The Processing Of Clay And The Use Of The Lathe

Small guide for curious, enthusiasts, and beginners on the materials, tools, and costs to be incurred to devote themselves to the processing of clay and clay.

The art of working clay dates back to the dawn of civilization when men began to hone their craft skills and create tools that could help them in their daily struggle for survival and the improvement of home comfort.

Nowadays things have not changed much; in spite of the dizzying technological development and the creation of new materials, in fact, clay pottery is still held in high esteem, both from the point of view of domestic utility and in the artisan and above all artistic sphere.

The potter’s profession, therefore, far from disappearing, every year attracts new “followers” and, if some are interested only at a hobby level, many others, however, are driven by deeper motivations and by the desire to transform what is born as simple artistic passion in a profitable job.

For all those who approach this world for the first time, therefore, here is a small guide on what the neophyte will face, both as regards the materials and tools and for the initial expenditure to be incurred.


The right tools

The tools for working and modeling clay and clay can be bought individually or as a set. To buy them one by one, usually, they are those who already have a good set and therefore need to integrate it or to replace parts that are too worn or broken. Keep in mind that buying them individually costs more, even if you have the opportunity to choose the best quality ones, while a good set for beginners involves an expense ranging from 10 to 50 euros just, depending on the number of pieces that compose it.

A good product for beginners, just to give an example, is the ARTEZA sculpture set which is characterized by an excellent construction quality and by a wide range of tools, 42, which make it almost complete; moreover it is also available at a great price.


The materials to be worked

Clay and clay are purchased by weight, however, and both can be found at ceramic factories or wholesalers specializing in artistic material, but they can be found even more easily online. The available packages vary both in weight and in the type of material and color; the clay is in fact dirty white or, more commonly, gray, while the clay is red.

It should also be remembered that their starting color changes after drying; the clay, for example, becomes almost white if dried naturally, if instead it is cooked it tends to become red.

The most important thing to know about modeling material, however, is how to treat and store it; the sticks, or blocks depending on the weight, are sold in hermetically sealed transparent plastic packages, because if exposed to the air they tend to dry out immediately.

Once opened, therefore, they must be kept well in order to preserve their malleability and, if necessary, moisten them and then let them dry naturally before using them.

The packs’ available range from 250g loaves to 25kg blocks and more, depending on requirements, and the price can vary from 3 to 45 Euros depending on the type and quantity; the 250 grams up to 1-kilo sticks are the ones that cost less but are mostly intended for children and teenagers for use in educational activities or for play.

For a beginner, however, it is advisable to move towards packs starting from 1.5 up to a maximum of 5 kilograms, for a cost ranging from around 9 to 15 euros. A further differentiation is that between the clays and clays that require the firing process and those that harden without firing; for a beginner it is good to start from this second type, since the first necessarily requires the use of an oven for tableware.

A classic example of clay without firing are the loaves produced by the French company Pébéo, specialized in artistic material, and easily available on Amazon at a very negligible price, but obviously there are also other companies.


Timing and spaces

The difference between clay and clays with or without firing mainly lies in the drying and hardening times; the pieces worked with clay to be cooked are ready within 24-36 hours, for example, while the clay without firing requires a time that can even reach 5 or 6 days.

So it goes without saying that, if you intend to devote yourself to this activity even just for hobbies, you will have to have a small space available where you can store not only tools and materials but also the pieces processed waiting for them to dry completely.

Furthermore, an environment specifically dedicated to this activity is also important with a view to purchasing an additional very important tool, namely the ceramic lathe. It is indeed true that there are relatively simple techniques that require only manual skills; but to obtain good results in modeling, especially as regards symmetry and dimensions, the use of a lathe is absolutely necessary.


The best lathe

An excellent potter’s wheel, suitable for both beginners and professionals, is the manual one, the cost of which can vary from 30 to 90 euros depending on the diameter of the plate, and offers the advantage of being silent and not consuming electricity.

Electric pottery lathes for hobby use, on the other hand, are bulkier and heavier and have a price that can range from 100 to 200 euros; they are obviously much more efficient than a manual lathe, as they maintain a constant and uniform rotation and allow you to keep both hands on the piece to be worked, but for a beginner, it is advisable to start from a manual model, so as to be able to acquire the right experience and manual skills before moving on to more expensive and demanding equipment.

Again, of course, you can easily find the lathe online, directly on Amazon, or on another similar web platform.

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