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tropicrider

Setting Up And Basic Tools For The Total Beginner

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Hi all. So brand new raw beginner here, please go easy on me ;)

I'm in Australia. Have never thrown before but always wanted to. Have been gifted a nice electric old wheel. Live on a VERY Small house block but convinced husband that I need to do this and made him clear out half our garden shed so I have a small working space to play for a start. (Not ideal I know but all I have)

Now, apart from my wheel and a block of clay that I have and a wedging table that I will convince husband to make (suggestions on surfaces ect appreciated) can people please offer suggestions as to what other stock standard basic equipment would benefit me to start of with, in the way of tools, equipment, furniture or anything else. I'm on a very small budget so just the bare necessities until I get the hang of things. Like a starter kit or the likes and anything else.

I've found a place that does firing and will be taking some classes when money permits early next year. But would like to have a play and get a feel In the meantime.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated :)

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Welcome to the forum.

 

Along with the wheel, a basic set of tools would include a needle tool/ potter's needle, some throwing ribs, some loop or trimming tools, a few sponges/ chamois, a cutting wire and possible a fettling knife.  Many if not most of these, you can make yourself.  A needle tool is just that, a handle with a thick needle protruding from the tip, for scoring/ incising lines, and trimming excess from wheel projects.  There are throwing ribs made from numerous materials; wood, rubber, plastic, metal.  And there is no reason, you can't make your own from nearly any of those materials.  There are quite a few potters, who make some from those fake credit cards the companies send you in the mail.  They are easy to cut to shape, are fairly flexible, and best of all are FREE!  You can make your own loop tools/ trimming tools and cutting wire as well.  Though honestly, you can also just buy a starting set of tools.  Here is one for $8.00 US:

 

http://www.usartsupply.com/MPH-AA16201.html?gclid=CLvLpvmIhskCFYM6aQodzD0G5w#.VkH_l7erTIU

 

So that's a metal and wood rib, large and small loop, cutting wire, wood tool/ knife, needle tool and a basic sponge.  Many classrooms buy those, because it has pretty much everything you need, and are inexpensive.  Honestly, with proper care those tools hold up well too.  I have some in my classroom that are at least a decade old... Much older if you consider students are using them!

 

In regards to a wedging table, you have many options.  Wood works well, as does plaster, canvas, nearly anything.  You generally want something porous, so the clay doesn't stick, while wedging it.  The standard wedging table is wood or plaster, with canvas over the top.  There are also posters here, who use the cement board, that you put down before you lay tile in bathrooms and such.  Concrete, like plaster absorbs water well, and helps dry the clay, while wedging.  

 

That's all the advice I have for the moment.  I do have a question or questions.  What are you planning to make (functional or decorative wares) and what type of clay/ type of firing are you planning to do?

 

I should caution you though.  Clay/ Ceramics can be addictive.  Proceed accordingly....

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Welcome to the forums, TropicRider!

 

To expand on what Benzine has already said, I'll add the following:

 

Prowl your local thrift/second hand stores. Just about anything can be made into a clay tool. Old rolling pins, dishes, utensils, even blenders (at some point, you will probably want to be making "paper clay") and the thrift store are one of the most ideal places to find these on the cheap. Yard/garage sales can also be a treasure trove of cheap tools.  

 

Next, I recommend watching a lot of the videos available here in the video archives. Seeing how things are done before you even lay your hands on your clay will help you to minimize waste.

 

Having said that, just know that there is always waste in working with clay. But, if you're smart about how you work, nearly all of that waste can be reclaimed. Get yourself a goodly number of buckets, both large and small.  If you have a painting contractor near you, contact them about their empty paint buckets. Here in the States, latex paint commonly comes in large (5 gallon) plastic buckets. These are great for everything as a reclaim bucket to buckets for storing your clay (still in it's plastic bag). Put a bit of water in the bucket and then place your bagged clay inside and put the lid on tight. This helps to keep the clay from drying out too quickly.

 

Next, get yourself a large(ish) plastic tub with a depth of at least 12 inches and say, about 18 inches long by 12 inches wide. Pour plaster of Paris in the bottom to a thickness of about an inch or so. (there are videos in the archives on how to make a "wonder box") This lidded tub is a great tool to have in the studio for keeping parts at the leather hard stage. If you're going to be throwing mugs or any other handled pieces, it's nice to have a selection of pulled handles at the ready ;) It's also great for making name badges ahead of time so that you can attach them to your piece at the right stage.  

