How to choose the right pottery wheel for beginners
Whether you want to take your budding pottery skills to the next level or give it a shot for the first time, a pottery wheel is a great addition to any home studio. They’ve been helping potters for thousands of years create everything from basic plates and dishes to beautifully complex pots and vases.
Of course, things have changed a bit since people first developed the potter’s wheel all those years ago. Modern pottery wheels have dozens of functions and features to suit each potter’s unique style, projects, and needs. Here’s what we think you need to know to help you choose the best pottery wheel.
7 Considerations to Help You Choose the Right Pottery Wheel
First, there’s no “one-size-fits” all pottery wheel that works for everyone. To help you weed through the various choices, it’s important to consider how you’ll be using the wheel so you can pick the one that best fits your needs.
Here are eight considerations to think about before buying a new pottery wheel:
1. Available Space
The first thing you should ask yourself when shopping for a pottery wheel is, “how much space do I have?” If you don’t have much space, you’ll need to choose the wheel that won’t make moving around your house or studio impossible.
For smaller spaces like a closet or bedroom corner, a tabletop wheel will be your best bet. They’re small enough to fit in tight spaces but still give you all the throwing (working with clay on the wheel) functionality you need.
On the other hand, if you have the space, you can think about getting a larger floor-mounted wheel—as long as it fits your other considerations, of course.
2. Size of Your Projects
You wouldn’t put a big-screen TV on a folding end table. It’d be way too heavy and probably collapse. The same goes for a pottery wheel. If you want to make big projects, you need a wheel that can support the weight.
Smaller projects like cups and bowls work well on tabletop wheels. If you want to make bigger sculptural projects like pots and vases, you’ll need a bigger wheel to support the weight of the extra clay.
Generally, pottery wheels come in three different ranges:
- Small tabletop wheels – support less than 20lbs
- Mid-range wheels – support between 20 and 50lbs
- High-range wheels – support up to 100lbs
It’s important to note that these weight limits include both the clay and the pressure you need to work the clay. So, you shouldn’t use 20lbs of clay on a small tabletop wheel. You should stick with 5-8lbs of clay, so you can use enough pressure for shaping.
3. Portability and Storage
Do you have a dedicated pottery studio? If you answered no, you’d probably benefit from a more portable pottery wheel, like a tabletop wheel. That way, you won’t hurt your back moving it in and out of storage every time you want to work on a project. Plus, smaller wheels more easily fit into closets and on shelves compared to bulkier, heavier, floor-mounted wheels.
Of course, if you have a dedicated pottery studio, it doesn’t really matter how portable your wheel is. You can just leave it out all the time and don’t have to worry about portability or storage.
4. Rotational Ability
Not everyone prefers to throw in the same direction. Some like to work clockwise, while others prefer counterclockwise - depending on whether they are right or left-handed, or just on preference. Some people even like to switch it up depending on the project! It’s a good idea to try a wheel first, so you can learn which direction you like to throw before buying. Then you can make sure the wheel you choose fits your preferences.
Most wheels can rotate in both directions, but it’s not always the case. It’s important to know which direction you prefer before buying. You don’t want to invest in equipment that isn’t comfortable for you.
5. Variable Speed Control
Speed is crucial when throwing. If the wheel rotates too fast, you could lose control and end up cleaning clay off your floors, walls, clothes, and sometimes even the ceiling! That’s why it’s very important to choose a wheel with variable speed control.
Variable speed control lets you slow down or speed up the rotation as needed. It’ll help you maintain control and keep your project upright.
Most pottery wheels have variable speed control functions. If you find one that doesn’t have it, keep shopping. It’s too important to save a couple bucks.
6. Belt Drive vs. Direct Drive vs. Kick-Wheel
How do you want to spin you pottery wheel? There are three main methods to get your pottery wheel turning. There are pros and cons to each, so it’s up to you to choose the one that best fits your preferences:
Belt drive – The electric motor is attached to the pottery wheel using a belt, similar to a chain on a bike. Belt-driven pottery wheels are typically smaller, lighter, and more affordable, but belts wear out over time and will need to be replaced. Luckily, maintenance on belt-driven wheels is pretty straightforward, since all the components are separate (we also offer pottery wheel repair!). The motors are also less powerful compared to a direct-drive wheel.
Direct drive – The electric motor is attached to the wheel itself and spins using a magnet system. These wheels are much stronger and more responsive than belt-drive units, but they’re also heavier and a bit more expensive. While they might cost a few more dollars, they’re also much more reliable. A direct-drive pottery wheel will likely last a lifetime. Think of them like the Toyota of pottery wheels.
