Humans have been making pottery even before they settled and started farming. And if a bunch of nomadic cave dwellers can make usable bowls and jars, imagine what you can make at home with some knowledge and the right tools.
Though pretty straightforward, the art of making pottery is vast. No matter how good you get, there will be something new to try and learn.
Today, we’ll go over what you need to start making pottery at home. We’ll talk about everything from how to set up your workspace to what materials you will need.
We can expand on every section some other time, but for now, let’s show you what you can expect when you get into pottery. Hopefully, it will only inspire you to dig deeper. So, let’s dive straight in!
It doesn’t matter if you have a room you can turn into a studio or have to share a corner of the garage with everyone else. What matters is that you get a few things right, so your space doesn’t become a hindrance.
Can you let fresh air into the room? This is the most important thing. Clay may smell nice, but it can still become overwhelming after a while. And those glaze and paint fumes are no joke.
Also, airflow is good for drying your pieces. It’s fine if they have to dry somewhere else, as long as they are protected from the elements and are exposed to a lot of fresh air.
People usually treat shelves as an afterthought when setting up the studio. Please, don’t make that mistake.
You will need plenty of space to dry your pottery before firing it up in a kiln. Each piece will need enough space so you can safely move them around, as well for the air to circulate.
Take into consideration what type of pottery you will be making. Large vases and bowls can weigh a lot, so the shelves will have to be sturdy enough to hold them safely.
Any artist’s studio can turn into a mess easily, so it may be a good idea to think about storage and organization ahead of time.
You will need to store your smaller tools, raw materials, clay that will be recycled, and so on. Most consumables prefer to be in a dry and dark place, so plan on setting up a cupboard to hold your clay, paint, glazes, etc.
The Pottery Wheel
You can make pottery without a wheel. You can also make pottery on one of those toy wheels. But, if you are getting serious, it’s time to invest in a grown-up version.
Pottery wheels can cost as much as $1500. However, as a beginner, it’s fine if you stay within the budget-friendly price range. About $400 to $500 is a more reasonable price. And, as long as you make pottery for fun and not commercially, you may never need to upgrade to a more expensive model.
Check out our article on DIY pottery wheels article if you’re up to saving some money and have the time to make your own.
Working Without a Pottery Wheel
There are many ways to make pottery, and a lot of them don’t need a wheel at all. You can either use molds or shape pieces by hand.
The wheel is needed mostly when making functional pieces like plates, bowls, vases, etc. Forming them by hand doesn’t give you that smooth and even finish. That being said, if you subscribe to wabi-sabi aesthetics this will not be a problem.
When it comes to pottery molds, you’ll easily find ones in any shape and size you need. You can also DIY some using plaster. Even if you buy a wheel, it’s still a good idea to learn this technique since it can save you time and trouble if you decide to sell your work. And if you’re struggling with shaping handles, you can cheat by using molds to make them.
At some point, you will have to get a kiln, but you can keep this purchase for last.
I would even go as far as to tell you not to buy a kiln until you are at least 90% certain that you want to continue doing pottery. And even if you do continue, you need to do it often enough to justify the cost.
There are also ways to build a kiln that you may want to consider going that route.
Working Without a Kiln
Though you need a kiln to finish your pottery pieces, it doesn’t mean that you must have one at home.
Almost all beginners take their pieces to another studio for firing. Unless you live completely isolated from the rest of the world, you will find something in your area. If you’re taking classes, many schools and studios offer this service (for free or very cheap) to their students, even for pieces they made at home.
Transportation may be an issue, though. It’s possible to transport bone dry clay without breaking it, but you will have to protect it with a lot of nonabrasive padding.
It may seem like a bother, but it will be worth it. A kiln is a huge investment, and it would be a nice idea to know what you need before you open the wallet.
Buying a Kiln
No, you can’t use your oven to fire up ceramics. Yes, you will have to spring out for a kiln. And that can be a huge expense, considering that home kilns can easily cost over $4,000.
