Whether you are thinking about getting into ceramics or if you are an avid collector, knowing the process of which ceramics are made is important. If you want to get into ceramics, knowing what types of techniques you can explore will help your journey tremendously. If you collect ceramics, knowing the difference between handmade and mass-produced can make a huge difference. And you can’t always tell the difference. The point being, knowing how your ceramics are made helps you to be a more educated collector. You might not always be able to tell the difference at first, but in talking with ceramicists you’ll find out pretty quickly which methods you like the most.


Image via Individual Medley

Hand-built ceramics have been made by hand at times using some tools (but not a wheel).  You can make hand-built ceramics in one of three ways: pinching, coil, or slab construction.

Pinching: (Pinch pots) are the simplest and oldest method of construction. They are made by rolling a ball, pressing your thumb in and pinching the pot until you get your desired form.

Coil: Have you ever made a snake with clay? This is the foundation of coil construction. By rolling clay into a roll and creating a coil you can make quite large pots. You can use tools to smooth the surface of the pot so it doesn’t have the bumpy surface, or you can leave it for texture.

Slab Construction: This method is when you roll the clay into sheets, you can form the sheets of clay using molds or you can let the clay stiffen a bit to create geometric forms. This is a popular method in contemporary ceramics.

Wheel Thrown

Andrea Roman, David Axelbank, wheel throwing, handmade ceramicsImage by David Axelbank

The earliest potter’s wheels were found around 3100 BC in present-day Iraq. Potter’s wheels use centrifugal force to rapidly produce vessels. Clay is placed on a wheel, and either an electric motor (electric wheel) will spin the wheel or the potter can use their foot (kick wheels) to power the spinning. This is the fastest way to produce pots, and one of the first steps toward mass-production of pottery, however, the process still incorporates the hand at every stage, making this technique fall in the handmade category.

Slip cast

Image by Simone Anne

Slip cast is a mass-production technique of creating pottery. While many slip cast molds are made from a hand-made original, this method does not fall into the “handmade” category. With slip cast, a mold is made from an original and liquid clay (slip) is poured into the mold to make the clay piece. This production technique allows for identical pieces to be made, either in limited runs or en mass. The benefits of slip-cast are that you can use anything medium to make a mold: 3-D printed plastic, wood, you can even make a sculpture from another material to create a mold.


Featured image by Nicki Sebastian