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Advice For A Home Studio

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#1 Luke



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Posted 12 August 2014 - 09:07 PM

Hi there!


I'm a graphic designer who just graduated from college and am now employed. I've always loved playing with clay since elementary school and have taken multiple ceramics classes in both high school and college. I'd say my understanding of the art and craft is above average, but not great. Since I've started at my new job, I have a little extra income to spend, and I've been thinking about investing in a home basement studio. Clay seems to keep calling to me over the years and I think it'd be a great tangible change from all the digital design work I do for a living. 


What do you think the minimum I could get away with for starting a simple basement home studio? I've been thinking about getting just a wheel to start out with to just practice throwing forms occasionally after work. If there was anything that I really wanted to keep and fire, I'd be able to find a way either at my college or through another resource in the city. I'm apprehensive about purchasing a kiln because of the size mostly. I don't know for certain whether or not I want to stay here, so I don't want have something so large on hand if life circumstances don't allow me to have the space for it.


As for brand of wheel, I'm most familiar with Shimpo wheels, but I've been reading on the forums here that the TS Skutt wheels are a good bang for your buck as well.  Any thoughts there? Besides a wheel, what else do you think I would need to think about realistically? I'd probably build some simple drying racks / work table. Would some sort of bucket setup work for cleaning? 


Thanks! I appreciate your advice and wisdom. 



#2 Benzine


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Posted 12 August 2014 - 09:43 PM

Hi and welcome to the forum.


Your approach of, "buy a wheel and just practice for a while", will receive a positive response here.  That is definitely something, that posters here, really support.  Practice the basics; centering, opening, pulling, and go from there.  Start with cylinders, then move on to bowls, vases, etc.  Sketch out some ideas, and try to create it.  Cut the works in half, to check for thickness.  Once you get some good pieces, let them dry, flip them over and practice trimming.  If you end up with something you are really proud of, set it aside, and fire in one of the ways you mentioned.  


In regards to wheels, much of it is personal preference.  I like Brents, some people like Shimpos, or Bailey, etc.  You are right the Thomas Stuart wheels are great.  Great torque, and a nice big splash pan.  Some people like the Shimpo Whispers, because as the name implies, it is very quite.  The torque on the Shimpos leaves something to be desired though.  

Also, keep in mind, that you don't have to buy new.  You said you live in a metropolitan area, so a quick search on Craig's List will probably yield quite a few results.  I suggest search for both "Potter's Wheel" and "Pottery Wheel" as I've seen people list them as both.


I would also recommend getting some bats, so you can keep producing, piece after piece.  A basic set of tools; sponge, needle tool, wood knife, rib, cutting wire, is also obviously advisable.  


In regards to a kiln, you can also find those fairly cheap on Craig's List and similar sites.  In some cases, people just want to get rid of them.  Keep in mind, that you will want to figure in the cost of hooking up the kiln.  As you are in a basement, you'll also want a kiln vent as well.


Best of luck.

"Anything worth believing, is worth questioning"

#3 Diesel Clay

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Posted 12 August 2014 - 10:30 PM

In terms of a beginner wheel, I agree a Kijiji Special is your best friend. A few ikea shelves or L brackets are good for storage. A table and seat to do finishing work or sketching. Some kind of bucket and drying system for reclaim. I use plaster for this, but there was a neat thread in here about using flowerpots that I may switch to when the plaster gives out. I have a wedging table that is actually a dumpster dived display plinth about 2 1/2' square. This should be no taller than your hip, so you can use your body weight to wedge.

For used equipment, talk to the people at your local ceramics supply place, or wherever you buy your clay. Chances are, they talk to everyone else buying clay in you area, and may have a line on someone getting rid of things that are of use to you.

#4 Pres


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Posted 13 August 2014 - 06:38 AM

Luke, welcome to the forum. You have come to a great place to get feedback on setting up your own studio. Check out the strands in the FAQ at the top of this forum. That will help you browse a lot more information quickly.

Simply retired teacher, not dead, living the dream. on and on and. . . . on. . . . http://picworkspottery.blogspot.com/

#5 GEP


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Posted 13 August 2014 - 08:33 AM

I agree that you should hold off on buying a kiln until you are sure you're not going to move for a while. Kilns are a real pain to move! And installation involves some expense, so try to do that only once. In the meantime, find a community art center where you can pay for kiln access for now, that also provides you with glazes. If you live in a metropolitan area, it shouldn't be too hard to find.


