Learn pottery:

Learn how to use a pottery wheel

Pottery wheel throwing explained

Pottery wheel throwing is the process of forming clay into shapes like mugs, bowls, and plates. Though it takes years to master, the basic skills and methods can be picked up in just a few hours, allowing everyone – from total beginners to pottery maestros – to create something wonderful on the wheel.

What is a pottery wheel?

A pottery wheel is a handy machine that potters use to help them shape (or throw) a lump of clay into a uniformly round ceramic ware. It can also be used to trim and finesse excess clay from finished wares that have dried to ‘leather’ hardness.

We have 12 wheels at the Stupots studio which are belt driven Shimpo wheels, controlled by foot pedals – similar to a sewing machine. Ready to have a go? Come along to one of our classes!

How does a pottery wheel work?

Though wheels vary, most pottery wheels have a circular platform or plinth that rotates and is controlled by a foot pedal. The potter uses their hands and a selection of wooden tools to shape the clay by alternating the pressure they apply and the angle they apply it.

Once the pot is finished, it can be cut from the wheel and left to dry, before being further finessed and eventually fired and glazed.

History of the pottery wheel

It is not really known when the potter’s wheel first came into use, but people have suggested dates between about 6,000 BC to about 2,400 BC. Modern thinkers declare it was first developed in Mesopotamia, although Egypt and China have also been claimed as possible places of origin. The discovery of a stone potter’s wheel found at the Mesopotamian city of Ur in modern-day Iraq has been dated to about 3,000 BC.

By the iron age the potter’s wheel was in common use throughout the UK. With the industrial revolution the potter’s wheel was brought up to date by adding an external drive, speeding up production of pottery, and leading to the development of the modern potter’s wheel we know and love today.

How to make a pot on a pottery wheel


Wet clay is placed on the pottery wheel and spun at speed. We use stoneware clay which is ideal for kitchen and everyday use as it is extremely hard wearing.


Shapes are formed using your hands and a selection of wooden tools.


The pot is then cut from the wheel using a wire and left to dry for several hours until it is leather hard and ready to be trimmed and shaped using tools. This makes the object lighter and refines its shape. At this point, any decoration or handles are also added.


The clay is then left to dry for several weeks before being put into the kiln for its first firing which is called a bisque fire. The bisque fire causes a chemical reaction within the clay turning it into ceramics.


Once the pot has been bisque fired, it can be glazed in a colour of your choice.


The pot is then put into the kiln at a higher temperature for 24hrs. After that, it is finished and ready to use!

How difficult is the pottery wheel?

The pottery wheel does take practice and time to get the hang of, with most master potters putting in years and years of hard work to get where they are today. Despite this, with the right guidance you can create a beautiful handcrafted object on a wheel – even as a total beginner.

Here at Stupots, classes are broken down into easy, manageable steps so you can quickly and easily pick up the method of making forms. After a 2-hour class, all students will be able to make a bowl of a good standard.

Pottery wheel & throwing classes Bristol

Create something beautiful at one of our fun and engaging throwing workshops. We’ll provide you with all the tools and guidance you need to throw your very own pot – whatever your abilities and experience level.

Whether arranging an occasion with friends or planning a corporate social, our pottery classes are a highly enjoyable and memorable introduction to the wheel.

Don’t just take our word for it

View all 700+ Google Reviews here