In the thousands of years pottery has been practiced, one of the farthest reaching innovations was the introduction of electric-powered potter's wheels (pottery wheels). Electric potter's wheels allow potters to produce volumes of work even faster than before.
Electric wheels are also lighter and much more easily moved than wheels that use a heavy flywheel. This has allowed potters greater freedom in sharing their craft, since they can take an electric wheel with them and do demonstrations.
The motor is the heart of the electric potter's wheel. Wheels are now made with variable speed control, with most allowing 0-240 RPM or higher. Horsepower can range from one sixth to one and a half horsepower, which impacts how much torque (or power) the motor delivers to the wheelhead. The way the motor is constructed also has a bearing on torque.
Torque determines how much clay by weight the wheel is able to center. Commercially available wheels can all center at least 20 pounds of clay, and one can center up to 400 pounds.
Something to consider: the power of a big motor is great if you are making big pots, but if you are throwing average-sized pottery, you will rarely want more than 20 to 50 pounds of clay on your wheel at one time.
Many wheels are now being made so that the rotation of the wheelhead can be reversed. This allows the wheel to accommodate left-handed throwing as well as right-handed throwing. Reversibility is a great boon to those potters who prefer to throw left-handed or who throw both right- and left-handed.
Noise has been one of the points strongly argued between kickwheel enthusiasts and those using electric wheels. When electric wheels first became widely available, many potters objected to the noise that the motors produced.
At this point, electric wheels have gone through some changes, including noise levels. Most currently available wheels are not obtrusively noisy, and many make their quiet operation a large part of their sales pitch.
Nearly all electric wheels are controlled through foot pedals, although a few models do use hand controls. Optimally, pedal-motor integration and function should give you smooth operation of the wheel at all times, including during acceleration and at very low RPMs.
Wheelhead or Bat Pins
Wheelhead pins, or bat pins, exist in order to attach the bat to the wheelhead for throwing. The standard in the industry has evolved to two 3/8 inch pins placed at ten inches on center. There are some models which do not follow this configuration, however, so be sure any extra bats you buy are right for your particular wheelhead.
Some wheelheads also have removable pins, which allow for trimming directly on the wheelhead.
- Brent wheels are probably the best known. Most potters find them highly reliable.
- Soldner wheels are pricey but some models can handle extraordinary weight. They also have a model that can be used in a wheelchair.
- Creative Industries wheels have been re-engineered but have a reputation of not being quite as reliable.
- Shimpo wheels are known for their super quiet operation.
- Pacifica has worked to marry smooth operation with high torque.
- Skutt Potter's Wheels is the result of a merger between Skutt (known for their electric kilns) and Thomas Stuart wheels.
- "Store Brands" are worth looking at. Companies like Bailey and Campbell's offer their own wheels, often at a good price.