Also work in a home basement, so I try hard to keep clay out of the drain. I did manage to clog the drain in my early days of having this studio, by mopping the floor and dumping the dirty mop water down the sink. Now, when I mop the floor, the dirty water gets dumped in the yard. And I now wash off my hands and tools in my throwing water bucket, then when my hands are almost clean I finish washing them in the sink. When all of my towels are dirty, I take them to a local laundromat. I have not had another drain clog in a dozen years.


I was a designer for 20 years before I became a full-time potter. You're right, pottery is a great antidote for staring at a computer all day. And making pots for your own aesthetic goals and principles is a great antidote for working with clients :-)

Mea Rhee
Good Elephant Pottery

#6 neilestrick


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Posted 13 August 2014 - 10:18 AM

I worked out of buckets for years in my home studios. But if you decide to use a sink for anything clay related, put a trap on it. Gleco Trap.

Neil Estrick
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Owner, Neil Estrick Gallery, LLC

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#7 g-bus


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Posted 13 August 2014 - 10:35 AM

Hey Luke,

Fairly similar situation as you, except I ended up going the teaching route rather than getting in with a design firm after graduating due to crappy job market. I've been working on putting together my basement studio for the last couple of months myself. I'm finding that it's a lot of the little things that you usually have access to in a school studio that start to add up when putting your own setup together. I was lucky enough to find a woman selling out her small home studio that had pretty much everything I needed, and a few "that'd be great to have but aren't necessities" pieces of equipment, at a really reasonable price. So just figured I'd buy the whole thing and sell what I don't need to help offset the initial cost. I've actually done that a few times (great deal on 2 kilns, sell off one to help cover the cost and any repairs for the kiln I'm keeping), and have amassed quite a bit of stuff fairly quickly. Seems when people sell off their pottery stuff they're pretty nice about tossing in some other things to go with it, and that helps. Especially if you don't have anywhere nearby to purchase stuff. This is probably not as big of an issue for you if you're thinking about starting with just a wheel, but if a good opportunity presents itself might be something to look into. Considering the amount of space you have too is an issue. My basement is pretty cramped right now so planning a little remodeling. I've just been wedging on a piece of 1/2" Hardibacker, so easy to move out of the way if you need to make a wedging table double as a work space. The water thing is something to consider too. If I was renting I might not care too much, but dealing with plumbing issues is awful, so worth taking some precautions there. Good luck!

#8 Roberta12


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Posted 13 August 2014 - 11:47 AM

Hi Luke!   I started in my basement (still there!) with a wheel, a table, some buckets, a few bats and whatever tools I already had or could find in the shop or kitchen.   I took my pots to a community studio to fire and glaze for about a year.   I knew then I was ready for a full blown studio at my house.   I have saved up for the big things (kiln) and bought other things a bit at a time (chemicals/glazes)


I too, do the bucket process for water.  I water my trees with it.   It's worked out fine.  


I bought a Brent wheel 4 yrs ago and really like it (It had a 10 year warranty!)However I was at the community college on Monday and Tuesday throwing bowls for a fundraiser and we were using Shimpo VL Whispers.  Holy Moly, those are quiet wheels!  I also liked the free spinning wheelhead!    


Good Luck,


#9 Christine


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Posted 13 August 2014 - 01:20 PM

I work from a garden studio which has electricity but no running water and have used big buckets for years.  One thing you may find useful .... full buckets (of water, glaze, slip etc) are very heavy.  I get round this by standing them all on casters - the wheeled garden pot bases you can get from garden centres are ideal, or you can make your own (I've both) so the buckets/bins can be moved around easily.  This makes cleaning the studio so much easier as well.

The very best of luck with your studio


#10 LeeU


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Posted 13 August 2014 - 03:41 PM

Hi-I am in a similar process. I did lots of homework and comparative opinion-seeking. Then I made a list of all my best options and necessities, for a 10 x 10 spare room set up.  Went with the Brent ie-x. Had fun drawing it out (measure, measure, measure!!) to see if everything would fit in a functional manner. My L&L kiln will be coming--it goes in an enclosure on my rear deck. So exciting! Ceramics Arts Daily has a freebie download on How to Make a Simple Triple Stage Clay Trap. Since I rent, I am going to spring for the Gieco, to be safe. Got lots of fun, inexpensive, tools from thrift stores-check out my Tools and Toys in twostepsforward.net Ceramics. 

