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How to Make Pottery

If you are interested in how to make pottery / pottery techniques then this page should give you a view in to the techniques using the different methods available. Check out the projects on how to make pottery & ceramics.. Pottery making is a process by which you produce great works from clay that are functional, aesthetically pleasing and potentially great works of art.

The main types of clay available are Earthenware (red, known as terracotta, and white), Stoneware, Porcelain and Bone China. Clay is of course available in the earth, for most of us however, we use commercially available clays which are based on a blend of bodies and compounds to make them consistent and easier to work.

If you want to have a quick tester there are clays now available that are air hardening or that can be hardened in a conventional oven. This will only give you a taster on how to make pottery but are worth a try if you'd like to try some small handbuilding projects at home.

We all think of clay as the plastic type media that we mould in to a shape by various means. However, powder clay can be obtained to mix for use as well as liquid clay (slip)

Before you build clay must be prepared to have an even consistency with no air bubbles or particles.

If you find local clay, it is worth cleaning it for use just for the experience and knowledge gained.

Pottery is made from firing the clay once or twice in the main. More firing can be done depending on the result that you want when you are making pottery.

The first firing is called a biscuit firing and is done in order to harden the pottery form. You wnd up with what is called bisque ceraics or bisque pottery. The form is usually porous at this stage.

The second firing is usually to apply a glaze. The glaze makes the form non porous.

There are a number of common techniques used when learning how to make pottery. These are manual, partly mechanised through to manufacturing techniques that are highly mechanised. The focus is on manual and partly mechanised techniques.


There are a number of common handbuilding techniques for making pottery


One of the first things you want to do when you get hold of clay is to squeeze it in to a form. This is defined as pinching and can produce varied shapes. Making a few pinch pots with different types of clay, especially if you find local clay to use, gives you experience of handling the different body textures.

Illustrated examples

Pottery Buttons - how to make pottery project.

Pottery Beads - how to make pottery project.

coil pottery

Coiled forms can be large or small. They are made from rolling out clay in to long coils and then joined to make your form. Coils can also be made by extruding clay in a mechanised process. These coils will be more even than coils rolled by hand.


Coil Pottery - Pottery vases Project - how to make pottery project.

Ceramic Pottery Bowl Project - how to make pottery project.


Slabbing is the technique of making slabs of clay and joining them together to make a form.

One example is a square box. A square of clay is used as a base. Four squares are used to make the sides. They are attached together and to the base using a watered down clay mixture called slip. Another square is made for the lid.

Clay is rolled flat with a rolling pin and guides to ensure even thickness. You can also roll clay in a partially mechanised process with a rolling machine.

Throwing a pot

How to make Pottery - Throwing

Throwing is the technique of making an object from clay on a pottery wheel. While we have electric pottery wheels today, a manual wheel, called a Kick wheel can be used. Historically pots were made on a hand turned wheel - a turntable. They were used to make pots from speeding up the process of coiling before moving to the method we know as throwing used today.

The clay is first centered on the wheel. The potter moulds the clay by opening up the center and bringing the walls up while centrifugal force throws the clay outward.

The pot is removed and allowed to dry to a level which is 'leather hard' and not bone dry. In order to have a decorative bottom to a pot it is placed upside down and turned with some tools.

Learning this method is a challenge and the production of ones first pot provides a great sense of achievement.

The challenge does not end there as potters look at throwing larger and taller pots.


Varying molds for pottery making are available for purchase, or you can make your own molds from plaster.

Hump and Press Molds

A Hump mold is mushroom shaped, clay is rolled in to a slab and placed on top of the hump mold. The clay is dried and retains the shape of the hump mold.

A press mold is a concave mould. Clay is pressed in to the concave shape to make a pot. The clay is again dried and the pot removed from the mold.

More complex shapes can be made from molds made up of more than one piece.

It is worth experimenting with pressing coils and disks in to and on to molds as this provides more interesting shapes and textures to the finished article.

Slip Casting

Used to make shapes that need to be reproduced. This method is used in manufacturing but is also useful if you wish to replicate identical forms e.g 6 identical large coffee mugs.

Liquid clay is poured in to a plaster mold. The clay is left to dry for a few minutes. In this time only the clay closest to the mold dries and the rest remains liquid. The remaining liquid clay is poured away leaving a pot made up of the clay that has dried.

How to make Pottery - Decorating

Pots can be decorated at different stages in the process of making.

Before Firing

The initial decision when making pottery for decoration begins at the very beginning with the choice of clay. Terracotta, stoneware porcelain or china all have very different visualisations as well as weight and texture.

If you're making pottery by slip casting, the slip can be coloured before hand and your form built up from layers of different colours.

You can build shape in to the design of the clay that will give a pattern when glazed. An example is scraffito where you scrape a pattern in to the surface of the clay.

You can paint slip on to a leather dry clay body with a decoration.

You can use oxides, using a similar technique to powdered paint to put a decoration under the glaze or over a glaze.

After Biscuit Firing

A glaze is put on to the biscuit fired clay. There are many different types and it is worth experimenting in order to get the desired results. You can make your own glazes or you can purchase pre-mixed glazes commercially.

Glazes can be applied by dipping, pouring or painting.

pottery kiln

How to Make Pottery - Firing

All pottery when fired looses water, then when drying shrinks. If heated too quickly and when wet the clay can crack. All clay when making pottery is therefore fired slowly in order to manage the dehydrating and shrinking processes.

Clay has been fired in pits, dustbins with straw or wood shavings, bonfires, and a large number of different types of kilns.

There are a number of techniques, below is a good selection.

Bisque Firing.

Firing the clay without a glaze to approx 800 degrees. The form remains porous.

Glaze Firing Firing a pot that has a design applied with a glaze. When complete the pot has taken on the propoerties of the glaze and the glazed areas are non-porous.

Salt Glazing Throwing salt in to the kiln when heat is growing high in order to provide a reaction with the clay. The result is a glossy glaze which is textured. Salt can damage kilns and therefore this is usually done with a kiln designed specifically for making pottery with salt glazing.

Crystal Firing Fire using high zinc and low alumina. The crystals expand with the heat.

Smoke Firing Firing with additional items in the kiln. For example metals such as copper or natural items which react to provide a specific effect.

Raku Firing Biscuit pots are placed in a kiln which is at approx 1000 degrees for a few minutes. The pot can be glazed and you can create lustre effects. The pot is pulled out of the kiln and then smoked in woodchippings, leaves or similar natural material for a short while. The work is then put in to cod water to stop the heat process. Dramatic effects can be seen with this method

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