ages 8+.
Mindware Pottery Wheel For Beginners
If you want to take it up a notch, the Mindware beginners’ pottery wheel is an impressive bit of kit of creative kids. The pottery wheel includes a foot pedal, modelling tools, airdry clay and paints to make your designs come to life. It’s a bit noisy, but it does have a dual-speed, reversible motor. Not bad for a kids’ toy!
We hope you’ve enjoyed our pottery wheel round up. Now it’s time to use these pottery wheels for some projects! Make our diy coasters and use our trinket bowl tutorial to craft yourself something cute.