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Slab Pots 101


Hand building pottery using slabs of clay is an exciting way to create shapes that could never be produced using a potter's wheel or that would be difficult to achieve even with coiling. Slab pots are being produced by contemporary potters in a plethora of styles and using a number of techniques.

Slab-Building, Ancient to Modern

A pottery pitcher made using the slab building method.
Photo © 2009 Beth E Peterson

Slab-building techniques were used extensively by Mesoamerican Pre-Columbian potters, with some very beautiful results. Other than these potters, though, slab pots were only very minor players in the handbuilding playing field of other ancient cultures across the globe.

Today, slab pots and slab-building techniques are experiencing a new popularity. Modern potters and ceramic sculptors have embraced the slab, creating works using both soft slabs and stiff leather-hard slabs.

Making Slabs

Rolling out a clay slab using a rolling pin and two wooden slats.
Beth E Peterson

Slabs can be made in a variety of methods. The most common method is to roll out the slab by hand using a rolling pin. Other methods include using

  • Slab rollers: large pieces of equipment that enable potters to roll large slabs to uniform thicknesses very rapidly.
  • Extruders: an extruded pipe can be cut through the middle to form a slab.
  • Hand Tossing: slab can be formed by tossing the clay onto a hard surface at an angle. The resulting slabs are not uniform in thickness and can give an organic feel to a piece.

Soft-Slab Construction

Soft slabs used to make pottery vessles.
Pouch Pots / Beth E Peterson

Many potters have developed a style that uses slabs that have just been freshly rolled out and are still very damp. These soft slabs can be formed into lovely, flowing structures often reminiscent of leather. They can be used to with slump molds or draped over hump molds to create repeatable forms, leaving the potter to concentrate more on finishing the form with surface textures, decorations, or firing effects. See Slumping and Draping Slabs for more information. Slabs can also be formed while soft, then incorporated into a larger piece once they have stiffened to leather-hard.

Stiff-Slab Construction

A pottery tray made using the stiff-slab technique.
Beth E Peterson

The stiff-slab method is more appropriate for architectural and geometric forms. The slab is rolled then allowed to slowly dry to to leather-hard stage before being cut and joined with other stiffened slabs to create the form.

Stiff slab shapes can be merged with other leather-hard clay components, such as stiffened slump-molded slabs, thrown components, or pinched components. For example, a soft slab may be slumped into the opening of the stiff-slab pot as part of creating a lid for the pot. Another example is adding a foot to a stiff-slab pot by joining an open thrown ring to the pot's bottom.

The possibilities are nearly endless. If you haven't made a slab pot before, check out Make a Basic Slab Pot and let your creativity guide you.

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