Instruction on Rolling Clay

Instruction on Rolling Clay

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Making Clay Slabs

By Beth Peterson, Guide

Making the clay slabs is the first step in all slab-built pottery construction. This is an important foundation; mistakes made in the creation of slabs may destroy the piece in later stages of construction.

Clay "Grain"

Damp clay is made up of fine platelets which ride within a thin cushion of water. When a slab is rolled out, the pressure thins out the clay and also moves the platelets so that they are aligned with the direction of the force. In essence, the clay takes on a grain, much like the grain in a piece of wood. Unless modified, the platelets will remain aligned in that grain throughout drying and firing.

This is where problems can develop. Grain in a slab will affect the clay's shrinkage. The slab will shrink more along the width, across the grain, than it will along its length, or with the grain. If pieces are assembled so that the grains aren't aligned in the same direction, the pot can literally pull itself apart during drying and firing.

Getting Rid of the Grain

Avoiding the creation of a grain while making slabs is actually easy and quite straight forward. Simply take the time to rotate the clay after each rolling. It is also helpful to flip a slab over and roll it on both sides, rather than just one.

In order to flip a large slab, you will need two pieces of canvas, larger than the slab will be. Begin by rolling the slab on one piece of canvas. After the initial rolling, cover the slab with the second piece of canvas. Spreading out your hands as much as possible to support the clay, flip the canvas-clay-canvas sandwich over. Remove the top layer of canvas (that used to be the bottom) and continue rolling.

Rolling Pins

Beth E Peterson

One of the easiest methods of making slabs is to use a rolling pin. Large, heavy ones with ball bearings at each end tend to work the best.

If you want to be certain that a slab is uniform in thickness, you can use two slats of wood on either side of the slab as depth guides. Just be sure to rotate the slab as you roll, rather like rolling out pie dough.

Making Really Thin Slabs

Beth E Peterson

What if you need a very thin slab, such as for clay appliqué or to laminate onto a pot? The slab needs to be very thin, which can mean difficult to roll out successfully using normal methods.

Use plastic wrap instead of canvas. Flatten the clay between your palms, then lay it between two sheets of plastic wrap. Roll with a rolling pin, being careful that no wrinkles develop in the plastic.

Rotate and roll out again, repeating this sequence until the clay is as thin as you desire. Carefully pull the uppermost piece of wrap straight back and away from the clay.

After firmly applying the thin slab to the other clay surface, pull the second piece of wrap straight back and away. The clay slab should stick to the other clay surface.

Make a Super-Strong Slab

You may want to work with enormous slabs, very thin slabs, or you may want to use them in ways that damp clay generally isn't strong enough for. If this is the case, consider adding chopped nylon to your clay body.

To do this, add a couple of handfuls of chopped nylon per hundred pounds dry weight to the clay as you mix it. Sprinkle the nylon in while the dry clay is combining in the clay mixer, before adding the water.

You may also be able to special order a custom mixed batch of clay; check with your favorite supplier. (There's a partial list of suppliers here.)

Slab Rollers

Slab rollers are wonderful pieces of equipment if you are using large quantities of slabs in your work. They are fairly expensive, though, and do take up a lot of studio space. You may find that a large rolling pin will do the job for you just as or nearly as well.

Again, when using a slab roller care must be taken to avoid creating a grain in the clay. If the slab is too long to fit width-wise in the roller when rotated, roll across the width of the slab with a rolling pin using very positive, even aggressive, strokes.


How to add Pictures to your Picture Gallery

Revised 2015-03-03

Each member of the club has a photo gallery allocated on the Clay Corner website.

Initially, each member's Gallery is disabled (so empty Galleries do not appear).

When you decide you want to place pictures in your Gallery, you must contact the Photo Gallery Chair (or one of the website administrators) and request that your Gallery be enabled. When it has been enabled, it will appear in the “List of Member Photo Galleries” on the Photo Galleries/Member Pictures page of the website. You CANNOT upload pictures until your Gallery is enabled.

