How to Build an Electric Potter's Wheel

Written by danica sorber
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How to Build an Electric Potter's Wheel
Building your own pottery wheel is a creative endeavour that allows you to enjoy your hobby and save money. (Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Why make your own potter's wheel? Cost, for one thing. A good electric model can cost hundreds of dollars; one made of salvaged parts is more economical. If you're a recycling enthusiast, you'll also enjoy the hunt for components and the satisfaction that comes from knowing your hobby is not impacting the environment. And once you have made your first wheel, you'll think of more creative ways to make another...some potters finance their clay habit by making and selling wheels to other artisans.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Front wheel hub assembly from an auto salvage yard, removed behind the mounting bracket
  • 1/4- to 3/4-horsepower electric motor with mounting brackets, operational switches and speed control
  • Mounting brackets or straps for switches and speed control.
  • Tap and die kit
  • Table on which to place your wheel
  • Plaster or cement
  • Pulley (possibly 2)
  • Belt which fits both pulleys (this is a mechanical assembly, not a rope-and-pulley system)
  • Allen screw or bolt (to attach a pulley to the engine, if necessary)
  • Silicone sealant

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  1. 1

    Make your wheel from a car's front wheel hub assembly, taken from your local salvage yard. It will need to be cut from the car, behind the mounting bracket. Ask the salvage attendant to cut it for you.

  2. 2

    Locate a 1/4- to 3/4-horsepower electric motor. You can find this at a junkyard in an old treadmill, fan, sewing machine or other small-motor electric devices. Look for a motor that has its switches and speed controller intact and operational.

  3. 3

    Find a sturdy table for your wheel.

  4. 4

    Build a frame for your wheel, to keep splatters, etc. at bay. You can build one from scrap 2-by-4s. It's also possible to make one from an old sink, with one side cut out. Give your wheel room to turn within the frame. For example, a minivan wheel assembly is 17" in diameter. Make your frame at least two inches wider, all the way around, and four inches high. You may wish to make a cut-out in the front of the frame to make it easier to reach in and work. Caulk all crevices in the frame to make sure the clay and water don't seep through.

  5. 5

    Drill a hole in the table to match the hub of your wheel, and bolt the wheel to the table, using threads from your tap and die kit. The hub should stick out under the table.

  6. 6

    Attach the pulley to the hub, using another bolt. The pulley will be horizontal under the hub, as if it were on its side.

  7. 7

    Using mounting brackets, attach the motor to the table.

  8. 8

    Connect the motor shaft to the pulley with the belt. Depending on your motor, you may need to attach another pulley to the shaft (use an allen screw or bolt), then link the two pulleys with the belt.

  9. 9

    Mount the motor's switches and speed control under the table (to protect them from splashes), using mounting brackets or mounting straps. Be sure that you leave a "dip" in the wires, to keep any splashed water from travelling directly down the wire into the switch or speed control.

  10. 10

    Using plaster or cement, fill in the top of the wheel assembly. This will make the surface on which you throw your pots. Make sure the surface is smooth and even, and let dry.

  11. 11

    Remember, you're dealing with electricity and water. Waterproof your wooden frame using silicone sealant. Your switches and speed control should be sheltered under the table; however, it is a good idea to shield them with a sturdy piece of flexible plastic, taped down firmly. You should still be able to use the controls. Replace the plastic as it gets worn with use.

Tips and warnings

  • •Your motor needs to be strong enough to turn the wheel. If the cement/plaster is too heavy, break it up to remove, and make a platform from medium-density fiberboard, waterproofed with up to four coats of sealant.
  • •When you go to purchase your tap and die kit, take your front hub assembly so that you can find a kit with threads that will fit.
  • •If your motor does not have mounting brackets, you can purchase them separately; however, it is much easier if you can find a motor with its own mounting brackets intact.
  • •Electricity and water do not mix! Water proof and give every cord or wire a "drip loop," meaning, let it sag so that water does not run directly down the cord or wire into the electrical components. See "Resources" for more information.

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