Lee Ustinich






#11 Karen B

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Posted 13 August 2014 - 05:50 PM

Hope you don't mind a different view Luke, but I would recommend getting involved in a ceramics program in your area. You pay one price and have everything you need plus (usually) open studio time to practice. In this setting, you would get to explore your options and find out about your favorite materials and what you would need, plus, you will have a community with lots of information. With this start, you will not waste a lot of time and money getting things you won't need or will have to move. 

#12 schmism


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Posted 13 August 2014 - 10:14 PM

After helping setup a small basement home studio Here is what i would classify as required basics


1) sturdy table/work surface for wedgeing

2) adequate lighting

3) wheel

4) shelf or rack to set finished wares on

5) various buckets (say three 5 gal buckets, and some container to hold water at the wheel)


You can work out of buckets for water, but a sink is nice.

I would recommend a scale to weigh lumps of clay as I believe that starting at day one with the mantra of consistency is important.   But again, you could just as easy just throw "handfulls" of clay,  just be forewarned that it may be frustrating to throw a shape, want to throw more of them, but then have no idea how much clay you used and thus have a hard time duplicating it.


I dont feel batts are necessary until about 3 lb items.  That may take you years of hobby throwing or you could be there in just weeks depending on how much you hobby throw.   But dont think you have to throw on them from day one.

#13 Chesari



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Posted 14 August 2014 - 01:03 AM

I set up a tiny home studio in the back of my garage earlier this year, no kiln and no glaze materials as of yet. I'm also taking a pottery class at the local community center, and they'll fire my work and let me use their glazes as long as I'm paying for the class. It's a bit hazardous transporting bone-dry greenware down to their studio - I've lost one or two pieces along the way - but on the whole I'd say it's working out really well.


Here's what I have at home:


Big Ikea table that stands a little under waist-high, the legs are also storage shelves and are wide so they provide stability

Speedball Artista portable wheel - this sits on the Ikea table and I throw standing up

Two sets of tall shelves

Three buckets - one for fresh water, one for wash water, one for clay reclaim

A couple of lamps, since there are no windows in my garage and the overhead light isn't all that bright

North Star bat system - personally I love bats, it's great being able to get fresh pots off the wheel with no distortion or finger marks

A few 12" bats for larger items like plates

Towels and sponges for cleanup

An apron and a comfy pair of clogs

A radio (absolutely essential!)


And of course ribs, trimming tools, etc. One thing I'm missing right now is a mop - clay is amazingly good at getting all over the place. Or maybe I'm just messy. I also need to get some plastic sheeting or plastic storage bins to keep things damp, since I'm finding that my pots are sometimes drying out too quickly, before I have a chance to get them trimmed.


I got the little Speedball wheel because it's inexpensive, it doesn't take up much space, and it takes regular bats (the Shimpo tabletop model uses special bats). The only downsides I'd say would be that it has a wimpy little motor - slows down noticeably when I'm centering, especially for 5+ pounds of clay - and the splash pan is hard to remove. It also would at the very most take a 14" bat, since the motor casing would get in the way of anything larger. So if you're looking to throw big huge pots, this is not the wheel for you. It's been great for smaller pots though, and I've used it to throw a few mid-size items (cookie jar, dinner plate) with just a bit more time spent on centering.


Hope this helps! Best of luck getting your studio put together.

#14 Denice


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Posted 14 August 2014 - 09:00 AM

Luke when I first started I was involved in local ceramic programs like Karen B suggested and carved out a small space at home where I could do some handbuilding and slowly started building my studio. Many years later when I went back to finish  my ceramics degree I already had a small studio.  Years later and a couple of more moves built a studio with all the bells and whistles, plan to stay here forever.  Just have to feel your way into it and start with the basics.    


#15 Luke



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Posted 01 September 2014 - 04:41 PM

Thanks for all the recommendations and help guys! 


I just went through a move (hence the late reply) and started to rethink how purchasing a wheel would be one more thing to move if I were to switch locations again in the near future. Because of this and based on some of your suggestions, I did some more research and found a couple facilities in the city with open clay time. One was free to join so I went ahead and signed up for it, we'll see how it goes. I think the community aspect of it will be nice as it will allow me to meet some more people outside of work. It will definitely be nice to get my hands dirty again. 

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