It’s time to talk tools! I’ve been working in clay for over 20 years, and have learned that the right tool for the job can really streamline the making process. And as much as possible, I’ve tried to invest in good tools that will last. Quality over quantity eh? Though truth be told, that kinda went out the window the first time I experienced the NCECA resource hall – so many bright and shiny tools!

Here’s a list of 10 of my favourite tools that I use on a regular basis, and consider essential for handbuilding pottery.

Note: some of these tools may be out of stock via the linked websites. It’s best to check back with the supplier, or often a good google search will provide an alternative option.

1. Dirty Girls Slab Bevel Tool
As a hand builder, a bevelled edge is a potter's best friend. Bevelled edges can make joining your slab seams much stronger. This tool has 30, 60, and 45 degree angles—basically three tools in one y’all! There are a lot of different versions of this tool, but I like how sturdy this one is, plus, it’s easy to tighten or replace the wire.

  • 2. Nidec Banding Wheel 12”
  • This heavy duty banding wheel is worth the investment! Almost everything I make ends up on the banding wheel at some point in time. When it comes to forming, attaching, decorating, and wiping—the banding wheel makes it easy to attend to an entire piece without having to move it around and risk over handling it. Banding wheels come in various sizes, do some digging to find the right diameter for you.

    Handbuilding pottery tools
  • 3. Dolan 220c Fettling Knife
  • I really love this fettling knife, it’s one of the most used tools in my studio. It’s well made, comfortable in the hand, and the shape of the blade allows a lot of control in making cuts. My only beef with it? The handle is basically the same colour as my clay, so I’m constantly losing it on my table. I know, I know, I really need to paint the handle…

  • 4. Freema Slab Roller
  • If you’ve watched this IG video of me stretching a giant slab, then you may already know that a nice even slab is the foundation of everything I make. Can you make a slab without a slab roller? Absolutely—I did it without one for many years, and I share more strategies for forming slabs in my virtual pottery workshop Slab Solutions. What I love about the slab roller is that it compresses the clay while it sketches the clay. Plus, it really speeds up the process and gives my wrists a much needed break!

    5. Slab Mats
    Slab mats are the modern day (and IMO better) version of canvas, as they offer a much smoother surface on which to roll my slabs. They won’t buckle in a slab roller, and the mat creates a barrier between your clay and your work surface to prevent sticking! A bonus feature is that you can move your slab around the studio on the mat without altering it, making it much easier to manoeuvre. I have various sizes on hand, but my go-to is 22” x 50”.

  • 6. Wooden Mallet
  • A wooden mallet is a handy tool for pounding clay, and it also compresses the clay as it stretches out. Mallets come in various shapes and sizes, I find it helpful to have one with both a curved and flat side for different applications. A friend of mine in grad school actually broke a small bone in her wrist when she was pounding out a slab with her fist, so I’ve been religious about using mine ever since!

    7. Handmade Bisque Rollers
    There are endless possibilities in creating surface texture—a handmade bisque roller allows you to ditch generic texture tools and generate your own unique surface decoration that speaks to your style. These rollers are made from extruded tubes of clay that I’ve carved textures into and the bisqued. If you want to learn more about this pottery technique check out Textured Tools, my virtual ceramics workshop that dives into creating your own custom textures. These rollers are the foundation of all my decorating work.

    Pottery tools and techniques

     8. Sure Form/Clay Shredder

    I use this tool to help me even out edges and refine the shape of the leather hard pots – specifically to bevel the edge of my bowl form before I add the rim to it.  Though you can also buy these with a handle, I prefer the versatility of the blade itself. Pro tip: you can also find these at the hardware store!

    9. Paisley Scraper Rib & Long Scrapper Rib
    I love the Mud-Tool scrapper ribs! I use the smaller paisley shape for all of my scoring–it’s such a versatile shape! I have a bunch of the serrated long scrappers that I use when texturing my slaps prior to construction. They are also great to use when coil building.

    10. Boot Slippers
    Last but not least, the boot slipper! These are essential studio attire, and are especially handy if like me, you have a home studio and want to reduce tracking around clay dust when you want to pop into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Do I look ridiculous in them? Yup. Do I care? Nope. When I’m in the studio groove, the last thing I want to do is take the extra 60 seconds to remove my clay shoes when running up to the bathroom (my studio is in the basement, and the bathroom is on the second floor of my house 🙄). I remember when I first bought them—they felt like such an extravagant purchase. But honestly, it was probably the best $55 I spent that year. 

    Work smarter not harder eh? 

    Pottery studio hacks

    You can learn more about my process and some of the other tools I use here on my process page.

    Want to watch how I use these tools? Check out my virtual ceramics workshops and dive into the pottery techniques that put these tools into practice.

    Here are a few fan favourite workshops: 

    March 10, 2024 — Naomi Clement