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GiselleNo5

Proper Hand Position For Wheel Throwing?

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As some of you may know, I am a beginner on the wheel. I started learning in October of last year when my dad set up his new wheel in my garage since he doesn't have a spot for it yet. (Ohhh the sacrifices I make for him ;))

In the past year I have gotten to the point where I can pretty much make what I want, though I still can't handle anything over five pounds. I don't feel I'm qualified to teach anybody else, but my dad is really struggling. He wants to retire from his masonry business and use pottery to supplement his pension, so there is a lot of mental pressure on himself to make a success of this as soon as possible. I know from my own experience that this kind of thinking makes the learning go much slower, and I've told him so many times, trying to encourage him to be easier on himself and give it time and patience. 

 

Today he came over to throw and I noticed this weird thing. 

 

I'm right handed. I throw with the wheel spinning counter-clockwise. When I'm lifting the clay I have my left hand on the inside of the pot and my right hand on the outside at around 3 or 4 o'clock.

 

My dad is also right-handed and uses the same setting on the wheel. But he does everything inside the pot with his RIGHT hand, and the outside with his left. His hands are at 8-9 o'clock on the wheel. He has lots of problems with gouging the pot, thin spots, collapses, etc. etc. etc. and I think that might be why. I told him and he laughed and said that he's always thrown this way ... I never noticed before because he really doesn't like help so I leave him alone when he comes over to throw. He threw one pot "my" way and it actually turned out pretty well but he said it was strange and went back to "his" way with the next pot. 

 

My question is, which way is correct? If "my" way is correct, then is it easier to re-learn this way, or should he try throwing on the wheel with the wheel going clockwise instead, as if he's left-handed, and otherwise keep doing everything the same? Any advice or suggestions? (By the way, I think he would benefit from a wheel throwing class but I know he won't do it. He's really discouraged right now.) Is it possible that his struggle with throwing can be as simple as having his hands in the wrong position?

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No matter which way the wheel is moving, you want the clay to be moving away from the angle of the pressure point on your fingers. So a wheel moving counter clockwise, the work(pulling) would be done with the left on the inside, and the right on the outside. . .all of this on the right hand side of the pot. The fingers from the hand are angled away from the wheel motion not towards it. If you do this on the left side of the pot, the fingers will be angled into the wheel motion thus digging into the clay.   There are folks that can do this both ways, but their experience is way beyond beginners.

 

 

 

best,

Pres

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I agree with Pres. You need to work with the direction of the rotation whether you are left or right handed. I am left handed but my left hand is inside and right hand outside as the wheel moves in a counter clockwise direction. Some wheels can change their direction. Maybe that would help your father since he wants to use that position.

 

Marcia

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I have a silly question. When pulling, do you place more pressure with the inside finger and lift from the inside, or do you increase the outside finger pressure and lift from the outside?

 

Jed

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Thanks, everyone. He's coming over to throw again today and I talked to him; he said he's going to try both solutions. I hope this is what the issue is because he has been struggling and this may remove a big block to his progress. 

 

The wheel is a Shimpo Whisper (I so wish it was mine) and it can switch back and forth. One of the reasons he bought it is that my sister is left-handed and he wanted her to be able to use it too. 

 

I cannot believe that I didn't notice what he was doing before!! You know, he's my dad so he knows everything, right? ;)

 

He also mentioned that with his wide hands it's really hard to make smaller items like mugs, but I just bought a Xiem X-Sponge II http://www.xiemtoolsusa.com/X-Sponge-II_p_309.html and I'm thinking that this might help him to do the inside of small items when it gets here. 

 

I have a silly question. When pulling, do you place more pressure with the inside finger and lift from the inside, or do you increase the outside finger pressure and lift from the outside?

Jed

 

Jed, I don't think that's a silly question! There are so many different ways to do everything. 

 

I use the inside hand (the length of my left pointer finger is used kind of like a rib inside the pot) as mostly a passive pressure and do most of the lifting from the outside with the side of my curled right pointer finger. I pull up and slightly toward the center so the top doesn't flare out and then shape it from the inside when I'm around the height I want.