Just as was the case with the wheel, as a beginner or a hobbyist, you can stick to the lower price range. You can cap it at $1,200 for a new kiln or get a second-hand one for half that price.
Now, here is why you need to learn what you need before you buy a kiln. Each model has a different temperature range, and different clays and glazes fire at different temperatures. Your kiln should be able to work with your favorite materials.
It would be best to spend your time experimenting and finding what techniques and mediums speak to you the most, then come back and pick a kiln.
Firing Clay In a Fire Pit
How did our prehistoric ancestors fire clay without high-tech kilns? In fire pits, of course.
You can do this as well, but the problem is that it will not give the best results. And since you can’t control fire, you will not be able to “set” it to the exact temperature you need for some clays and glazes.
However, you can always use a fire pit firing technique for decorative purposes. Next, read our guide on how to fire pottery without a kiln.
Small Tools and Accessories
As you work, you will find your collection of tools and accessories is slowly expanding.
To start, you will need a scraper, a brush, a sponge, chamois cloth, and fine sanding paper. You will need them for shaping, decorating, attaching handles, perfecting, and a lot of other jobs. Everything else you can pick up as you go.
Finally, let’s talk about materials. This topic alone can take us ages to explore, but here’s a little sneak peek. At least, it should give you a general idea of what you will be playing with.
Clays used for ceramic are classified into earthenware, stoneware, porcelain, ball, and fire clays. Each fires at a different temperature and produces a different color.
For beginners, stoneware clay is best. It holds its shape well and it’s also pretty tough when fired. You can also get it in numerous colors, ranging from white to dark brown. Red and dark earthenware clays fire at the lowest temperatures so they will work great with a budget kiln.
When you’re buying clay, it will come in clearly labeled packaging. The manufacturer will provide you with all information about the characteristics, firing temperatures, glazes, etc.
If you live in an area with clay-rich earth, you could DIY the clay from scratch. Another tip: you can recycle clay, as long as it hasn’t been fired.
When you’re left with odd bits after finishing a project, or there is a piece that you don’t like enough to fire, leave them to dry completely. Once they are dry, smash them into powder with a hammer. Then, you can add water and work with that clay to create something new.
Check out our article on stages of clay to learn more.
You can leave pottery unglazed (bisque stage). However, adding a glaze will give the piece some gloss, color, texture, and functionality.
Glazes are sorted into 3 main types: low-fire, mid-fire, and high-fire pottery glazes. Each group has distinct features and benefits. For example, low-fire glazes are more home studio and beginner-friendly. On the other end, high-fire glazes are better suited for pieces than need to be water-resistant or even waterproof. And mid-fire is great for colored and decorated pieces.
The type of paints used for pottery are acrylic and ceramic paints. The ceramic paints are applied to the piece then fired in the kiln. It’s usually food-safe, water-resistant, and has a glossy finish.
Acrylic paints are used to decorate a piece when it’s done with kilns and “baking”. You can use them the same way you would on any other surface or object.
I saved my favorite for last. Kintsugi (“joining with gold”, kin meaning gold) is a Japanese pottery repair technique. It has a very distinct look, and you can recognize it by a gold vein spreading through the piece of pottery and reconnecting broken parts.
Fort this technique, you will need clear epoxy resin or a ceramic adhesive, as well as gold mica powder. You can also use different colored micas, even though it’s not traditional. After all, it’s perfectly fine to do what makes you happy, even if it means using neon pink instead of gold. However, you may want to rename it pinktsugi in that case.
Time to Set Up
If you’ve been interested in trying your hand or hands at pottery; there’s no better time to start than now! Get some of the beginner tools, find the space to work, try stoneware clay and have fun! Make something by hand and see what you think. Then if you enjoy working with pottery you can look into a kiln, or a local place that has one, or even create your own as our previous article outlines here.
I’m a stay at home mom with our two kids. I really enjoy doing crafts with my kids however, that is typically a challenge with how limited their attention span can be and how messy it gets. So, I’m always looking for ways to make crafting an enjoyable experience and creating fond memory for all of us.