 

There is so much more I could advise you on, but morning chores prevent me from doing so at this time. My last piece of advise would be to read as many of the forum threads and watch as many of the videos as you can handle on a daily basis. There is an incalculable wealth of information and experience at your fingertips here. Take advantage of it! Good luck and let us know how you fare! We're always here to help. And remember: The only dumb question is the one you don't ask! ;)

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one thing a new potter should know is that the piece of clay you take out of the bag should be wedged before use.  many newbies think they are at fault when it is difficult to throw but it is only that the clay is as hard as a brick and needs to be wedged.  a new word to add to your vocabulary. you will be hearing and using many words that are used by potters and will be unfamiliar to you.  

 

take a look at online catalogs showing pottery tools, equipment and storage items.  notice what is essential about them and translate what you see into what is available at thrift stores and other sources as amy has pointed out.  no need to pay $$$$$$ for something in a pottery supply house when it is available for $ at a tag sale.

 

to learn fast, go to your local library and check out every book you can about making pottery.  some will be basic and show you all the steps in getting ready to throw.  you will benefit from having a glossary of terms used by potters in the back of the book.  start there, then when you watch any videos, you might be able to connect the terms with what you are seeing.  some videos and some books are not worth your time.  try to discriminate.  hope the journey goes well, it is a wonderful trip to take.

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If you are in Australia, you will have access to fibre cement, which is the best stuff for wedging tables and bats. Fibre cement has a smooth side and a textured side, and, when dry, it sucks water out of slip very quickly. When using it as a work surface it will be necessary to keep it damp, or it will dry out your clay too soon. (Make sure that it isn't asbestos cement.) It is fairly cheap at Bunnings and local hardware shops. You can cut straight lines with the scoring tool they sell for the purpose, but you will want round bats when you start to throw wider things. An angle grinder with a masonry disc will allow you to cut out discs of fibre cement. If possible, get your wheelhead fitted with two removeable pins.

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For the cost of 3 or 4 bags of premix cement you can build a great table. make a table out of plywood with heavy legs ( 4" trees work well ) Add a 3" rim to the table and fill with cement. Smooth the cement out as best you can and let dry slowly. It is best to keep the cement damp for a week or longer as it will make for stronger cement. When done you can cover with canvas. A heavy strong table will reduce the effort required when working clay as the table will nor move or react when working the clay.

I built mine 2'x4' and is 4" thick. I was smart and built it in place as it weighs more than 400 lbs.

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Just my opinion here ...

 

You are somewhat putting the cart ahead of the horse ... : - ) ... Because learning to throw is much easier in person then from videos, I would save your money right now to put towards your spring classes so maybe you can take more of them.

 

Buy a basic beginner pack of tools and explore your clay. Start with making some pinch pots, feel what the clay will and won't do. Grab a handful of clay and make a bowl without patting it smooth. Make small boxes. Make bowls using your hands and an old bowl you have around. Use the inside of it and the outside. Try making a few tiles.

 

Every time you do this you will be learning about clay and it will help you when you first sit down at the wheel. Just PLAY until you can get to a throwing class.

 

Every time you don't like what you make just recycle the clay ... Easy to just wrap it in a damp towel, put in plastic bag until soft again.

 

Welcome and good luck ... AND ... No worries, we like beginners here!

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Hi I am a beginner too. I have been teaching myself the wheel for a year now. The wheel is difficult: I can get it to do somethings, but not necessarily what I was planning to do. Then there's clay : there are many different clays , they don't all do the same thing!

When I got my wheel, it came w a bunch of the tools people have mentioned. I would watch videos, then try to use the tool the same way. Sometimes it would work, but not always! Some clay would be ok thin, some not. Some dried fast, some warped.etc.

Buckets are a must! You need one for the piles of clay that didn't make it, then a wash up bucket which will also have reclaim in it as it settles, plus clean water for more clean up. Some clay is messier than others.

Scraping tools to manipulate the clay surface, but also to scrap the bat surface or canvas surface.

As for tools, since I am still discovering I reach for anything. My favorites might be useless to you depending on what we are trying to do, so investing in anything serious is not necessary until you figure out what will work for you.

