All about Pottery Wheels

Pottery wheels are large disks that are rotated at high speeds by a pedal-powered flywheel to throw vessels on the wheel, which is attached vertically to the floor or bench.

The rotation of the potter’s wheel can be stopped and started very quickly and precisely and this makes it possible to exploit the throwing process by adding more clay into an open vessel or removing some from a nearly completed one.

A potter’s wheel is also known as a “slow wheel”, allowing the potter to introduce large amounts of water, clay and temper into the mass (either as an aggregate or as individual components) while it rotates. before firing, nearly all pots will be shaped by hand on the potter’s wheel. after this first firing some pots will be coated with slip and decorated with simple designs made by brushing wet clay on the surface.

The most common type of pottery wheels were top-whorl designs (also called centre- whorl design) where a freely rotating spindle, usually made of wood, is put through the hole in the middle of the bottom (head) of “potter’s wheel” and supported with bearings on ends. The upper end is usually a piece of long-lasting wood or metal fixed at right angles to the spindle. Then the clay disk is put on top of the wooden head and centered with additional help from a soft dampened pad under the bottom portion of the wheel when in use.


A close up of a bowl

The earliest evidence for using potter’s wheels come from neolithic pottery sites, dating back to 5500 BC in japan, where it has been suggested that “Use of the potter’s wheel seems to have introduced the separation between decoration and vessel form”.

With this simple but highly effective machine one can make both very large vessels weighing tens if not hundreds of kilograms as well as small delicate types like cups with thin walls. shape is determined by how you turn the wheel and the angle at which you hold your tools.

A 25 cm potter’s wheel weighs about 50 kg, although lighter weight wheels are available, as well as compact hand-held versions.

On the other end of the spectrum are enormous river-wheel sized rotational forces can be achieved by modern potters using mid-whorl designs for throwing large vessels weighing over 100 pounds (45 kg).

The word “potter’s wheel” comes from middle english words “pot(e)rete”.

In early medieval times, a “potter’s works” was typically found in rural areas whereas “iron smithy” were more common place in towns according to danish encyclopedia vedel/holbek.

In prehistoric times, the first pottery wheels were constructed from coiled clay; these simple disks were not perfectly circular and ended up as elliptical (egg-shaped) instead of circular when placed on a flat surface and spun with the hand.


The first improvement was to make it slightly oval or egg- shaped instead of round, which allowed for greater speed and therefore rotation, control and balance.

Afterwards, another improvement consisted in making them out of stone instead of earthenware to avoid absorbent heat loss. this also made them easier to wash since there were no cracks where water might collect after usage.

These types have been found from Japan known as jōmon. next step was the invention of the potter’s wheel which was probably invented sometime in the 4th millennium BC.

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