 

How do you do it? 

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No matter which way the wheel is moving, you want the clay to be moving away from the angle of the pressure point on your fingers. So a wheel moving counter clockwise, the work(pulling) would be done with the left on the inside, and the right on the outside. . .all of this on the right hand side of the pot. The fingers from the hand are angled away from the wheel motion not towards it. If you do this on the left side of the pot, the fingers will be angled into the wheel motion thus digging into the clay.   There are folks that can do this both ways, but their experience is way beyond beginners.

 

 

 

That's what I thought. Last night I kept trying to imagine throwing with my hands on the left side like that and I know the force of the wheel would drag me into the clay instead of glancing off. Neither of us has the experience to make that work, although yesterday he took a wobbly pot with a thin spot and somehow he straightened it up and evened out the thin spot! I asked him what he did and he had no idea. LOL It's the blind leading the blind over here. 

 

I'll let you all know how it goes today. It has been so much fun sharing this with my dad, I can't even tell you. I don't want him to give up on this. 

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as long as one of the fingers is lower than the other, and wheel going in the right direction, throwing is easier.  the lower one of those fingers is doing the squeezing and lifting and the other is just along to keep the pot going straight.  just be sure the fingers are not directly opposite each other.

 

there are cutaway pictures of this shown in old basic books, kenny comes to mind.  The craft of the potter, by michael casson is also a good one.  your dad might like something by an older man showing all the steps.

 

i know, everyone wants to watch youtube instead of getting a book.  but you can't really study youtube the way you can a book.

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Both inside and outside touch point apply the same pressure. For me the natural position of the pressure point starts with the inside above the outside as the inside starts at the inside bottom of the pot that is about 3/8 to 1/2 inch from the wheel head. So the outside pressure starts at the wheel head, and the inside at the inside base of the pot. I press quite hard to start the pull, letting up as the clay rises. This is where an experience thrower and an inexperienced differ. The inexperienced starts the pull with even motion, then tries to get more height from mostly the top half of the pot. Where as those who have had the AHA moment know to work the clay harder in the beginning while it is closer to the wheel head and more stable making a strong pull in the beginning that moves the weight of the clay up the pot to be thinned on the next throws. On this first few pulls the pressure leaves off once the roll of clay starts to move well. . . just enough pressure to keep the roll moving up the pot until you over throw the pot. By this I mean not to stop your pull when you have come to the end of the clay, but to follow through as if the pot were an inch higher than it actually is.  Follow through as in most sports.  Next pull do the same strong in beginning moving the clay from the base into the form and up the pot. Continuing in this manner will help you to get more consistent and even cylinders.

 

 

best,

Pres

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Everyone I have ever watched throws differently. I throw pretty odd, I use my right hand at the 5-6 oclock position and my left hand also at the 5-6 oclock position, but when I use a rib I use it at the 3 oclock position. It doesn't really make any sense. I also, like your dad, do a lot of pulling with my left hand around the 7 oclock position when I am pulling and opening at the same time for say a cup. I open it up and grip the clay and pull with my left hand while my right hand smooths the bottom of the cup with my middle finger. I can open, pull, and smooth/compress the bottom of a cup or mug at the same time.

 

I don't really know the reasons why I do things, I taught myself mostly so I just kinda ended up with all these really wonky ways to do things. I mostly watched youtube to learn to throw so a lot of that impacted my throwing styles. I have tried to relearn to throw at the 3 oclock position, but I find it near impossible. At this point I have just accepted my fate as I can practically throw anything I want within reason.

 

As far as the throwing over 5# goes. I wouldn't really worry about that too much. The only thing over 5# is going to be platters, big bowls and big vases. All of which are sort of specialty items. If you wanted to throw over that weight the key is good wedging before you throw your pot. You want the clay to be spiral aligned so that centering is really easy. If you do this before then slap center the clay as it spins I have found throwing over 5# is a lot easier. Also if you practice building your way up to 5# it becomes really easy. So start at like 2#, then throw a 3# object, then a 4# object, then a 5# object, then a 6# object, and it becomes pretty simple. Just starting off with 5# from 1# is a huge difference if your not comfortable. Also remember its not a strength thing to throw big objects. It is more of a proper body position to center that much clay effectively.

