When to Buy a Potter's Wheel
Beginning potters often wonder what the best pottery wheels for beginners are. The answer is different for everyone, and depends more on personal preference than skill level. Sometimes beginners are tempted to get a cheap pottery wheel or child’s potter wheel because they don’t want to spend a lot of money since they are only beginners, and aren’t sure if they will be sticking with pottery long-term. This is bad logic when it comes to pottery wheels because you get what you pay for. A cheap wheel will cause endless frustrations. If you are not sure if you’ll stick with it long-term, or don’t have the money for a quality wheel, then don’t buy a wheel. Instead, take a pottery class for a while to decide whether pottery is something that you want to continue with and invest in. If after a few months or years you do decide to buy a wheel, save up for a wheel that will meet your needs.
Alternative to Buying a Wheel - Pottery Classes
The advantage of pottery classes is that they provide all of the equipment you will need to complete a project in clay, from start to finish. You will of course have to buy your clay and you may choose to buy your own pottery tools as well. Although, most pottery studios that offer classes have tools to use as well. The two primary expensive pottery studio items, wheels and kilns, are available for you to use when you take a class. It is quite expensive to set up your own pottery studio, especially if you need to buy both a wheel and a kiln at once, so classes offer a sensible alternative. Other advantages of taking a pottery class are having access to other students and a teacher to bounce ideas off, plenty of workspace and the ability to keep a separation between your home and pottery studio.
Pottery Wheel Cost
If you have decided that you are ready to buy a potter’s wheel, then you may as well get a quality one that will serve you well, and not a cheap one that is difficult to work on and less reliable. Nearly any potter you ask will tell you the same thing. I purchased my potter’s wheel several years ago and I spoke with many other potters before making the plunge to buy my wheel. I’m still happy with my wheel, a Bailey. I almost got a Brent because I use and love them in my pottery classes, but the Bailey was more affordable for me.
A pottery wheel is an investment that will serve your for many, many years. Electric Pottery wheels usually last for a decade or longer and kick wheels can last a lifetime, So getting a good solid wheel is a good investment. Still, cost is a consideration for many – it was for me – and there is a range of prices for which you can purchase a good quality pottery’s wheel. The range is anywhere from several hundred dollars to several thousand, but many of the wheels at the lower price range are good, solid wheels.
Kick Wheel or Electric Wheel
The first decision you will have to make when selecting your wheel is whether to get an electric wheel or kick wheel.
Kick wheels have a large flywheel that the potter kicks up to speed while throwing. The weight of the wheel gives it momentum and it keeps going for a long time. Although it takes a bit of muscle to get a flywheel going, it doesn’t take a lot of energy to keep it going. An advantage of kick wheels is that they are not dependant on electricity. They also have no electronic parts so they rarely break. The exception is that some kick wheels have a a small motor to aid in getting the flywheel up to speed. Some potters prefer the feel of a kick wheel. There is an aesthetic to using your own muscle power to turn the wheel and throw your pots. A disadvantage of kick wheels is that they are heavy and difficult to move. Once it is in place, you probably will not want to move your kick wheel around much. Some people may not physically be able to operate a kick wheel due to arthritis or other medical conditions that prevent them from kicking the flywheel. They do not require a lot of effort and are relatively easy to get moving, but they do demand a repetitive motion that is potentially bothersome for some. If you are so inclined, it is also an option to make your own kick wheel, and there are several plans available.
Electric wheels are more common because of their ease of use and portability. Having an electric wheel is necessary if you expect to travel with your wheel, such as to set it up at a craft fair for demonstrations. They typically last for 10 years or longer, although because they do have electronic parts they can break down from time to time. They are dependent on electricity, so if you plan to set up a studio in a place without power, a kick wheel is preferable. The market for electric wheels is larger than the market for kick wheels because potters tend to prefer the flexibility and portability. As a result, there are more options available for electric wheels.
Image: Gary Bridgman / Wikimedia Commons
When selecting your wheel, whether it is a kick or electric wheel, there are some features to consider. Standard horsepower for pottery wheels are ¼, ½, ¾, 1 and 1 ½. If you expect to throw mainly small and medium-sized pieces then ¼ horsepower is fine. For throwing larger amounts of clay you’ll want more horsepower.
Make sure that the wheel head is large enough to accommodate your pieces. A diameter of 14 inches is a good size. If you like to throw your pieces on bats, then get a wheel head with holes for bat pins. Double check that the distance between pins is the same as any bats you already have. Consider what type of splash pan you want. I prefer the kind that snaps on, all the way around the wheel head like Brent wheels have.
Also consider the workspace a wheel provides. Some electric potter’s wheels are just a base and wheel head with no surface to work on. This is fine for many potters, but I prefer to have a built-in place to set my tools, a water bucket and extra balls of clay.
It is a good idea to go with a well-known brand with a good reputation. Some Major Brands that make quality, reliable potter’s wheels are Axner, Bailey, Brent, Clay Boss, Creative Industries, Lockerbie, Pacifica, Shimpo, Skutt and Soldner.
Buying a Potter's Wheel
The best thing you can do is try a wheel out before you buy it. If you have access to a pottery studio, try any wheels that they have. Notice what you like and dislike about them. If you have no way of trying a wheel out first, then find out what others have to say about it. Ask other potters you know. Visit pottery forums and look through old posts or ask questions. If you are interested in used pottery wheels, try out the exact wheel before you buy it if you can. If you can't then make sure to learn as much about it as you can and buy from a seller you trust.
Buying a pottery wheel is a big investment. Take your time and do your research and you will be sure to get many years of enjoyment and productivity from it.