Your wheel will be an integral part of your work as a potter. Determine your own needs then look for the wheel that best meets them for the best price. Potter's wheels are a major expense; be certain to comparison shop. Check with a number of online suppliers (see a listing here), as well as local ceramic and artist suppliers. Don't forget to check the cost of freighting as well as for the potter's wheel itself.
Expect a new wheel to cost between several hundred to over a thousand dollars. If you are just considering if clay is for you, I would strongly suggest you take a class to discover if your interest level is high enough to justify purchasing your own potter's wheel.
If you are buying your first potter's wheel, it may seem appropriate to get a "beginner's" wheel. I would argue against this approach, however. I believe it is wiser to take a long-term approach to this important purchase.
The reason for this is that your wheel will last a very long time. With proper maintenance, an electric wheel can last a decade or more and a kickwheel can last a lifetime.
Consider not only your present needs, but also your long-term goals in pottery. You need a wheel that will continue to meet your needs as you grow and develop as a potter.
Portability is a major consideration when choosing between an electric wheel and a kickwheel. Electric wheels are almost always more portable than kickwheels. They are smaller and by nature weigh considerably less.
Not only does portability come into play if you foresee moving your studio in the future, but also if you want to be able to take your wheel with you, for example, to give a demonstration at an arts festival.
Some potters prefer to throw on plaster. Bucket-style wheelheads allow for plaster bats; however, wheelheads are more commonly a flat disc of metal, with or without pins to hold bats in place.
Some wheels have bat pins that are easily removed, allowing the potter to trim ware directly on the wheelhead. Most flat wheelheads do come with bat pins, but pin configurations differ. Pins can vary in size, distance from the center of the wheelhead, and number. If you have bats that you want to continue to use, you'll need to have a wheelhead that matches.
Flat wheelheads also come in varying diameters. If you are throwing very large pots, platters, or other pottery with a wide base, you need a wheelhead big enough to accommodate your work.
Work Space and Splash Pans
Some potter's wheels are very basic, consisting of little more than a wheelhead, frame, and power source (motor or flywheel). Others come with attached work tables, some with raised edges and some without. Such work space also can come in different sizes and placement around the wheelhead. Look over the options and decide which set-up is best for your own style. Consider, too, whether you would prefer to create your own work surfaces.
Another accessory that is widely available are splash pans. These are very useful indeed if you want to reduce the mess of throwing. For some potters, however, splash pans can interfere with their throwing. Again, consider your own personal style and preferences.
Electric Wheel Pros and Cons
- lighter and smaller in size
- throwing is faster, which is especially important in production work
- many models are able to be transported
- reliance on electricity
- can be noisy
- inexperienced potters tend to increase rotational speed, which adversely affects the throw
For more information, read Electric Potter's Wheels.
Kickwheel Pros and Cons
- very low maintenance and will usually last a lifetime
- many come with motors to assist with getting the flywheel to speed
- easily allows for both counter-clockwise and clockwise rotation of the wheelhead for both right-handed and left-handed throwing
- for some potters, kickwheels gives a better "feel" for the throwing process
- extremely difficult to move and transport
- injuries can occur if the flywheel is used as a step
- long-term use may result in knee problems and aggravate arthritis
For more information, read KickWheels.