 

Throwing is really a practice game. The more your throw and then tear apart what you made and examine the bad parts the better you get at it. Since your dad is learning, make him cut his pots to see where he is weak at, then the more he does this he will think about it as he is throwing and correct his mistakes. As long as your having fun, and learning together, I wouldn't stress the hand positioning too much. If it wont work, it wont work and he will adjust to make it work. Also cutting pots makes you feel so much more relaxed about pottery, when you remember its just clay. I used to get so frustrated when I first started. I would be throwing a good bowl then mess it up and feel so letdown. After I started cutting my work, I was like, ITS JUST CLAY!

 

This is just my opinion.

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Another thing I had forgotten is that he's missing the first joint of his left thumb. He's a contractor and a few years ago his saw slipped. He's never really gotten used to it. In addition to this, and to the backwards hands, he insists on using porcelain to learn. I mean, throwing with porcelain makes me want to scream. It's definitely the hardest clay I've worked with. Someone on this forum said "it's like throwing with cream cheese" and that's true! And that's his starting point. He says that by the time he gets better everything else will be easy. *sigh* I feel like I'm watching someone try to learn rock climbing with an anvil strapped to their back, insisting that this will make them stronger. I started learning with B-Mix and found out months and months into it that B-Mix is difficult to throw and in the meantime I very nearly threw in the towel. I finally tried some very groggy red clay and could not believe how the clay cooperated instead of fighting me at every turn. 

 

Joseph, I'm going to try what you suggested, throwing 1#, 2#, etc. up to 5# instead of doing like I usually do, throw six 1.5# mugs and then slap a 4# or 5# lump on the wheel. There are some larger things I want to try making, like pickling crocks, that may take 5#. I wish that he would cut his things and learn from that but right now he's throwing 3# or 4# at a time and working so hard on them, he's attached and couldn't bear to reclaim them. Perhaps I'll suggest it. 

 

Pres, I'm going to try being firmer when I make my first lift. I have a big problem with getting the clay up off the bat; I've become very good at trimming away all the excess clay for a nicely shaped, well-balanced pot, but I end up reclaiming anywhere from 4 to 8 ounces per item just because there was so much extra at the bottom. I'll just do some recycling on that day if they flop at first. ;) 

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You might both have a little Aha moment if you tried throwing blind. . . either closed eyes, or blindfold. It really helps to become more sensitive to touch than sight.

 

 

best,

Pres

 

I've been meaning to try this. I'll admit, I'm a little scared. LOL What's the clay gonna do, bite me? 

 

GiselleNo5

 

Do you have my throwing exercises handout? 

 

best,

 

...............john

 

No ... but I'd love it! Yes, please! 

 

SD: I'll share that video with him. He loves Hsin Chuen Lin. In fact, I think that's why Dad's so hard on himself, and even why he's insisting on using porcelain! He watches those videos of the wonderful throwing and perfect beautiful results and then of course his own pots are not like that yet. 

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I have a silly question. When pulling, do you place more pressure with the inside finger and lift from the inside, or do you increase the outside finger pressure and lift from the outside?

 

Jed

 

It isn't so much about pressure. Pulling (or lifting as I have started to prefer) is about thinning the wall and moving the clay upward. There is very little pressure applied when done correctly.

 

One hand will be doing more of the fine work, which does apply pressure upward. It is easier to see when this is the outside hand; getting the outside hand lower than the inside is also easier because of the bottom on the piece. But honestly, I switch depending on the form. I would recommend to beginners to keep the outside hand being the lifting pressure as it encourages tall, narrow cylinders.

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I have a silly question. When pulling, do you place more pressure with the inside finger and lift from the inside, or do you increase the outside finger pressure and lift from the outside?

