What height should a potters wheel be

What Height Should My Potter’s Wheel Be?

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The wheel I have is quite low to the ground, and I’m quite tall.  I found myself hunching and my wrists felt awkward.  So I started to wonder about wheel height and what height my potter’s wheel should be. 

There is no standard height for a potter’s wheel.  They come in different shapes and sizes.  However, you can change the height of your wheel quite easily, and the height you choose will depend on how tall you are, your body, what you are making, and your personal preference.     

It may be that you are happy with the height your wheel is at.  Or you may want to change it.  Whether or not you want to adjust the height there are some useful guidelines to consider in the process.

Disclaimer

I should stress, that I have collated this information through talking to fellow potters and doing my own research.  I’m not a medic.  I’m sharing this article as helpful information.  If you have any physical or postural issues, please consult a medical professional.

That being said, experienced potters are a mine of information and tips about wheel throwing.  These are some of the guidelines I have observed experienced potters working to.

Lots of wheels seem to be made with a wheel head that is between 19 and 21 inches off the ground.  However, some wheels are higher than this and some are lower.  Moreover, potters come in all shapes and sizes.  A smaller person at a taller wheel will be as uncomfortable as a tall person at a small wheel.

Rather than looking for a measurement in inches, it’s best to figure out the best wheel height for you personally.  Most potters recommend that your butt is sitting just fractionally higher than the wheel head.  Around 1 inch higher seems to be a common preference.  Following this rule of thumb, you would position your stool around 1 inch above the level of the wheel head.

One of the reasons this is recommended is that it makes bracing when centering easier.  If your seat is lower than your wheel head, you will be using mainly arm and upper body strength.  However, if your seat is a little higher you can put the strength of your whole body into it too.

Having said that, the ideal position of your chair to wheel head depends on a few factors:

Pottery Wheel Height is a Personal Preference

To an extent, the ideal wheel height is a personal preference.  For some potters, having their stool just an inch above the wheel head feels awkward and low.  People have different physiques and different postural preferences.  So, the right wheel height is partially something each person needs to figure out by trial and error.

It Depends What You Are Making

The position of your seat in relation to the wheel head depends on what you are doing.  For example, if you are making long cylindrical pots, you may want your seat to be quite tall. 

Tall clay pots require that you pull the clay up towards yourself.  This can be easier if your seat is quite a bit higher than the wheel head.  If you are positioned over the wheel you can pull the clay up.  Also, you are less likely to pull the clay off-center if you are in this position.  If your seat is lower, you end up pushing the clay away from you, which is harder work.

It’s not uncommon for potters to use a different height stool or a different wheel for different projects.  Some potters throw small items like cups and bowls at a standing wheel.  However, if they’re doing tall cylinders, they will sit on a tall stool, so they are above the wheel head.

Some Problems Associated with Wheel Height

Wheel and stool height is a matter of preference.  However, working at a wheel or stool height that is putting strain on your body can be linked to problems.

For example, if your wheel is too low for you, it can encourage you to hunch your back.  This has been linked to lower back pain for potters.  Particularly if you are throwing for long stretches of time.  It’s a good idea to have your wheel head a fraction lower than your stool.  But if your wheel head is so low that you are hunching forward, you could be putting a strain on your back.    

Working on a low wheel can also strain your wrists. This is an issue that I have experienced.  Having had surgery on my hands for carpal tunnel, I can experience wrist pain easily.  I found that having a low wheel head puts a lot of strain on my wrists.  It is wrist pain that prompted me to look into what height my wheel should be.

The Standing Potter's Wheel

One solution that some potters have found to address back pain is to work at a standing wheel.  A standing wheel puts less pressure on your back than sitting for long periods of time.   

Switching from a sitting to a standing wheel can be tricky if you have learned how to throw sitting down.

Throwing pottery is a bit like driving, and after a while, you rely on automatic reflexes.  Once an activity becomes automatic, it is harder, though not impossible to learn new methods.  

Adapted Potter’s Wheel.  Image by Neil Estrick.

