Choosing a pottery wheel that best fits your needs appears at first glance to be a fairly simple proposition. When you actually dig into all of the details associated with your choice it can be a little daunting. Hopefully this article will bring a little focus to the decision-making process.
One of the primary factors that guides every purchasing decision is price. A pottery wheel can last a lifetime if you take care of it. However, you may find that your commitment to the craft may not be as permanent. Potter’s wheels can range in price from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. We suggest that you begin with an entry level wheel. As your throwing style evolves, you will have a better understanding of the features and specifications worth more investment.
Entry Level Wheels
Don’t spend too much…but don’t spend too little
A quick Google or Amazon search will bring up wheels that cost under $500. These are basically toys for children, not serious tools to develop your craft. Many of them are cheap imports that either lack the power necessary to properly throw a pot or are of such poor quality, the will only bring frustration as they disintegrate before your eyes.
As a general rule, stick to name brands. You should plan on spending between $800 and $2000. Also, you will want to avoid table-top models. Most people quickly advance beyond their capabilities. Your clay supplier can be an excellent resource to recommend a beginner wheel that is right for you.
Your Forever Wheel
Okay, so now you are hooked. You have determined that throwing pots is a passion that will last a lifetime and your skills have advanced to a level that you can appreciate the features that justify spending a little more money on a wheel. You will want to explore the following characteristics when choosing your Forever Wheel.
- Fit and Weight
- Wheel noise
- Unique Features
- Customer Service and Warranty
Power – It’s All About Torque
“Torque is a measure of the force that can cause an object to rotate about an axis.”
When wheel manufacturers describe the power of their wheels, they generally talk in terms of horsepower (HP) or how much clay the wheel is capable of centering. These descriptions of power can be misleading and subjective. The true measure of a wheel’s power is torque.
The amount of clay that can be centered on a wheel has a lot to do with the skill level of the potter. The amounts that manufacturers list in their marketing materials seem to be more dependent on what their competition is listing then any scientific measure.
Motors with the same HP rating can have vastly different torque ratings depending on the type of motor and how it is assigned it’s HP rating. For example, Skutt’s continuous duty, 1/3 HP rated motor has more torque than other leading brands ½ and even 1HP models. For more information on wheel motors and power click here.
Manufactures generally do not publish torque ratings primarily because there is no industry standard for such a measurement. This again is a good time to ask your clay supplier for advice. Chances are, if the wheel can handle the amount of clay shown in this photo, it will certainly meet your needs.
Fit and Weight
When we talk about “fit” we are simply talking about how comfortable you feel while throwing. Is it the right height? Do your legs fit comfortably around it? Where are your arms going to rest while throwing? The best way to find this out is to visit a distributor showroom and actually sit behind one.
The weight of the wheel can also play an important role in how the wheel feels. Some people prefer a heavier wheel so they can use it as a brace with their legs when centering clay. Others may need to regularly move their wheel or even transport it to places other than their studio. If this is the case you may want to consider a model that is smaller or lighter.
Wheel noise has probably received more attention than it deserves. This attention is more a product of marketing campaigns than reality based. The bottom line is most commercial wheels on the market today are very quiet. If the quietest motor is your only criteria, you may be sacrificing other important factors like torque.
Some potters actually prefer the wheel to make a little sound as it gives them an auditory sense of the speed of the wheel head. Normally, if a wheel is making too much noise, something is wrong with the bearing or the motor.
The SSX controller offered by Skutt as an upgrade will significantly reduce the sound produced by the wheel motor but its primary function is to provide smoother transitions in speed especially at low RPMs.
Unique Product Features
Every manufacturer offers their own set of unique features that define their brand. For example, Skutt wheels are the only wheels that come standard with an easily removeable wheel head that makes cleanup so much easier. This design also allows them to use a one-piece splash pan that will never leak and can easily be taken to the sink for cleaning or transport your trimmings without having to empty them first. For information on other unique features click here.
Customer Service and Warranty
Most people do not think of service or warranties until they actually need them. Ask around to see which companies offer the best service. There is nothing more frustrating than having to go through endless phone prompts and not being able to reach an actual person.
Research what your warranty actually covers. Some warranties seem like a good deal but when you read the small print, you are left holding the bag any many cases. Skutt is one of the few companies that will not only cover the replacement part, they also cover the labor to install it which is often times the biggest expense. Be wary of companies that prorate their warranties in the small print.
Skutt was recently able to increase its warranty period to 10 years based on the implementation of new longer lasting technology in the foot pedal.