If you are a potter, you probably create your pieces on a pottery wheel. Although many potters use wheels at commercial studios or artist’s collectives, at some point, most serious potters decide to purchase their own. If you are ready to go to the next step and buy a wheel, there are several factors to consider.
Experienced potters have a feel for what works and what is awkward or annoying. Although cost is an important element in selecting a potter’s wheel, there are many factors that affect the performance of a wheel and the outcome of a ceramic creation. Both kick wheels and electric wheels are available, and there are advantages to each.
Kick wheels have been used since potters began forming pottery on a wheel. The potter uses foot and leg power to rotate a disk near the floor that spins the flywheel. Learning to throw with a kick wheel takes practice. Potters must learn how to control the speed of the wheel as they form, shape and refine the piece. Too much pressure on the clay slows the wheel down, so potters learn how much force to apply to the clay as they work. Some potters feel that a kick wheel enhances their ability to throw with more skill and grace. They find it a more satisfying experience than using an electric wheel because their own input controls the speed, which becomes part of the creative process.
Kick wheels are relatively quiet, a factor that some potters appreciate. However, they are very heavy and not easy to move. Although there are commercial kick wheels available, some potters make their own. They can last a lifetime or longer depending on how well they are cared for.
Electric wheels use electricity to power the device. Potters can center the clay more quickly and can select a precise speed for the wheel to turn. Motorized wheels are lighter than kick wheels, which makes them more portable. Electric wheels are usually controlled by a foot pedal that regulates the speed although some have hand controls. There are different types and sizes of motors, which determine how much clay can be centered on the wheel. They generally last about 10 to 20 years.
Whether you opt for an electric wheel or a kick wheel, there are several features that affect an artist’s work, including:
• The height of the wheel.
• How much clay it can hold.
• The wheel’s size and weight.
• How much noise it makes.
• How clay can be removed.
• Whether it is reversible.
• The configuration of the splash pan.
Even a high-priced wheel may not have the features or conveniences that suit a particular potter. Here, we discuss price in relation to these other factors that will affect your selection of a pottery wheel.
How Much Does a Pottery Wheel Cost?
Pottery wheels generally cost between $200 and $2,000. Wheels fall within three main price ranges: budget wheels that cost under $400, mid-range prices that fall between $400 and $1,000 and high-priced wheels that can exceed $2,000.
Although cost may be an important factor in your selection of a wheel, a high price does not guarantee a convenient, heavy-duty wheel. As you look at the characteristics of wheels, keep in mind what kind of pottery you create, what your long-term craft goals are, what conveniences are important to you and where you will put your wheel.
You may see wheels described as “budget,” “beginner,” or “professional.” This designation can be misleading because budget and beginner models may have some of the features that professional models have. The opposite can also be true. Some high-priced wheels have less horsepower than some budget wheels, cannot handle large amounts of clay, have awkwardly arranged splash pans or are not reversible. However, for serious potters, professional models are generally sturdier, can often handle several hundred pounds of clay and have better quality motors. In this case, you will probably spend at least $1,000.
Important Questions That Affect Price
Do you want an electric wheel or a kick wheel? This is a matter of personal choice. Kick wheels are not less expensive than motorized wheels. Although you may be able to find a used kick wheel at a bargain price, new ones can cost more than $1,000, such as the Lockerbie Model K kick wheel. Whether you opt for a motorized or an unmotorized wheel, be sure the wheel has the features you want.
Where will you use the wheel? Will it be in a permanent place, or will you move it around? Kick wheels can weigh 300 pounds, a weight that is not portable. If you want to move your wheel to work in different places, electric wheels weigh much less. There are tabletop models that are suitable for every level of potter. Prices range from budget to expensive. Other models are mounted on wheels so that they can be moved easily. Some have adjustable legs that can be adapted for either tabletop or floor usage, such as the Brent IE. This model costs about $1,475.
What size of pot will you be throwing? The size of pot you throw dictates the size of the wheel head you need. Standard wheel heads range between 8 inches and 14 inches in diameter. Larger wheel heads that accommodate larger pieces are more expensive. Unless you always make small pots, you will want a wheel head of at least 10 inches. If you throw platters or other large pieces, you will want a wheel head of 14 inches or more.
An important factor when choosing a wheel head is whether it can accommodate bats. Bats are removable flat pieces that fasten to the wheel head with pins. Removable bats make it easier for potters to lift heavy pieces from the wheel head. There are several configurations of bats and bat pins that affect price.
How high should the wheel be? Potters use the entire body when centering a pot. If a wheel is too low, motion is limited to only the shoulders and arms, which can affect centering and shaping. It can also cause fatigue. A wheel that is too high can cause back or wrist pain. Some wheels are adjustable with built-in features that aid stability. If you raise the height using blocks or other devices, you want to make sure the wheel is stable. Instability affects the rotation of the wheel and control of the clay.
How much weight should the wheel be able to bear? The amount of weight the wheel can bear correlates with the size of the motor. Potters usually expect a wheel to be able to handle at least 50 pounds of clay. If there is not enough horsepower to run the motor with larger amounts of clay, the motor may heat up or slow down, which affects the way the wheel turns and the clay handles. Motors are rated by standard designations of horsepower, usually ¼ horsepower, ½ horsepower, ¾ horsepower and 1 horsepower. More horsepower costs more.
Some potters prefer wheels that turn both clockwise and counterclockwise. However, not all wheels are reversible. It is best to check for this feature if it is important to you.
Finally, how the splash pan is arranged affects efficiency. Large ones are advantageous because they amplify the workspace and hold essential tools. In addition, some come apart and are easy to remove. However, some potters find that these can leak. Other splash pans are one piece and can be removed by first removing the wheel head and lifting it off the wheel shaft. Although this may be more complicated, one-piece splash pans tend to fit snugly against the wheel, which reduces mess. If you find a wheel that you like that does not have a splash pan, it can be added later. Depending on the make of your wheel, splash pans cost between $20 and $200.
Just like buying any major appliance, a car or a computer, purchasing a pottery wheel involves evaluating price in relation to convenience, desirable features and long-term needs. Some potters make kick wheels from scraps, an inexpensive alternative to purchasing a wheel. In fact, there are several tutorials online that show how to do this. However, unless you are handy with tools and repairs, this may not be a convenient option.
Several major manufacturers offer both kick wheels and motorized potter’s wheels, including Brent, Lockerbie and Skutt. Other trusted brands offer only electric wheels, such as Bailey, Pacifica, Shimpo, Soldner and Speedball. These manufacturers have been in the industry for dozens of years and offer warranties for their products. If your wheel does not perform properly, it affects your ability to work. A warranty ensures that you can get your wheel working again quickly.