If you are learning how to make pottery this is a great place to start. Wedging the clay is the first step that most potters use as they begin the process of making pottery. Keep reading to find out why wedging clay is important, how to wedge clay, and alternatives if you can’t or don’t want to wedge the clay.
Video Guide to Wedging Clay
What is Wedging Clay?
Wedging clay is a process to make sure the clay is in a proper working condition before you start making pottery with it. The clay is moved in a repetitive way to help remove air bubbles and even out the consistency. There are multiple methods that can be used.
Why Should I Wedge Clay?
There are multiple reasons to wedge clay.
Removing Air Bubbles
Wedging will remove air bubbles in the clay. Air bubbles can cause weak spots or other problems as you are making pottery so they should be avoided. Some air bubbles may cause problems when fired as well. If you reclaim or recycle clay there is a good chance that there are some air bubbles that need to be removed.
Wedging clay will also homogenize the clay or create one smooth consistency throughout the entire mass. This makes the clay easier to work with and helps avoid unexpected results.
Aligning the Clay
Some potters feel that the clay benefits from the movement of wedging, especially if it will be thrown on the wheel or rolled into slabs. It is said that the particles of the clay become better aligned. This can make centering easier or walls can be thrown taller on the pottery wheel. Slabs may also warp less.
Wedging is also good for mixing two different kinds of clay together. This could be old and new clay of the same type or two different clay bodies. You can also mix additives such as colorants into the clay using these methods.
Wedging clay can also remove moisture from the clay. If your clay is too soft you can wedge the clay on an absorbent surface which will suck some of the water out of the clay. This will make the clay stiffer.
Making the Clay Softer or More Plastic
Clay can become stiff or hard if it sits around for a while even though the clay isn’t losing moisture. Wedging the clay, or even slamming a whole bag full of clay on the floor a few times can make it feel softer.
Other Benefits of Wedging
Wedging clay can also have some indirect benefits. Some potters appreciate the physical activity as it can provide a little exercise and get the body warmed up for a day of work. There are also potters that use their clay preparation time to focus their minds or think about the clay, pots that will be made, or other important topics.
Difference of Opinion
There seems to be some debate about the relevance of these reasons. Some say that wedging is not about air bubbles. Some say it IS about removing air bubbles. Some say they don’t feel any difference if clay particles are aligned. Some do. You will have to decide for yourself about what condition you want your clay to be in as you work with it and what benefit you get from wedging.
How to Wedge the Clay
There are three popular ways to wedge clay. All of them involve moving the clay in a certain way but each offers certain advantages depending on what you need to do with the clay, how much clay you will need, and how much experience and upper body strength you have.
Stack and Slam Wedging
Stack and slam wedging is often used to mix two different pieces of clay. The two pieces of clay are stacked on top of each other and slammed down onto a hard surface. The flattened piece of clay is cut in half through both original pieces of clay. The two new pieces of clay are stacked on top of each other and slammed down again. This process is repeated enough times to mix the clay or make it one even consistency. One of the other wedging methods below can be used to finish mixing the clay and removing the air bubbles.
- Easiest to learn
- Good for mixing clay
- Can be fun!
- Not as efficient
- Creates noise
- Can create dust
- Requires a wire tool
Stack and slam wedging is best for people that have upper body pain or don’t like ram’s head wedging or spiral wedging.
Ram’s Head Wedging
Ram’s head wedging starts with a short log of clay. Rock the clay up towards yourself and press the front of the top end down into the middle of the clay. Repeat the rocking and pressing until all air bubbles are removed and the clay is one consistency all the way through. The clay should end up looking somewhat like a ram’s head with a spiral at each side of the top and the ram’s face at the bottom.
- Good for small to medium amounts
- Simple, easy to learn
- Requires the most physical effort
- Limited amount of clay at one time
Ram’s head wedging is easy to learn and a great technique for beginners to try.
Spiral wedging is similar to ram’s head wedging with one small addition. When you rock the clay back towards yourself you turn the clay slightly before pressing the top of the clay into the middle of the clay. As you repeat this process you will create a spiral. It works well for larger amounts of clay because you only have to press a small amount of clay each time. After the clay is pressed it travels around the outside of the part that isn’t being pressed until it is back to the top where it will be pressed again.
- Good for larger amounts of clay
- Most efficient
- Harder to learn
- Requires practice
Spiral wedging is good for potters that have some time to practice. Taking time to master this technique will pay off in the future.
Do I Have to Wedge Clay?
You do not have to wedge the clay that you use to make pottery. Some potters do not have the strength or are hampered by shoulder, arm, or wrist pain that does not allow them to wedge clay. Some potters just feel that it isn’t necessary. If you buy clay that comes in good enough condition for your process you may find that saving time outweighs any benefit from wedging. There are also some other alternatives.
Alternatives to Wedging Clay
What can you do if you can’t or don’t want to wedge your clay? There are a few options but they don’t provide all of the same benefits as wedging clay by hand.
Use Fresh Clay
If you buy commercially produced clay and it is well prepared you may be able to use it right out of the bag. But be careful that your box of clay hasn’t been sitting around on a shelf for months somewhere before you use it. The consistency could be a little uneven.
Pugging Clay with a Pugmill
Another option is to pug clay with a machine called a pugmill. A pugmill is used to mix clay to a proper consistency. Potters often use a pugmill to reclaim or recycle old clay. Some pugmills can even suck all the air out of the clay. Pugmills are very large and heavy and are a big investment but can save a lot of time and physical effort. But be careful, sometimes even clay from a pugmill can contain laminations and would really benefit from being wedged.
Upper body pain or limitations? Still want to wedge your clay? Maybe you could try foot wedging! This method doesn’t seem to be as popular but there are people out there that have done it!
Use the Wedging That Works for You
We are all different and there are so many variables when working with clay. It is always good to try different ways to do things, especially if those ways work for someone else. But you have your own specific process, needs, abilities, limitations, and opinions. Use the wedging method (or non wedging method) that works best for you and your situation.
Also, if you found this article helpful, you can learn other parts of the process of how to make pottery.