Making Your Own Pottery Tools

I was talking with someone the other day who suggested that since I sell tools, I probably don't approve of people making their own. That isn't true at all. In fact I use many household tools and items from nature, especially for creating textures. But I also believe that the low cost of most pottery tools makes them easy to justify by the convenience of having just the right thing when you need it. I also don't believe that in order to do ceramics, one must also know how to do workworking, screwing, hammering, sawing, and numerous other things required to make your own tools. And sometimes it just comes down to what you have more of, time or money. But whether homemade or store bought, there is nothing like having the right tool to make a job easy! So here are a set of ideas for tools you can make yourself.

In a pinch, use white glue (like Elmer's glue) for resist. It doesn't repel glaze as well as wax, but isn't bad.

Old credit cards can be used for ribs. You can cut patterns in them to make contoured edges. You can also cut patterns in them to use for making stripes on slabs.

Instead of wood stirring sticks for stirring glazes, cut lengths of PVC pipe. They can stay in the glaze indefinitely and won't rot.

Use a toilet bowl brush or a wire whisk for mixing glazes. Or even a toilet plunger with holes cut in the rubber.

You can find animal tails in fishing and hunting stores, sold as inexpensive lures. Use these to make handmade brushes. Chicken and bird feathers can make interesting brushes as well.

To sharpen tools, you shouldn't use power tools because the heat will damage the hardened steel. You can use a commercial sharpening tool, such as one used to sharpen knives. Or make your own from cone 10 porcelain rods.

Wax or petroleum jelly can be used to slow down the drying of a specific area, such as a rim. You can apply it thick, it will all burn off in the kiln.

Use scrap pieces of vinyl flooring beneath your canvas when using a slab roller. This makes it easier to run the slab through without distortion or jamming (for slab rollers where the roller is stationary and the clay moves.) But for any slabroller or even hand rolling, it also makes it easy to move the slab to another work surface after without stretching it.

Cornstarch can be used to prevent clay from sticking to tools, canvas, etc. Coating a surface with cornstarch before carving or impressing designs can eliminate burrs and marks made from pulling the object off the clay.

To smooth a slab surface and eliminate canvas marks, use a squeegy or a paint scraper / putty knife/ spatula thing.

You know those rolls of rubbery stuff you can buy to cover your shelves to cushion glasses and plates? They make great texture when rolled into slabs.

You don't have to mess with plaster to make molds. You can make your own from bisque. Fire the bisque at a high enough temperature to give it strength, but low enough that it is still porous so the clay dries and does not stick. To make a bowl mold, throw a solid piece on the wheel, smoothing the edges well with ribs, etc. When it is leather hard hollow out the inside until your edges are about 1 inch thick. Fire.

For that raku piece that came out less than exciting, trying fanning it with a propane torch to bring out more color.

Metallic glazes such as overglazes and raku glazes, will oxidize over time. The oxidation can be cleaned with silver polish, or concentrated lemon juice. To reduce oxidation, keep pieces out of the sun.

Does anyone shine their shoes anymore? If so, empty shoe polish bottles (with the sponge tops) make great applicators for stain or oxide solutions. You can make squares and thick lines easily.

To add texture to clay for handbuilding, use perlite or vermiculite available at your garden center. Or, try popped popcorn.

A small amount of bleach added to slip, glaze or recycled clay mixtures eliminate mold which may occur and cause smelling. The bleach may be caustic on your hands so you may want to wear gloves when handling.

For a wedging surface which is inexpensive and portable, buy a painter's canvas (canvas stretched and stapled onto a frame), fill with plaster.

Browse our selection of tutorial books and DVDs. 

copyright 2000, Cindi Anderson,
EMRT LLC dba BigCeramicStore543 Vista Blvd
Sparks, NV 89434
Support form


close X

An error occured

close X