Recommendations for buying a potter's wheel?
February 21, 2008 11:09 AM   Subscribe

I would like to buy my girlfriend a potter's wheel for her birthday, but don't really know anything about where to look, what to look for, or the price I can expect to pay. Any suggestions or recommendations?

(I'm asking anonymously because my girlfriend sometimes reads AskMe.)

Cursory internet searches have turned up $50 "kids'" models and $1200 professional models - is there anything in between, say for a couple hundred bucks? (ebay and my local craigslists haven't been of much help so far.)

What features in a potter's wheel should I look for? (Horsepower, size, shape, features, etc.) She is an amateur potter, but greatly enthusiastic, and I think she would use it a fair bit.

I would also love to know about any reputable pottery-supply purveyors.

If all efforts to buy one of these things fail, what would I need to know in order to assemble a potter's wheel myself? I can't imagine they're too mechanically complicated, but, then, my skillz with toolz and electrical devices are not exactly Norm Abrams-caliber. Maybe this is over my head, but if, by chance, there's a make-your-own-potter's-wheel kit, I'd love to know about that, too.

Many thanks!
posted by anonymous to Shopping (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Check out Rovin Ceramics. They're well regarded among all the potters I know, several of whom buy clay regularly by the ton from them. They carry a range of wheels and can give you sensible advice about what makes sense. I don't know where you are but they do ship.

I'm not a potter myself but we are on our second (second-hand) wheel, both bought used from a local school when they upgraded. That's an option to pursue but it helps to be connected. My oldest daughter was spending many hours in her school's clay studio and the instructor sold them to us when he was able to buy newer stuff for the school. If there's a local art center or ceramics studio you might ask them about both buying used wheels or recommendations on more local suppliers.

My husband has done a certain amount of maintenance on our wheel and it hasn't been wildly complicated.
posted by leslies at 11:21 AM on February 21, 2008

My honest answer is that you should probably leave something like that to her, or ask her specifically what she would want.

Witness my story: I asked AskMe's help in buying a turntable for my husband. I bought one, he thought it was great, but two months later he bought a new one (because although the one I got him was "nice", he decided he wanted one that was "nicer"). Something moderately pricey on the one I got for him bent, so he's now put it up in the attic.
posted by Lucinda at 11:31 AM on February 21, 2008

how to make a potter's wheel
posted by hortense at 11:38 AM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think trying to assemble one yourself might be a bit complicated - not that i'm doubting your skills - but I had a home-made wheel once with a sewing machine peddle to control speed, and it was really frustrating to use & I ended up buying a new one anyway.

A very popular wheel is the Brent model C or B. You'll find those one in a lot of schools and art centers. A lot of students that try to set up studios at home will buy those because they are familiar to them & their quality is very highly respected.

I use a Pacifica at home and a Brent at school. I love both brands. I purchased a Pacifica because the shipping was free, and they're cheaper than Brents. Mine is 1/4 HP, and I'm pretty sure that'll do me fine for a long time. Now if she's centering more than 25lbs of clay, you might want to consider a 1/2 HP one. There are many other brands out there though, and if you are going to spend a lot of money, you should really get her input as to which one she prefers.
If she takes classes, maybe you can call her teacher and ask her advice. She might even know someone who is selling one. That's how my husband found me a kiln.

I buy a lot of stuff from Bailey Pottery. They will have some good deals on wheels & shipping. They've always been reliable & have great customer service that might be able to answer some of your questions too. (I have no affiliation to the company - I just like 'em).

In my opinion, you really don't need anything fancy. I've been a potter for 8 years & I'm just happy to have something that spins and is reliable. Craigslist is a great resource, but you do have to look for a long time before anything good comes up. You can also call school districts and find out if they are selling any used equipment - I know a lot of potters that got their wheels that way because some schools just had these things sitting in storage due to cuts in the art program. Call local art centers too - a lot of potters will put up flyers when they want to sell equipment. You can try e-bay - but watch for shipping charges, these things are pretty heavy.

If you change your mind and don't go with a wheel - I have a great gift idea - a Giffin Grip. Do you know if she has one? It's about $135 & it'll make her trim work a breeze - I think it's one of the best inventions ever made. Ever. You'll never go back to trimming the old way once you try one of these.

Good luck - and you are a totally rockin' boyfriend for wanting to buy your girl a wheel.
posted by Alpenglow at 11:38 AM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've always loved kick wheels. No motor, just a big heavy flywheel. A few years back, my wife got into pottery. So for her birthday, I bought a Brent Kickwheel kit. It's a kit with the metal parts for you to build a wheel around. After all was said and done, she's afraid of it and has never used it. I've thrown a few pots on it and it's fine, but if I got a do over, I would just pony up for the real deal.

Here in Minneapolis, we have an incredible resource in Continental Clay. Apparently they do online orders as well.

Oh and if you buy a wheel, don't forget to get a splash pan.
posted by advicepig at 11:59 AM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding talking to her about it. You can always buy an exciting little something to be a surprise present, this surely doesn't need to be.

Also seconding looking secondhand. Like any other hobby, some people do lose interest, and sell ones still in good shape.
posted by Idcoytco at 12:00 PM on February 21, 2008

You could build or buy a kick wheel version, saving the cost of the motor, but the crucial thing would be whether she had already used that type or would be willing to learn. If she's a beginner, she may prefer an electric model so that she doesn't have to practice coordinating kicking with one foot while throwing with her whole upper body.

Nthing looking for a good used electric model from a school. Now, if she really gets into it, maybe for her next birthday, you could build a raku kiln together.
posted by maudlin at 12:02 PM on February 21, 2008

nthing talking to her about it. Or take her to her favorite pottery-related store and let her get what she wants.

If she reads AskMe and then she gets a potter's wheel from you, she's going to put two-and-two together and know how much you spent, by the way, if this doesn't click for her before she gets the gift.
posted by katillathehun at 12:33 PM on February 21, 2008

I'd suggest going and talking to someone at the studio where your gf presumably takes pottery now. Not only will they be able to advise you, but there's a pretty brisk trade in used wheels and stuff and you can probably get a better wheel for significantly cheaper if you know what you're looking for and buy it used.
posted by OmieWise at 12:55 PM on February 21, 2008

Just a clarification on kick wheels, most potters kick the wheel up to speed and then throw while the flywheel maintains momentum. I wouldn't suggest trying to kick and pull at the same time.
posted by advicepig at 1:17 PM on February 21, 2008

Yeah, I didn't mean to suggest that this was the technique. But learning how to time the kicking so you get a good, constant speed, then turning your attention to the clay on the wheel, then revving the kick wheel again as needed, is a challenge for most newbies.
posted by maudlin at 1:21 PM on February 21, 2008

I like the compact Shimpo wheels--strong, steady and low, so you can use your knees to brace your arms as you throw.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:47 PM on February 21, 2008

I think a more useful gift would be paying for a couple of ceramics classes at a local community college for her. They will have full studio set ups, but more importantly, they have the kilns to fire the work. The work on the wheel is fine, but at some point it will need to be fired twice to be usable. If she just cranks out a lot of greenware (unfired clay), it is delicate to transport somewhere else for firing.

There are electric wheels and kickwheels. Kickwheels are self powered and usually larger than electric wheels. Both make a mess, does she have a lot of space? Check and local crafts shops for postings on used wheels, they come up with regular frequency.
posted by 45moore45 at 5:55 PM on February 21, 2008

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