 

Jed

 

It isn't so much about pressure. Pulling (or lifting as I have started to prefer) is about thinning the wall and moving the clay upward. There is very little pressure applied when done correctly.

 

I would recommend to beginners to keep the outside hand being the lifting pressure as it encourages tall, narrow cylinders.

 

 

I was watching Dan from Ingleton Pottery and I realized that pretty much no matter the final form, he started with a cylinder. That was one of my biggest breakthroughs, when I finally saw that. Another one was when I started pulling toward the center because then I would get these nice straight cylinders instead of weird bowls that flared out so much at the sides that they were actually floppy. ;) I think everybody starting out has made that shape, though!

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Guest JBaymore

 

It isn't so much about pressure. Pulling (or lifting as I have started to prefer) is about thinning the wall and moving the clay upward. There is very little pressure applied when done correctly.

 

 

The term "compression" is a poor term to use for what we tend to do in a lot of our clay processes.  Because it does tend to imply "pressure" in most people's minds.  While we align clay platelets (at least a bit), there is very little to "compress" our of the wet clay.

 

Maybe think about it a bit as if you were creating an extruder die.  The spinning wheel is supplying the force of the plunger....... you are 'extruding' the plastic clay upward through the space that your fingers create for it to flow thru.  It is a "moving extruder".

 

best,

 

..........................john

 

PS:  Giselle........ PM me your email address.  It is intended for low intermediate and up throwers... but some thoughts might be useful for you.

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YOU GUYS. I wanted to give an update.

 

He tried throwing with his left hand inside the pot and his right hand out, didn't like it and results uninspiring. So he switched the wheel to go clockwise and within maybe 30 minutes he made three beautifully shaped little pots. The difference is staggering. I can tell he's really pleased. It was really hard to be quiet while he was throwing because I could see what was happening and I was so excited. I'm trying to figure out how to get pictures from my phone to this site. 

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http://community.ceramicartsdaily.org/uploads/gallery/album_1106/med_gallery_67168_1106_493617.jpg

 

These are the pots he's made in the last few days. Now that he has that wheel going the other way, he is finding that he can make small things after all. :) After watching him struggle for the past year this is so awesome to see.

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Giselle,

 

Could your dad be a natural lefty, and not know it? Lots of lefties were forced as kids to use their right hand, especially older folks. I had a pottery student who discovered she was a natural lefty by taking pottery classes.

 

Ask your dad to pretend he is using an imaginary telescope. Does he hold it up to his right eye or his left eye?

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I'm one of those older folks that was forced to write righty even though I was a lefty. The result was I have a very terrible handwriting either way. The positive side is I've become ambidextrous with a slight preference to my left side. I am very comfortable throwing righty and counterclockwise but I do sometimes trim lefty when trimming the bottom of a foot, but on the right side of the pot and counterclockwise. I hope I made that clear. I carve and paint on glazes left handed.

 

I found through all my other endeavours that many people who claim they are lefty or righty don't really know themselves till they try something. Just by telling them to imagine which side like Mea's example doesn't always work. Unless they physically touch the object there is no proof. I teach rollerblading and skates automatically come with the brake on the right side. I have had many righties uncomfortable with learning to stop because the left leg becomes the dominant one when braking. Most have adapted but some will switch the brake to the left side, which is considered lefty braking technique. When learning how to turn I have seen many people turning right or left with difficulty and no rhyme or reason of which way based on their natural preference. In teaching hockey and asking if the student is righty or lefty some will hold the stick the opposite way and feel more comfortable.

 

In teaching tennis I've seen as many inconsistencies. When asking a student if righty or lefty and then demonstrating how to hold a racket some will pick up the racket with their "wrong" hand and start swinging.

 

So, my point is, even though people say their are dominant on one side you never know until you actual physically try it. In pottery, we can change the direction of the wheel to accommodate.

 

As for me, my skating and stick handling is totally ambidextrous. I play tennis lefty and I was very awkward when I tried righty.

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