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People often ask my advice about pottery wheels. This is a substantial investment and should be given careful consideration. You will probably have your pottery wheel for a long time! I have used numerous different wheels and currently own three wheels from different manufacturers. I hope the information below is helpful.
My Favorite Pottery Wheel
My favorite pottery wheel remains the Skutt “Premier” with the SSX foot control (pictured above). This is perhaps the Cadillac of wheels. It has a huge amount of torque (more than any other 1 hp. wheel I have tried) and the (optional) SSX foot control gives micro precision speed control and holds its speed accurately. You can’t have too much power and sometimes that extra power is helpful – this wheel is as easy to control as wheels with much less horsepower. The ability to reverse the spin direction of the wheel is a nice feature albeit one that I use infrequently. The wheel has an easily removable splash pan which I generally only remove when I have a large amount of trimmings. Otherwise, I remove the easily removable wheel head and sponge out the splash pan. I appreciate the little touches of the wheel design such as the knurled nuts that hold the bat pins since these are easier to work than wingnuts. I have had this wheel for a few years and it has performed flawlessly.
Things I Look for in a Pottery Wheel
I work with pieces that range from tiny to massive and this wheel excels at anything I throw (pun intended) at it. I often throw 20 pounds or more and this wheel has never faltered. Some of my assembled pieces have been over 100 pounds.
It is nice having a huge splash pan where I put my water and throwing tools. However, the large size of the splash pan does provide a challenge for cleaning in the sink. I am able to use up to a 16” bat with the splash pan in place; however, larger bats do require either throwing without the splash pan or using a shaft extender. Unless you have a Skutt wheel with the non-removable splash pan, I would NOT invest in a shaft extender. The non-removable splash pan models are appealing but when I was looking for a wheel these did not have a built in drain – if and when Skutt adds this feature I would consider this model a worthy candidate.
A final note: so many schools have Brent wheels and consequently many students rush out and buy Brents (this often keeps the price of used ones high). These are well-made workhorses but there are many other brands that are just as good or better. So look around. I hope this blog was helpful. Do your research and happy wheel hunting!
Consider Throwing Standing Up
I did invest in the Skutt leg extenders. They work well but in my opinion, a little more height would be nice – with full extension of the legs when standing I still need to bend over more than I would like. I threw for years sitting and this finally caught up with me necessitating a couple of months of chiropractic care followed by a couple of months of physical therapy. Standing seems to relieve much of the stress on my back. It took a couple of months for me to fully master throwing in the standing position. Now I feel I can throw better in this position and I can see my work in progress better. If you are throwing large, standing is not a problem as long as your wheel is secure (does not move when substantial lateral pressure is applied). If you are throwing tall you will probably need a step stool. When standing I suggest bracing your arms on the splash pan as additional support for steadiness.
Used Pottery Wheels
If you are looking for a used pottery wheel, you probably will not find a Skutt/Thomas Stuart wheel. People hold onto these. If you do see a used one, give it serious consideration. I have never encountered a well-maintained wheel that couldn’t do the job for pieces under 15 pounds. If you work with less than 15 pounds of clay, don’t obsess over what wheel to get and don’t fret about the horsepower. Instead, pick something in good shape, that holds a steady speed, and is affordable. However, I have found many wheels (even older 1 horsepower wheels) that would come to a stop when working with large amounts of clay – I usually am able to overcome this by using a softer hand.
If you are looking at used wheels, look for a wheel that is reasonably quiet and does not make any grinding noise. Test the torque on the wheel head ideally by centering a large piece of clay (or you can come up with a creative alternative testing technique). Pedals often fail; so, check it for smooth and consistent operation and that it maintains a consistent speed. If you cannot find replacement parts online for the wheel you are looking at, then stay away from it. Sometimes sellers have wheels without splash pans – factor in the cost of a new splash pan. The amount of work table space for your water and tools should be considered. The power and pedal cords should not be frayed and if it is a reversible wheel make sure the reverse function works.
Pottery Kick Wheels
One of my pottery wheels is a Randall motorized kick wheel. I love it. It was given to me. Parts are impossible to find (but the price was right). There are a number of brands of kick wheels on the market today – the Lockerbie appeals to me. The motor assist in my opinion is worth getting. The kick wheel is a pleasure for decorating. There is something about using a kick wheel that is magical, but I wouldn’t be happy with this as my only wheel. It takes a lot of practice to achieve good speed control while keeping your upper body still and your attention focused on your piece. A standard electric wheel gives you the ability to maintain a fixed speed while moving around or even standing on a stool for extra height. Another limiting factor is the weight and large footprint of a kick wheel. If you like throwing outdoors, many people leave their kick wheels outside (do cover it though).