As we start a new year and a new term I’m concentrating on getting my new courses up and running, especially my beginners courses and with this, I’m reminded of a question I get asked regularly when people are just starting out.  “What is hand building?”

My studio is a hand building studio and I’ve always been a hand builder myself so I teach hand building techniques in my classes.  It means that I have to be clear that I’m not a ‘potter’ and don’t really teach pottery in the way it is most often understood, but rather I teach ceramics.  What this means in the simplest terms, is that I’m not a thrower and can’t teach people how to throw on a wheel (I haven’t thrown properly since leaving college over 20 years ago!) but I can teach you how to make things in clay using traditional hand building techniques.

So, what is hand building? I guess you could say that hand building comprises the techniques for making in clay that don’t use any big pieces of equipment like a wheel or moulds for slip casting – although there are some amazing artist using slip casting for small, one-off makes that could well be argued makes them hand builders….

The three main hand building techniques are pinch pots, slab building and coiling.  Each is pretty much exactly what it sounds like.  Pinch pots are made by taking a ball of clay and pinching to form it into a pot.  Slab building is creating forms from rolled out slabs of clay and coiling is creating pieces from long coils of clay like long sausages.  There are other techniques like modelling and forming that can be included but they are so broad that they tend to be considered part of the more general skills needed for making in clay.

Each of these techniques are ancient and have many slight variations and subtleties to them that are useful to know when creating pieces in clay. Each technique is also highly versatile and they can each be used separately or together in any combination to create whatever form you need.

I would also suggest that while hand building isn’t easier, it does usually mean beginners can create pieces they are happy with quicker than when learning to throw.  I suspect it is simply a result of the fact that the making process is slower so you can take your time as you learn and when things go wrong, as they sometimes do, they are usually easier to fix.

Below I’ve included a video of a make from my YouTube channel as an example for each technique so you can see it in action.  If this inspires you to try your own hand at making in clay my beginners classes and other workshops are starting again very soon!

Enjoy your clay!

Pinch pots

Slab building


You can find many more makes as well as hints and tips for making on my YouTube channel