Introduction: Potter's Wheel: Treadmill Motor

About: I'm a freelance industrial designer in the Bay area. I love all things mechanical and collaborating with other creatives!

I've really had an itch to throw some clay, but since classes and buying a real potter's wheel would be out of the question financially, I decided to build one from scratch. Luckily, there are a ton of resources already out there that helped guide me through the entire process. I based the overall mechanical design on this Instructable by the user VertDude. However, living in a small, San Franciscan apartment limited my manufacturing capabilities as well as my working space once the wheel was finished. With this in mind, I decided on designing for portability as well as ease of construction with the few tools I did have.

Step 1: Tools & Materials

So here are the tools I needed to complete this project, which happen to be just a few short of my entire toolkit:

  • Cordless Drill
  • Jigsaw
  • Hacksaw
  • Metal Snips
  • Drill Bits
  • Box Cutter
  • Tap for Set Screws
  • Needle-nosed Pliers
  • 2 Crescent Wrenches
  • Allen Wrench Set
  • Tape Measure
  • File
  • Large Compass
  • Screwdriver (not pictured)

As for the materials, I got lucky and a lot of the things I've collected for past projects were able to work out. The hardest thing to find was the treadmill for an affordable price. I waited a couple of weeks and finally snagged one for $40! Below is the list of components and materials:

  • Treadmill motor with controller board, transformer, power cord, fuse, and slider intact (this saved a lot of time and money fabricating a foot switch)
  • 8" and 2.5" Pulleys
  • 28" V Belt
  • Power switch
  • 2' x 4' sheet of plywood (cut pattern pictured)
  • 6' sheet of metal molding used for the corner pieces
  • 2 plastic oil pans for splash guard
  • Right angled metal extrusions for mounting the motor
  • 5/8" Metal Dowel for the wheel drive
  • Flange to mount wheel head
  • 2 Pillow Blocks
  • Cork (or anything that can be used as a spacer/cushion)
  • 2 black 3/8" thick HDPE plastic circles cut to 12"
  • 1 white 1/2" thick HDPE plastic circle cut to 11 1/2"
  • Miscellaneous nuts, bolts, washers, set screw, etc.

Step 2: Mounting the Motor and Drivetrain

Since a lot of this has been covered in many other Instructables, I am going to give the condensed version.

I first got a general idea of the final deck height I wanted for my working surface (19.5" is a pretty standard potter's wheel height) and then subtracted the heights of the components to get to arrive at a wall height. This way I could ensure that I could mount the motor and I wouldn't have to do anymore cutting.

After laying out a pattern based on this measurement, I cut all of my pieces out with a jigsaw and drilled all of my holes. I made all of my tolerances intentionally tight in order to save space and added optional hand-holds to aid in transporting from my "dirty" area of the apartment to storage in a closet.

I removed the flywheel from the motor, attached the 2.5" pulley, and bolted everything on to a wall of the potter's wheel chassis. This step is much easier to complete before assembling all the walls. As you can see in the pictures, I mounted the controller board and transformer as close to the cord exit and as far from the wheel head as possible. I tried to isolate these components from as many moving parts/potentially wet parts as I could manage. I also wired up an on/off switch I had laying around and installed this along with the fuse in one of the back metal corner pieces.

Step 3: Making the Foot Switch

Luckily, I found a treadmill with a slider so I could fashion the foot switch out of its potentiometer and a couple pieces of plywood. By sandwiching the lever of the potentiometer between the bottom surface of the foot switch and a piece of plastic (not picture), I could control the speed of the wheel. It's a very simple rocker that relies on the friction of the pieces of wood to remain at a fixed position/speed. The downfall of this design is that the electronics are exposed to the open air. I am currently working on a shield that protects from water or other foreign objects.

Step 4: Assembling the Wheel Head

For the wheel head and bats, I went to a local plastics shop to get a couple pieces of cheap, but durable HDPE cut into one 11 1/2" circle and two 12" circles, respectively. I then drilled the holes to attach to the flange, as well as for the bat locator pins. One could potentially buy pre-drilled bats and match the pins up to them to make it a bit easier. I liked this option because the price was right and the finish was nearly perfect for a plastic bat.

You can see one of the pillow blocks in this picture, the other one is bolted to the bottom side, ensuring that the shaft will spin true. The cork shown spaces the oil pans off of the deck in order to achieve the proper height to shield the user from flying clay slurry (something I found out the hard way!). I made two keyholes to interface with a couple of screws in the cork spacer, allowing for ease of removal during cleaning and reassembly.

Step 5: Finishing

Finally, everything is complete and ready for finishing. After sanding everything down, a few coats of urethane based clear coat will add ample protection. You can keep things as simple or fancy as you want at this point, but remember, it will be very dirty for the majority of the time. Enjoy!!!

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