5 Keys to Centering Clay on the Pottery Wheel

Centering clay is a critical step when throwing pottery on the wheel. It can be tricky to learn but these 5 keys will help you center clay on the pottery wheel.

How to Center Clay: Video

Centering Clay: 5 Keys

1. Clean Throwing Surface

Start with a clean surface to throw on. Wipe your wheel head or bat with a damp sponge to remove any clay dust. Don’t leave too much water on the surface. Clay dust, dry clay, or too much water will prevent the clay from sticking to the throwing surface.

clean surface on the pottery wheel
Cleaning the throwing surface

If you are new to pottery, there are some affordable options for beginner pottery wheels.

2. Well Prepared Clay

You can use any pottery clay but make sure it is well prepared. Pug or wedge the clay to remove any air bubbles and ensure an even consistency. Air bubbles, hard lumps, or soft spots will increase the chances of problems. The clay can become off center and the walls of the pot may become uneven or collapse.

attaching clay to the pottery wheel
Clay attached to the pottery wheel

One pound of clay could be a good place to start but choose enough clay for the pot you want to throw. Slam or press the clay onto the middle of the throwing surface. Make sure it is firmly attached.

3. Enough Water

Water is used to make the clay slick so it doesn’t stick to your hands. You can dip your hands in the water or use a sponge to squeeze water onto the clay. Spin the wheel at a medium to high speed. As the water dries add more to keep the clay slippery and sliding through your hands.

4. Gradual, Steady Pressure

Position your arms and hands for maximum stability. You can press your upper arms against your body. Brace your forearms along your legs or splash pan. If your wheel spins counterclockwise, you can rest your left hand against the clay and throwing surface. Align your shoulder, elbow, and wrist to use your upper body to press the heal of your hand into the side of the clay. Use the outer edge of your right palm to press down on the top of the clay.

hand position for centering clay
Hand position to center clay

As the clay spins, gradually press your hands in and down onto the clay. It should start to smooth out and become more round.

5. Calm Movements

To center the clay completely you will need to move it slightly as it spins. Move it gradually, don’t make any jerky movements. Press the clay up into a cone shape. Then press it down into a round half sphere by using slow steady movements with your hands. Instead of pressing the clay into a tall cone shape you can alternate pressing in with your left hand to make the clay taller and down with your right hand to make the clay shorter. As you repeat this process, the clay should eventually become perfectly round and smooth.

move the clay as it spins
Move the clay up and down as it spins

When the clay is completely centered, gradually stop pressing on the clay. If you move your hands away too quickly, the clay may become off center again.

Continue Throwing Pottery

Centered clay on the pottery wheel

Now that you have finished centering clay on the wheel, you can continue to opening a hole in the middle of the clay and pulling up walls. Many people struggle to center the clay at first but don’t give up. It takes practice but once you get it you can start shaping a pot which is the really exciting part of working on a pottery wheel.

What are your thoughts about centering clay? Do you have any tips or tricks? Leave a comment below.

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