I believe that making the area I am working in comfortable is the better investment, again very personal and until I am in full swing , I don't really know.so everything is incremental, I am just waiting on the shelves , cones etc that will make my kiln functional. That took way over a year!

When I first came on to this forum and made a wish list, it was huge. Thank god I couldn't see putting the money into it like that! The shelves etc cost $145.00 w shipping, I got just what I needed, nothing more. A year ago I had a list that included everything for glazes,all kinds of stains, all the fun tools. If I had bought that list, I would still be staring at the heap not knowing which way was up! Because like you I have a very limited space, I will have to learn to accommodate all the processes and where to put them. Clean up alone if badly planned can take awhile.

So I very much agree w with Chris: play with clay, attempt everything, play w the wheel, and when discouraged ( it happens), play w clay. Get to the studio, see what your stuff looks bisqued, then fired.

Have fun, enjoy! Play.

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When you read all of the above advice it will sound very complicated and overwhelming which was not the intention of the posters. Eventually, as potters we tend to accumulate a lot of tools and equipment as we progress. We also do a lot of research regarding many different techniques relating to all aspects of ceramics. The best advice given was just to start off small and easy, getting a feel for the clay and you're own beginning abilities and then branch out and try different things as you become more comfortable. You sound very enthusiastic and we're all here to help and won't bite. Good luck.

 

Paul

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If you have a really small space like I do you don't need to bother with a wedging table.  A solid piece of plywood slides in between my washing machine and the wall for storing and is placed on the floor for wedging.  The benefit of wedging in this position is that your whole body weight can be behind the process not just your upper body.

Lin

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I started off very small with limited funds and I actually think it encourages creativity. I make many of my own tools and I've slowly added glazes I really love.

 

I have to say, I agree with Chris. I'm not saying you can't throw now, just be aware it's something that's harder than it looks and you go through a lot more clay with it. Hand building and slabbing are a little more of a gentle introduction when you're on your own. Watch lots of videos here and on YouTube. Your brain will be learning even if you don't put it into practice till you take a class.

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Sounds like your hubby is crafts-manly. Good place to start. I have found that making use of things that are pretty common are good places to start.  Look at tools in supply houses for ceramics on the web, this will give you a basic idea of shapes for wooden ribs, trimming tools etc. Then look at some of the old or even new wooden spoons, spatulas and other shapes that are around your house. You can cut off the spoon or the spatula, and with the two pieces make a couple of ribs. I have done this often, only take a saw, a rasp, and some sandpaper to work the rib. Needles will go into dowels that are drilled with a fine drill bit quite well, with a dab of epoxy hold up even better. Cheese cutters work well to cut clay, and many use them. Make larger ones for yourself to cut slabs with. Imagination, education, and elbow grease can get you a pretty good but simple set of studio tools cheaply. Other stuff comes in to play as you go and realize the need. My wedging table is just a concrete slab cast into a wooden frame on a piece of heavy plywood attached to the wall, and with a single heavy leg. Canvas covers the top. Simple.

 

 

Good luck, and welcome to the forums

 

best,

Pres

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Well, thanks a million all! Didn't expect such a great response, all extremely helpful !  I know I should just do a blanket response but since everyone has been so helpful...

 

Benzine, sensational starter advice thank you! I did buy a little kit like the link you offered (by the way that place looks great!) so guess I'm onto a good start, to answer probably more decorative pieces, I have spoken to my local pottery supply store who on my informing him that my brother will be building me a Raku kiln (as he has done before)  handed me  a stoneware/earthenware blend which should suit. And I shall heed your warning - I fully expect it to be!

 

Amy, fantastic follow with more for my setup, much appreciated. Did think of op shops and wondered about how many buckets etc I would need so very very helpful thank you.

 

oldlady, Ahh the one thing I knew! Wedging :) Hence I haven't been able to do anything in the weeks I've had the wheel waiting on my table to be built! To your advice, thank you very much :) and I have already taken out quite a few books to pour over as well as ordered a couple of very promising beginners ones online I am waiting to show up as well.

 

Earthfan, thank you - in my googling of creating the table I did come across mention of that so glad you could tell me its available so easily.  was wondering about bats so thats very helpful as well.

