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What is the best posture for sitting at the potter's wheel?


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As a disabled veteran with many back issues, I am always aware of my body posture as it pertains to reducing the amount of pain I experience.  I have started teaching introductory classes in the potter's wheel this year, and I tell my students to keep the back strait (bending at the hips);  keep your feet flat on the ground, and your legs at 90 degrees at both the knees and hip.  I have been looking for a diagram of the proper posture, but have been unable to find anything relating to this subject.

So I am wondering if I am teaching this very vital aspect of working on the potter's wheel correctly, or is there other information that is better suited to what we do?

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Hi Desert Rock!

While waitin' on updates to your thread, check some prior discussion on the topic?

How Do You Sit At Your Wheel. - Studio Operations and Making Work - Ceramic Arts Daily Community

Position At The Wheel - Studio Operations and Making Work - Ceramic Arts Daily Community

...and Google search string "posture at the potters wheel" yields ...many articles, vids, blogs; check out Robert Compton's take on ergonomic throwing, for example.

I'll suggest allowing for variation - we're not all same, eh?

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I don't know of any published diagrams or posters of proper body position, but I have been teaching intro wheel in a community studio for over 10 years and have seen just about everything a student could do (both right and wrong). What I see most often from the beginning students is sitting too far back from the wheel. This is mostly women who have been socialized since forever to always sit lady-like with knees together or legs gently crossed, but sometimes the men think they can just reach in and the clay will obey their demands. I tell them to think of this as riding the splashpan like a horse - get your knees up there beside the wheel so your body weight can be over the wheel head and you can look straight down into the clay as you open and raise the walls. This also helps keep the back straight rather than hunching over to reach in. From this position, keeping an imaginary line of the bone of your arm always pointing directly at the center of rotation, you can just lean in and the force of the weight of your body will effortlessly push the clay on center, also with less back strain. Some students like to have a brick on the floor under their non-pedal foot so that their feet/legs/body can sit level side-to-side. Some also like to have the wheel raised a bit so they can sit more upright (bricks, cinder blocks, or those plastic bed risers are cheap and easy means to do this). Others have adopted a standing position for throwing, but this requires specific leg extensions for the wheel and is works best if the wheel is positioned next to the wall or a sturdy post so you can lean back on the wall/post while throwing. These are my experiences, others may have insights too.

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The late John Glick wrote an article for Studio Potter a number of years ago which changed the way I position myself at the wheel. In his article Glick writes of throwing while standing and having his back braced against a support, I don't find the need to brace my back  but my lumbar discs weren't in the shape his were. After around 10 - 15 years now of throwing while standing I can say I don't ever get back pain from throwing. I don't know if hip, knee or ankle issues would exclude this method of throwing for you or any of your students but perhaps it's an option. 

To Sciatica and Back article by John Glick here.

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The best improvement I ever made for wheel posture was to raise the wheel head to be level with my belly button. This means less leaning over, and less strain on my back. 

The other change that helped me a lot was to switch the pedal to my left foot. When I was a beginner and pedaling with my right foot, while also leaning towards the right, my right hip would experience a lot of pain. Switching the pedal to my left foot completely solved that problem. Good thing I had a manual transmission car during those years, so my left foot was not too clumsy. 

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A couple more variations on the theme:

In the Studio: Get Up, Stand Up https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/pottery-making-illustrated/article/get-up-stand-up/

Ergonomic Throwing https://robertcomptonpottery.com/index.php/vermont-studio/forming-techniques-2/forming-methods-wheels/

... I was interested/surprised by an idea in the latter
70-Throw-Unsidedown-BW-PR-1-263x300.jpg

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More and more of my students just put the pedal up on the wheel or a stool next to the wheel and control it with their hand. It keeps the feet planted and at the same level which makes it nicer on your hip joints. When I first started throwing standing up, I realized just how often I adjusted speed during throwing with my foot on the pedal, and how unnecessary that was. Once you get used to it there are only 2-3 times during the making of a pot that the speed needs to be adjusted.

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13 minutes ago, neilestrick said:

More and more of my students just put the pedal up on the wheel or a stool next to the wheel and control it with their hand. It keeps the feet planted and at the same level which makes it nicer on your hip joints. When I first started throwing standing up, I realized just how often I adjusted speed during throwing with my foot on the pedal, and how unnecessary that was. Once you get used to it there are only 2-3 times during the making of a pot that the speed needs to be adjusted.

Man I tinker with my speed constantly, I think it's because I use a foot controlled handpiece at work all day and am really "in tune" with speed.  I think Ben carter also uses his hand and stands to throw, I saw a video of him doing it and it bugged the crap out of me lol. One of my schools rk-2s just had a hand crank, no pedal

 

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I can't imagine how awkward it would be to center clay with the wheelhead above me like in the image Peter posted, I get that gravity would help in pulling the pot but centering? Think it would be really hard on the wrists centering upside down like that. It gets to be second nature using your hand, redi-rod attached at the side of my foot pedal with a knob on the top. 

image.png.2045f0eacb62312d47810d68e4191758.png

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I still love the speed control, with my foot. I will add Neil is right as I do not change speed with most small struff  much but do use it more say on a 12-18# bowls. Then speed control is more a factor.I like my hands free. Of course nearly 50 years in and the old dog rules still applies

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4 hours ago, liambesaw said:

Man I tinker with my speed constantly,

That's exactly what I did when I threw seated. Drove me nuts not being able to do it for the first couple of weeks standing. I adjusted my pedal top speed to be perfect for centering, opening, and first pull or two on most anything under 4 pounds so I can just slap it full on and go to town.

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1 hour ago, neilestrick said:

That's exactly what I did when I threw seated. Drove me nuts not being able to do it for the first couple of weeks standing. I adjusted my pedal top speed to be perfect for centering, opening, and first pull or two on most anything under 4 pounds so I can just slap it full on and go to town.

Probably would screw me up even more since I use foot powered tools at work all day

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