You can upload pictures from your computer (desktop, laptop, iPad/tablet, or smartphone) to the website. All of your uploaded pictures will be contained in your "Gallery", which is also called a “category” and is the same as your “Name” on the website Member List... eg, Doe John.

 To facilitate organization of your pictures, you may create up to 10 sub-categories under your category. When you upload pictures you direct where they reside... ie, your Gallery (ie, Category) or one of it's sub-categories.

To upload pictures...

  1. If you have not had your Gallery enabled, you MUST do so before proceeding.

  2. Picture size is limited to a file size of about 2-megabytes.  If any of the pictures you want to upload are larger than this you must resize them prior to uploading.  Note 1: file size is a functuion of your camera's megapixel rating and the picture content.  Use your computer's file browser (eg, Windows Explorer, File Finder, etc) to determine the size.  Most picture editors can resize... or, use an online one (eg,  Note 2: If your picure needs to be rotated, do so before uploading.  Use your file browser to see the real orientation as many picture viewers (eg, Picasa) automatically rotate the picture for viewing, but do not always update the file.  Whatever utility you use to resize will most likely be able to rotate your pictures.

  3. Login to the site,

  4. Select Photo Gallery/Member Pictures from the menu... the member photo galleries page will open.

  5. Click your gallery in the “List of Member Photo Galleries”... your gallery will open.

  6. Click “User Panel”... your user panel will open.

  7. Click "Upload"... the upload page will open.

    1. Fill in the appropriate fields... those which are marked with an asterisk MUST be filled in, the others are optional.

    2. Category* - Use the drop-down to select the Category (your username) or subcategory you wish to upload to.

    3. Generic Title* - Enter verbiage which will be the initial title of the pictures you upload (eg, My Pictures, 2013, etc.). After the picture(s) are uploaded you may change their title as you wish.

    4. Numbering start – defaults to “1”, you may enter any number you desire. When you upload picture(s) their title will be the Generic Title plus the Number... eg, if you uploaded 3 pictures they would be titled “My Pictures – 1”, “My Pictures – 2”, and “My Pictures – 3”. 

    5. Generic Description – enter any text you wish to be in each picture(s) description.

    6. Published – Yes or No. Pictures must have published=yes to appear on the website to anyone other than you... so, you could upload them as unpublished, then edit their titles and descriptions to suit your needs, then set publish = yes to allow everyone to see them.

    7. Click a "Browse" button to navigate to a picture on your computer you wish to upload... there are 5 Browse buttons so you can upload five different pictures per upload session.

    8. DO NOT check either “Special Image Files” or “Debug”

    9. Click “Upload” to initiate the upload... when the upload finishes, you will be taken to your Gallery page and the message “Upload Successful” will appear just to the right of Member Login.  If you upload multiple pictures at a time (up to 5) you must check that each one as successful.


To edit information about one of your pictures...

  1. Navigate to your Photo Gallery User Panel as described in steps 1-5 of the uploading pictures section above.

  2. Each picture in your Gallery is shown on this page. You can edit the title, description, change the published/unpublished status, change the category, and delete a picture....

  3. If you wish to delete a picture, contact the Photo Gallery Chairman who can do it for you.

  4. If you wish to publish/unpublish a picture click the check mark/X in the Published column (X means unpublished, a check mark means published).

  5. All other changes are made by clicking the edit icon (the pencil) in the Action column, which opens the edit image page..

    1. Change the title by editing the field.

    2. DO NOT change the alias field.

    3. Add/edit the description

    4. Change the Category by selecting a different one from the drop down.

    5. Publish/unpublish (does the same as the check-mark/X in step 4)

    6. Access... select either “public” (all website visitors can see published pictures), or “registered” (only club members can see registered pictures) from the drop down list. Picking any other selection will make the picture un-viewable to most members.


To manage/add a sub-category...

  1. Navigate to your Photo Gallery User Panel as described in steps 1-5 of the uploading pictures section above.

  2. Click "Categories"... the categories page opens which displays your Category and sub-categories.

  3. If you wish to delete a Sub-Category, contact the Photo Gallery Chairman who can do it for you.  NOTE: all the pictures in the sub-category must be deleted or moved them to a different category/sub-category BEFORE you can delete the sub-category.