 

Ronfire, thank you. this was my first choice but I'm not allowed such a permanent structure (well in husbands opinion!) as we may be moving next year. But I would like to upgrade to something like that when we end up back on acreage with more room.

 

Chris Campbell, thank you but I think the sooner I get into it the better. Odds are I may not have the money to do the classes, the ones that are a reasonable distance to me are extremely expensive. Im not under any false illusions of being awesome at it anytime remotely soon!  ^_^  and have no timeline to get anything right thankfully. I've waited 15 years to do it, so nows the time! I have done lots of hand building so not a total novice in some sense, but its was all just little things and never used a wheel or been able to setup a studio. Very much appreciate the rest of your advice also, plan to play a lot! 

 

Jolieo , appreciate your story thank you.  I dare say I will be very much like that, with it not working being more often but Im ok with that. I will only be starting small to so appreciate your advice.

 

Paul - thank you so much for making me feel more at ease! your msg was especially supportive of my endeavours (and ramblings  ;) )

 

Lin - Thanks! wish I had thought of that before! Will remember it when my babe gets covered in motorbikes parts or something which being in a share shed with my husband will eventually I'm guessing!

 

Humboldt and Giselle, unfotunately most classes are a very decent distance from me and the one that is quite close to me is exceedingly expensive (more then double the price of the others for less lessons) so I'm trying to save to go when they had classes agin next year but it may or may not happen. Ive done hand building many years ago so not totally clay newbie, but its been a long time and I've never thrown or had room for a studio. I have however watched about 100 videos so far (ok maybe not but it feels like it haha) and read up a lot and plan to keep doing both. So considering I have no agenda to follow I'm happy to play! But If I am going to would at least like to start out right to begin with.  My brother is coming down in a few weeks and he has done a LOT of pottery many years ago, and was quite adept at the wheel so hoping I can pick his brain! Thank you both!

 

Pres, haha, he is indeed. And this weekend will be forced to remain in the garage until I have the furnishings I require ;)  Thanks for the info, I didn't think of a lot of that but will put your advice to good use! I think Im now looking forward to making some tools as much as everything else!

 

Thanks again everyone for all your help and support. 

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Everyone has posted some good advise, and there's not a lot left to add. I would just suggest looking at a lot of pots and different ceramic artists for inspiration. Instagram has a wide selection of images you don't always find everywhere else.

 

If you don't have it, some sort of shelf for drying things on (mind the weight restrictions on it), and some ware boards that fit said shelf are a good idea. A 6" drywall knife is about the best cleanup tool going for both wedging table and wheel head. Good luck and have fun!

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Thank you :) Ive been looking at a lot lately, so many amazing pieces. Didn't think of instagram though so i will get on it! I do need to get some shelves, as I don't have anything to store anywhere yet. The tricky part will be trying to fit them into my small space, but i am researching that too.

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Classes were not practical for me, either. :) So I understand. I found that if I wanted to try something new, it was helpful to watch a video then try it right away. My wheel throwing lessons were all YouTube and Ceramic Arts videos and trial and error. I guess I feel like it would have been easier to take a class! But I'm very proud of what I've accomplished in the past year. This is a great place to be, you will find so much help and support here.

 

I use 5 gallon buckets for my most used clay (scraps) and 2 gal buckets for the others. You'll figure out what does and doesn't work for you pretty quickly.

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Don't neglect the traditional hand-building methods. It takes a lot of practise to make a large pot on the wheel, but by using coils, a complete beginner can make a large pot at her first attempt. Slab building also has much potential because you can add texture in ways that are impossible on a wheel. A good tool is a long pastry rolling pin and sets of two wooden slats the desired thickness of the slab you want to make. Even better is a potters' harp, but I don't know where you get them nowadays.

Always make everything bigger than you want them to be because of the 12% to 14% shrinkage. The limitation with wheel thrown pots is that they always come out round. They can be coaxed into ovals and squares, but there is never the shape variation that is available when using coils.

I don't know what sort of wheel you have. Mine is a Venco and it can be easily converted to a work table just by placing a piece of chipboard over the top. Discarded cupboard doors are a good size. Again, fibro cement is the ideal work surface for slab and coil work, so long as it is dampened. Place it over a sheet of plastic to protect whatever you sit it on.

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