How to Raise Your Potter's Wheel Height

There a number of simple ways to adjust the height of your potter’s wheel.  I’ve seen some very inventive methods, but then necessity is the mother of invention.  And potters are nothing if not creative! 

Here are some simple inexpensive ways to adjust the height of your potter’s wheel…

Using bed risers to raise this potter's wheel, makes it much easier to work at.

Remember when adjusting the height of your potter’s wheel, that it needs to be stable.  This is important to protect you and also affects how your work will turn out.  And it needs to be level. 

Body Position and Potter's Wheel Height

As well as wheel height, it is important to consider other postural issues.  Some recommendations that potters give around positioning your body during throwing are:

Hinging Forward

Many potters advise trying to keep a neutral spine by tipping your torso forward at the hip to the wheel.  This will give you more leverage and will stop you from hunching over. 

Position Your Knees a Little Lower Than Your Hips

If your seat is just higher than the wheel head, then your knees will be level with the wheel table.  This helps with your circulation and comfort when you are throwing for long periods.  It also helps open up the angle between your torso and thighs.

Don't Forget Your Left Foot

Lots of potters use a support underneath their left foot if they are using the right foot on the pedal.  A brick to support your left foot will bring your left leg up level with the right leg.  This makes your whole body more level.  It also means that you can rest your arms on your legs at the same height.    

Type of Stool And Wheel Height

It is easier to adjust your stool height than your wheel height.  It is a good idea to sort your wheel out so that it is generally the right height for you.  However, having an adjustable stool that you can quickly change is also handy.

You can buy stools that are specifically designed for potters.  And there are other options that serve the job very well too. 

Some inventive pottery stool ideas are:

  • A musician’s drum seat.  These are hydraulic, so you can adjust the height easily.  They also tend to be padded and comfortable.

  • A mobility shower stool.  These are handy because they have adjustable aluminum legs and a cushioned plastic seat that’s easy to wipe down

Have Your Stool at a Tilt

Potters often set their stool at a slight angle.  A rule of thumb is to tilt your stool seat around 10 degrees towards your potter’s wheel.  The reason for tilting your seat is so that it tips your pelvis towards the potter’s wheel.  This helps to prevent you from hunching forward and puts less strain on your lower back.

If you have a stool with adjustable legs, you can raise the back legs a little more than the front.  This puts a bit of a tilt on the stool seat.  I’ve also seen potters who have strapped a block of PVC or wood to the back legs of their stool.

So, putting this all together, in theory, an ideal stool/wheel arrangement is as follows:  The front of the stool is 1 inch above the height of the wheel head.  And the back legs of the stool are higher than the front legs.  Giving the stool a 10-degree tilt towards the wheel head.

To Sum Up About The Potter's Wheel Height:

There is no right or wrong height for a potter’s wheel.  You can adjust the height for your comfort and try to observe the following:

  1. Have the front of your seat about an inch higher than your wheel head.
  2. Tilt your seat towards the wheel about 10 degrees.
  3. Hinge forward from your hips rather than hunching.
  4. Have your knees a little lower than your hip.
  5. Position your knees level with the table portion of your wheel.
  6. Support your non-dominant foot with a brick the same size as the pedal.

Final Thoughts..

Again, I would stress that bodies are different and what is comfortable for one person may not be for another.  These are guidelines that I have encountered as I was looking into what height my own potter’s wheel should be.  What I found was that it’s not just the height of the wheel that is important.  There are also a few other postural considerations that it’s a good idea to take into consideration.       

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Pottery Tips from the Pottery Wheel

Lesley

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Pottery Tips from the Pottery Wheel

I’m Lesley Milne, the creator of The Pottery Wheel.  Like many people, I used the potter’s wheel at school.  But then I began to focus on clay sculpture and I left the wheel behind.  However, more recently, I found myself being drawn back to pottery and the potters wheel.  And so, I have tried to pick up where I left off all those years ago at school. This blog is a chronicle of what I have learned as I got back into the potters saddle!

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