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What to Consider When Buying a Pottery Wheel

What to Look for When Buying a Pottery Wheel | Soul Ceramics

Are you ready to take your passion for pottery to the next level?

Whether you’re a new enthusiast, a hobbyist who’d like to avoid the inconvenience of a communal studio, or an established artist looking to expand your studio, choosing the right pottery wheel for creating ceramic art is essential. Seeing as this investment can be both exciting and overwhelming, we’ve put together a guide to help you better understand what factors to consider when viewing and evaluating different models.

After addressing the six most important things you’ll want to take into account, we hope you’ll be more confident in finding the perfect pottery wheel for your individual needs and artistic interests.

1. Pottery Wheel Cost

No matter the model you chose, all pottery wheels are an investment, but generally they range in price from just over $400 to almost $1,500. Because the cost of a pottery wheel depends mainly on its capabilities and special features, it’s first important for you to consider what your needs are based on the art you’d like to create, the space in which you’ll be creating it, and how long you plan on using it for. Once you’ve determined your requirements, look for the wheel that can fit them for the best price.

Budget pottery wheels, like the Speedball Artista Pottery Wheel, tend to hover around the $500 price range, making them much more reasonable than a high-tech professional model, and perfect for beginners and budget hobbyists. However, such models are less durable, have a smaller clay load capacity (clay weight limit), have lower power and speed, and are generally more basic in their capabilities.

Speedball Artista Wheel | Soul Ceramics

Standard pottery wheels, like the Speedball Big Boss Elite SQ Pottery Wheel, will be closer to $1,000, but are capable of holding between 150 and 250 pounds of clay. They also have larger wheel heads, greater durability, are generally more powerful, and operate more smoothly. They are more likely to come with an industrial motor, reversing plug to easily change wheel head direction, and a two-part splash pan for easy cleanup.

Speedball Big Boss SQ Elite | Soul Ceramics

For seasoned artists who are throwing a lot of clay, professional pottery wheels are the best choice, though they are the most expensive, typically costing over $1,000. However, these models possess the most power and durability, have a clay load capacity of 400-450 pounds, and are extremely quiet and smooth. They typically come with reversible electronic speed control, a cooling fan, built-in splash pan, and more torque and smoother foot pedal control.

An additional cost to remember when calculating the overall cost of your pottery wheel is shipping, seeing as these machines are typically heavy and difficult to transport. However, Soul Ceramics offers free shipping on all standard orders, so if you’re ordering from us, this is one less thing to concern yourself with.

If you are new to pottery throwing, it’s smart to consider first taking a class before buying a wheel. This way, you can determine whether your interest level is high enough to justify the investment.

2. Longevity

If you are investing in your first pottery wheel, it might feel natural to gravitate towards budget and beginner models. However, pottery wheels last a long time; if properly maintained, an electric wheel can last a decade or more, while a kickwheel can last a lifetime. Therefore, if you plan on making ceramics a regular part of your life, it might be best to consider your long-term goals and needs as a potter.

As you grow as an artist, develop new skills, and wish to try new techniques and projects, you may find that a beginner’s wheel doesn’t have the ability to grow with you. Therefore, when buying a pottery wheel, think about what features you want in a wheel now, as well as what features you imagine you’ll be interested in five years from now. Be sure to consider this in order to make a more informed decision when comparing different models.

3. Portability

The ability to move your pottery wheel when desired is not a necessity for every artist, but you should definitely know whether or not this characteristic is important to you before purchasing a pottery wheel.

Portable pottery wheels tend to be smaller and lighter, and though they have lower clay load capacities, they are very popular with teachers and those who give demonstrations at events and arts festivals. If you foresee studio space relocation in the future, wish to easily move around your pottery wheel in a multi-use studio, or would like to have the ability to take your wheel with you when traveling, a portable pottery wheel is essential.

If portability is a factor you can’t compromise on, ruling out a kickwheel pottery wheel is a smart move. A kickwheel is a motorless, manually-operated wheel that functions by relying on the power the artist supplies with their own foot to keep the pottery wheel moving.

The problem with kickwheels is that they are incredibly heavy, and therefore extremely difficult to move and transport.

