Introduction: Pt. 1 How to Build a Potters Wheel With a Treadmill Motor!

This tutorial is pt 1.  the quick version of how to build a potters wheel using parts from the scrap pile and parts from a $10 treadmill.  I've searched high and low on the web to get information regarding this subject, but it all seems so confusing at times.  Too many questions left unanswered.  I have failed enough experiments to finally get this information out.  Hopefully this will come in handy for someone who doesn't want to pay full price for something you can make yourself from salvaged goods, while spending just a little money.  This version will be fairly rough, but I promise I will do another that covers all the little details about wiring, foot pedals, speed control, etc...  This is just to give you an idea of what's possible for now.  I made this version out of wood which will be covered in resin at the very end to waterproof.  Oh yeah, I'm not liable if something here does not work as planned. Experiment for yourself, find out what works for you.  It's kinda like kiln building. 

Step 1: Supplies

I'll try to remember everything, it's been a while.  If I forget something, I'm sure whatever it is will show up in a later step.

  • Wood or Metal for the body/chasis of the wheel (in this case I chose wood)
  • Tools to disassemble treadmill to remove motor
  • HDPE plastic -High Density Polyethelyne for wheel head
  • rubber sheet for feet
  • wood lathe to turn legs
  • various bolts and nuts to assemble wheel
  • 2 pillow block bearings - to true up shaft from motor to wheel head
  • variable speed foot pedal from an old wheel, or some type of speed control that wont get burnt up
  • I used a 7/8" rod for wheel shaft from motor to wheel head
  • 1 v belt from local auto parts store
  • glue
  • pencil
  • tape measure or ruler
  • clamps
  • vacuum clamping system (not necessary, i used this to laminate wood for the legs. Plain clamps will work)
  • motor controller for whatever type of motor you have(the one that came with my industrial treadmill was too complicated to figure out, so I bought a smaller, more functional model)

Step 2: Making the Body or the Wheel Chasis

Ok, I forgot to take pictures of this whole step in progress, but I will try to make sense of it somehow.

First, I turned 3 legs out of laminated 3/4" baltic birch plywood.  I am a little taller than most people so I added a little length to the legs.

Second, I cut the work surface of the wheel from 3/4" Baltic Birch Plywood, and trimmed the edges with baltic also. This is added to catch trimmings etc.  I should have made these taller, buuuut, maybe next time.

Third, I cut plates to attach the legs to, so that they would be easier to attach to the work surface of the wheel.  After this step, I attached the legs to the work surface with carriage bolts.

Fourth, I drilled a hole large enough to allow the shaft through.  

FiF (haha, Chappelle show), I added pillow block bearings to the top and bottom of the work surface over the hole for the shaft.  I used the shaft to true up the pillow block bearings as they were attached with bolts.

Last, I stapled rubber to the feet to prevent the wheel from sliding while in use.

You can also weld or find a way to bolt some parts together to act as your wheel  chasis.  Sheet metal and some tubing for legs?  An old table and some fence posts?  Who knows???  No, an old record player won't work.  Maybe for a banding wheel though.

Step 3: Disassemble Treadmill and Salvage Parts

Ok, now you need to get busy and disassemble your treadmill and salvage any usable parts which could help with this project.  You might find some things in your treadmill that can act as substitutes for something I cover here, use it.  Make it work for you.  These instructions are not the only way to do it.  The main thing is to keep the motor, and any pulleys that could be used.  The treadmill I salvaged cost me $10 at a local thrift store.  They thought it didn't work, so I got it for $10.  I got it home could not get it to work either, but 4 hours and a couple beers later I decided to READ THE INSTRUCTIONS WRITTEN ON THE MAIN PANEL WITH PICTURES, that had the startup procedure and it worked fine.  Damn.   The treadmill I purchased had the motor attached to a panel inside.  I left the motor attached to that panel, and then attached that panel to the front of the wheel body.  Notice what I mean in the pics.