  4. Click the check-mark/X to publish/unpublish.

  5. Click “New Category” to add a sub-category... enter data as appropriate...

    1. Title* - Enter the name of your new sub-category.

    2. Parent Category – select your Category (ie, YOUR username) from the drop-down list, or one of YOUR existing sub-categories from the list.

    3. Add description verbiage if you wish

    4. Published - select published or unpublished from the drop-down

    5. Access - choose Public or Registered from the drop-down... DO NOT select any other choice.

    6. Click Save

  6. Click the pencil to edit an existing category/sub-category.... the fields will be the same as when adding new above.


Take Pictures of your Pottery

Story and photographs This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

From the March/April 1998, May/June 1998, and Sept./Oct. 2001 issues of Clay Times

High-quality slides can be the life blood of today's potter. Slides (or in rare cases, prints) are the route to entry to craft shows, galleries and exhibitions where our pots are sold and reputations are built. Yet having slides made by a professional photographer is both costly and time-consuming, although it is an absolute necessity if we don't know how to achieve professional quality ourselves. Wouldn't it be great if we could have our own set-up that was cheap, easy to use, dependable, with professional results? Well, we can!


Getting Your Clay Ready to Use... Wedging/Kneading Clay

Whether you're handbuilding, sculpting, or throwing on the wheel, for best success your clay must be soft, pliable, and void of air bubbles/pockets. Fresh pugs/bags of clay contain the proper amount of moisture for the particular clay mixture... approximately 30% by weight. The clay was mixed at the factory to a uniform consistency and formed with a vacuum extruder which removed any air pockets prior to being bagged. It is ready for use straight from the bag for handbuilding and sculpting, but these clays typically require wedging to improve pliability before throwing. Clay which has been in the bag for an extended time tends to lose moisture and often becomes too dry to use effectively. Collections of clay scraps/trimmings (saved from previous projects) may be either too dry or too wet, usually are not of a uniform consistency, and typically contains air pockets which can explode when fired. How does one get their clay to the proper state before beginning a project? If you're using clay from a fresh bag you're pretty much good to go as-is. If you're throwing, you likely will want to wedge it a little to improve pliability. Otherwise...

1. If your clay is too wet... spread it out on the plaster side of the wedging table to let the plaster draw some of the moisture from the clay. Check every 15-20 minutes as you don't want it to dry too much. If the clay was sloppy wet, leave it sit on the plaster until it will lift off without sticking much. Do NOT scrape it off the plaster as you'll risk getting bits of plaster in your clay. If you don't have access to the plaster tables you can spread the clay out on a concrete garage floor or simply let it air dry until you get the appropriate moisture content. Regardless of which method you used to remove the moisture, you'll need to wedge the clay to get good consistency throughout.

2. If your clay is a too dry... wrap it in a moist towel and then in plastic and let it sit for several days... the clay will absorb the moisture from the towel. It needs to sit long enough for the moisture to migrate uniformly throughout the clay... then wedge it to get good consistency.

3. If your clay is (almost) totally dry... put it into a plastic bag. Weigh the bag and calculate how much water you'll need for 30%... more or less depending on how dry the clay is. A cup is approx 1/2-pound. Put the bag of clay in a bucket (in case the bag leaks), pour in the amount of water you need, and close/tie the top of the bag shut. Let this sit for several days to allow the clay to absorb the water. You can't hurry this process... you must allow time for the moisture to migrate throughout the clay and equalize in consistency. The longer the better.

Once your clay is of the correct moisture content it's time to wedge. Wedging makes the clay more pliable, ensures a uniform consistency, and removes air pockets. Wedging takes some practice to master the technique, but wedging shouldn't be hard to do... doesn't require a lot of strength, etc. If you can't wedge then likely your clay is too dry or your technique needs adjustment. Remember how soft clay is from a new bag... that's the consistency you want to wedge. Watch this video by Bill vanGuilder and then practice various clay wedging techniques.