Pottery for Beginners: The Main Ways of Making Pottery

Pottery for Beginners: The Main Ways of Making Pottery

By Tamra Booth, Keeeps

One of the oldest human inventions, it was thought that the practice of making pottery was first utilised in the Neolithic period (“when the shift from hunting and gathering wild animals and plants to a farming lifestyle occurred”[1]) around 12,000 years ago. However, shards of pottery excavated in Xianrendong Cave in China were found to be even older than that, with the oldest pots found being made around the height of the Ice Age[2] which hunter-gatherers used to cook fish.[3]

Over the last few decades, making pottery has gone in and out of fashion but pottery’s previous fuddy-duddy reputation has been shaken up in recent years, and the cliched image of pottery classes peopled by the middle-aged no longer holds true.[4] Now all over the world, amateur potters are attending pottery classes, and making pottery has become particularly popular in the UK.

Social media has helped fuel this crafting trend and has made pottery a major arts craze with people addicted to the hypnotic videos of making pottery and the fact that you end up with a stylish, practical, handmade piece at the end.

So, we thought we would help you understand the basics of making pottery so you can join this trend ahead of the curve! This week, we discuss the methods of making pottery, all of which you can learn at a Keeeps pottery class when our store opens at the end of this year.

Did you know, there are three main ways of making pottery?

The three main methods of making pottery are wheel throwing, slip casting and hand building, which in turn also have three different techniques. Most potters use one or more of three methods so it is great, even for those new to making pottery, to have an understanding of the different ways of making pottery. Each will produce a completely different item, and each requires different equipment and skills. Here is a little taster of what each method of making pottery entails:

Hand building

Hand building is a method of making pottery which involves very little to no equipment. No pottery wheel is used, just your hands and some basic tools. It’s a great place to start for those new to making pottery as it can get you used to handling clay and finesse the sense of touch and working with hands, which few people utilise these days.

hand building pottery

Methods of hand building include:

  • the pinch pot method. This is one of the oldest and simplest methods of making pottery. It is done by rolling a ball of clay, pressing your thumb in and pinching the pot until you get your desired form[5]
  • the coil pot method. This involves the simple process of layering coils (or thin sausages!) of clay, one at a time, then welding the layers together to create a solid form. It is an extremely versatile technique that is good for beginners but can be used for great craftsmanship and artistry[6]; or
  • slab-building involves rolling out clay to an even thickness then cutting shapes, folding, bending, manipulating and joining together to form a finished object. [7]This technique is used to make more angular shapes that can't be created on a wheel where you make round shaped pottery.

You can mix these techniques together and many potters do exactly that. For example, a potter might slab-build the bottom of a vase, coil-build the walls then use the pinching method to create an interesting lip or finish[8].

Hand built pottery usually has a more rustic and “rough around the edges” look which makes for some truly unique and charming items. In terms of making pottery, it gives the potter more control over their creations, with endless creative possibilities, whereas throwing on the wheel limits the potter to round shapes.

Here are a couple of products stocked at Keeeps, handmade by our lovely potters using the hand building technique:

pinch pot handmade ceramic vases

Rustic Vases by Jules Carpenter

pair of handmade ceramic bowls

Pair of berry bowls by Jules Carpenter

Wheel throwing

A method of making pottery using a pottery wheel which spins the clay in a circular motion. Whilst most potters use electric pottery wheels nowadays, some do prefer the more traditional manual “kick wheel”, which is spun using a foot pedal. 

pottery throwing clay on pottery wheel

First, a ball of clay is anchored, by slamming it onto the wheel. It must be slammed to ensure that it is properly attached to the wheel and the slamming motion creates a suction. When the wheel begins to spin, you centre the clay so it doesn’t wobble, then shape the clay into a bowl, mug, vase or vessel. The process involves moving your hands and fingers in an upward motion which is called bending the clay whilst the wheel spins to increase the height and thin the walls – the aim is to get a pot with walls equally thick at the top and bottom.

It’s fun, challenging and you can make beautiful functional pottery.[9] Most of the pottery you will find in store or online at Keeeps is handcrafted on the wheel, but here are a few examples.

colourful handmade ceramic mugs

Bright and Huggable Mugs by Lesley McShea

handmade hanging ceramic plant pots planters

Hanging Plant Pots by Karen Easter

Slip casting

Slip is clay that is mixed with water so that it turns to a liquid. Slip casting is where you pour the “slip” into a plaster mould (or cast) and pop it out of the cast once it has dried. From there, you can trim the edges and tidy the piece up before it is fired and glazed. It is good for making evenly proportioned and more identical pieces, [10]and often has a more polished finish than pottery made using the hand building method,

These Droplet Wall Vases are a beautiful example of the stunning results that slip casting can produce.

droplet handmade ceramic wall vases

Droplet Wall Vases by Kate Schuricht

At the end of this year, provided everything goes to plan (fingers crossed!) we will be opening our pottery studio where we will be offering pottery class taster sessions, and later, beginner and intermediate pottery classes. In the taster pottery class sessions, you will get to try both hand building and wheel throwing. Slip casting, will be taught in a specialist slip casting pottery class in the coming months.

We hope this has given you a flavour of what a Keeeps taster pottery class will entail and the techniques and methods of making pottery that you will learn with us! We cannot wait to see you in one of our pottery classes VERY soon!



[1] What was life like in the Neolithic? (futurelearn.com)

[2] 5 Ceramic Techniques You Need to Know - Artsy

[3] Hot pots helped ancient Siberian hunters survive the Ice Age - News and events, University of York

[4] Why the slow, mindful craft of pottery is booming worldwide - BBC Culture

[5] The Three Basic Ceramic Making Techniques - G L A Z E (glazemagazine.com)

[6] How to Build Clay Coil Pots (thesprucecrafts.com)

[7] Ceramics 1. Slab box. (juliannakunstler.com)

[8] How To Do Hand Building Slab Ceramics - The Pottery Guide (obby.co.uk)

[9] 12 Top Tips to Start a Pottery Hobby – A Beginners Guide (thepotterywheel.com)

[10] 12 Top Tips to Start a Pottery Hobby – A Beginners Guide (thepotterywheel.com)

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