Kick wheel – If you’re not a fan of fancy modern electrical devices, or you plan on throwing where there’s no access to power, you can choose a kick-wheel setup. Kick-wheel pottery wheels have a spinning platform under the seat. You spin the platform with your feet as you work to maintain and adjust the speed of the table. Without the motor, these are the most affordable pottery wheels, but they also take the most work and practice to use effectively.
When choosing a pottery wheel for beginners, we usually suggest sticking with an electric-powered wheel. If you can spare a few extra dollars and don’t need to move the wheel around as much, a direct-drive unit will give you the most power, responsiveness, and longevity.
7. Foot Pedal vs. Lever Control
Since you want a pottery wheel that has variable speed control, you’ll need a way to adjust the speed when you’re working on a project. The choice comes down to using your foot or your hand:
Lever control – You adjust the wheel speed with your hand by turning a lever on the machine. This gives you a little more control to fine-tune the speed because you can make minute adjustments with your fingers. Lever-controlled wheels are better for beginners because they’re just easier to work with. They are also more accessible for people with some disabilities.
Foot pedal – You adjust the wheel speed with your foot by depressing and releasing a pedal on the floor. Foot pedals are helpful since you don’t have to take your hands off the project to adjust the speed, but they do require a bit more coordination to work three limbs at once. Beginners can also sometimes struggle with foot pedals because it’s easy to accidentally keep adding pressure to the pedal without realizing it. They take some getting used to.
For beginners, it’s typically suggested to stick with a lever-controlled pottery wheel. It’ll give you more control and make it easier to maintain speed. Even many advanced potters use lever-controlled wheels for their fine-tuning abilities and ease of use.
How Much Does a Pottery Wheel Cost?
When searching for your first pottery wheel, expect to pay somewhere between $500-$800, depending on the features you need.
You can find cheaper pottery wheels all over the internet, but there’s a good chance they’ll break or you’ll outgrow them quickly. It’s always a good idea to choose a quality wheel that will support your pottery hobby and let you grow your skills.
Best Bang for the Buck
For beginner potters, we suggest the Shimpo VL-Lite. It’s a quality floor-mounted, belt-driven wheel that’s in a comfortable price range for most beginners. You’ll be able to work on a wide range of projects to really expand your pottery skills.
If you don’t have the space or need something a bit more portable, the Shimpo Aspire is a tabletop wheel that will give you all the quality and power in a smaller package.
What Accessories Do You Need with a Pottery Wheel?
While most of the shaping is done with your hands, you will need some accessories to help with specific parts of the process. We offer a Pottery Wheel Accessories Kit [link once created], but if you want to put your own together, here are the main accessories beginners should get in addition to a pottery wheel.:
Bats are removable Masonite or wooden boards that cover the top of the wheel. They soften the hard plastic or metal wheel head and make it easier to transition between projects. When you want to work on a new project, you can simply remove the bat with your project still attached and put on a new empty one. Then, you won’t have to spend time recentering your projects when you jump back and forth.
Pottery Tool Kit
There are plenty of pottery tools out there to help you shape the clay while it’s on the wheel. For beginners, it’s always easiest to get a general pottery tool kit that has everything you need to get started. Here are some of the basic tools included in a beginner kit:
Trimming tools – Most kits come with two types of trimming tools. There’s a large cutting head for broader cuts and a smaller loop tool for making finer cuts.
Needle tool – Great for poking air bubbles and making extra-fine cuts.
Wooden knife – Has one angled, pointed end for cleaning and another rounded end for smoothing.
Sponges – Helps smooth out the clay.
Ribs – Help with shaping pots and vases by making bellies and curves. They come in a variety of materials like wood, aluminum, steel, or plastic.
Wire tool – Used for cutting projects off the wheel head (among other creative things you might think of).
If you can’t find a pre assembled kit, it’s a good idea to purchase all these tools separately. They all help with different parts of the throwing process.
A splash pan is a two-piece tub that latches around the wheel. It catches the excess water that flies off the wheel while you work. That way, you won’t have to clean up gray water splatters all over your studio space.
Most pottery wheels come with splash pans, but if you find one that doesn’t, it’s always a good idea to get one. It just keeps everything cleaner.
Find the Perfect Beginner Pottery Wheel for You!
Picking the right beginner pottery wheel isn’t as easy as heading to Google and buying the first wheel that fits your price range. But if you take the time to consider your needs, your first pottery wheel can be the one that helps advance your skills from beginner to intermediate and beyond. Plus, it just makes the learning process that much more fun (and frustration-free).
If you want to get started in the exciting world of pottery throwing, Seattle Pottery Supply has all the equipment you need! Our friendly experts would love to help you pick out the right beginner pottery wheel to support your hobby—and maybe even turn it into a full-blown passion. Check out our stock of pottery supplies, including a wide variety of pottery wheels for potters of any experience level.