On the other hand, electric wheels, which are operated through a pedal-system that electronically controls the wheel’s speed, are almost always more portable than kickwheels, seeing as they are both smaller and much lighter. For example, while an electric wheel may be 35 pounds, an average kickwheel is 250 pounds.

4. Wheelhead Configuration

The wheelhead is the revolving piece mounted in the center of a pottery wheel where your clay will be formed during the throwing process. While they do come in different shapes and sizes, most wheelheads are flat, metal, circular surfaces, ranging from 8” to 14” in diameter.

The size you chose will depend largely on the types of projects you plan to create. If you are throwing very large pots, platters, and other pottery pieces with wide bases, you’ll want a larger wheelhead to accommodate your work. If, however, you do not plan on creating pieces of this size, you can settle for a model with a smaller wheelhead.

Another thing to consider when looking at different wheelheads is what types of bats and bat pins will fit with it. Bats are thin disks made out of plaster, wood, or plastic that are affixed to the wheel head with pins. They are used when an artist must throw a piece that might be too difficult to lift off the wheel head. If you already have bats you plan on using, you will first have to ensure that they will fit the dimensions of your chosen wheelhead, seeing as pin configuration, number, and distance from the center of the wheelhead can vary.

Additionally, some wheels have bat pins that are more easily removed, which allows the potter to trim their piece directly on the wheelhead. If you foresee the need to trim your ware easily while still set on your pottery wheel, you will want to be certain the model you invest in has pins that can be removed without much difficulty.

Some potters living and/or working in a humid environment may prefer to use plaster bats, due to the fact that they help remove water. For throwing on plaster bats, you will want to find a pottery wheel with a bucket-style wheelhead, which is the only main type of wheelhead which isn’t flat.

5. Workspace

While some pottery wheels are extremely basic, and consist solely of a wheelhead, frame, and powersource, others come complete with attached work tables, splash pans, and many accessories.

First, you will want to consider the space in which you will be housing your pottery wheel to determine what size you can and wish to accommodate. If you already have a work table and see no need for a larger machine, there is no reason to make a larger investment. However, if you would like a wheel that can provide all services in one, attached work spaces come in different sizes and placement options around the wheelhead, so chose a setup which is best for your own style.

Another component of workspace to consider when looking at different pottery wheel models is the importance of cleanliness.

Will you be working in a space that is easy to clean?

Do you care about your own personal cleanliness during the throwing process?

Some wheels come with a splash pan, which is a molded plastic tray that is placed around the pottery wheel to keep clay and water from spraying the artist, floor, or surrounding area. They significantly reduce the mess of throwing, but some artists feel they interfere with the throwing process.

Based on your personal preferences and workspace, you can decide whether or not a splash pan is a component you desire in a pottery wheel.

6. Electric vs. Kickwheel Wheels

As discussed earlier, one important difference between kickwheel and electric pottery wheels is in their weight. However, there are many other differences between them that might cause you to lean more heavily towards using one rather than the other. Below is a chart outlining the most important differences between these two types of wheels:

Electric Pottery Wheel Kickwheel
Portability Lighter and smaller in size, and therefore easy to move and travel with  Very heavy and therefore extremely difficult to move and travel with
Power Source Rely on electricity to function Typically rely on no electricity; powered by the artist’s foot
Noise Control Especially cheaper models can be rather loud during throwing, emitting hums, squeals, grinding, or rumbling Typically very quiet
Physical Demand Since the motor creates the wheel’s momentum, very little physical effort is required to work it Prolonged use may result in knee problems and aggravate arthritis because of the physical input required
Speed Throwing is faster, and therefore better for production work, but inexperienced potters tend to increase rotational speed too quickly, adversely affecting their throw Slower throwing process, but many come with motors to assist with increasing speed
Throwing Process Centering clay is typically easier with a motor, and most models have pedals that allow for clockwise and counterclockwise rotation of the wheelhead for both right-handed and left-handed throwing Easily allows for both clockwise and counterclockwise rotation of the wheelhead for both right-handed and left-handed throwing; can give the artist a better feel and control for the throwing process

Choosing a pottery wheel can be a lot less daunting if you are armed with the facts and some good options to chose from. Make sure to check out our best pottery wheels guide. If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us, and best of luck!


Further Reading: Pottery Wheel Throwing Tips & Tricks