Step 4: Remove the Flywheel

Ok, this treadmill motor with the plate and all the extra parts weighed about 60-(what seemed like)100lbs.  I'm a big dude, and this crap was heavy man.  Once I actually had a motor controller installed and a foot pedal, the wheel would get up to speed and really haul, but would take forever to stop.  I debated leaving it on, but I decided to remove it because the wheel was just too heavy to move around.  As you can see in the pictures, attached to the bottom of the motor is the flywheel.  This might sound crazy, but the motor that was in this treadmill was 1.5 horse power!!!!  Mad power son!!!

Removing the Flywheel:
1.  The flywheel has two different size holes drilled into the sides of it.  I assume this is where they put the tooling to assemble it.
2.  I had to find a metal rod to fit each size hole
3.  I used vice grips to hold the motor shaft in place so it would not move as I was unscrewing the flywheel
4.  It took about a million turns to remove it because of the super fine machine threads on motor shaft.  Be patient, and keep turning.
5.  I had to alternate metal rods every turn due to the hole size and the fact that I was tool lazy earlier to remove the motor from the plate.
6.  I placed a piece of pink insulation foam under the flywheel so when it fell off it wouldn't break anything.
7.  After the flywheel was off, I could have used a reciprocating saw (a tool I forgot on the materials list) with a metal cutting blade to cut the shaft flush with the bottom of the motor housing.  You could also use a jig saw to do this.  Another option would be, wait until you get some type of speed control and footpedal/lever set up and hold a hacksaw against the rotation of the shaft.  This way it could cut itself.  It wasn't in the way, so I left it.   Wear Safety Glasses.  Be patient.

Step 5: The Belt and Pulleys

I left the pulley that was already attached to the motor shaft and used another pulley I salvaged from the treadmill for the pulley attached to the wheel head shaft.  huh? I used a bigger pulley under the wheel head.  The larger pulley had a much larger hole in the milddle so I had to fabricate a flange type bracket thing on the lathe to attach the shaft to this pulley.  You can probably find something much easier to do this, or find something at the junk yard or hardware store.  The belt that was on the treadmill was not long enough for this application, so I had to go to my local auto parts store and buy a v belt that was one inch longer.  I think it cost $3.  Attach the belt over both pulleys with a little tension and blam!  You almost have a working wheel.  The complicated stuff is next.  Well, complicated for me.

Step 6: The Wheel Head

This should have been the easy part, but it turned out to be the biggest ordeal.  I think because I made it too complicated.  If you have an option, just by a wheel head or salvage one off an old kick wheel or something.  I have heard of people using car rotors as wheel heads to attach bats to.   You could also make one out of plaster. In Japan and other places around the world, wheel heads are made from blocks of wood cut from a hardwood log.  I made this one out of HDPE plastic.  I bought a 15" x15" x 2" piece from a local plastics dealer.  Cut it into a circle, turned and finished it on the lathe.  You could for sure use anything that is round flat, pretty hard and durable enough to withstand the abuse of clay.  Supposedly the HDPE has scratch resistance higher than that of carbon fiber.  This comes in handy if you use clay with heavy grog or sand.  Also remember if you drill holes for bat pins the holes should be 10" apart.  This is standard with most bats you buy or make.

Step 7: The Foot Pedal and Speed Control

Ok, this was the real kick in the ass.  I suck at electronics, so this made my brain smoke!  The first thing I learned was that I could never find a wiring diagram for the treadmill I bought.  It was older, the company was sold, yadayadayada....  I had no clue what wires did what, although I did try my hardest to figure out how to make the motor controller that was included work.  No Luck, I had to go buy a motor controller for the type of motor I had which was a 1.5 hp DC motor.  I think I paid $140.00 for the controller, but it was totally worth it.  Also, I had to purchase  a heat sink seperate from the controller.  This helps dissipate the heat created by the motor contolller.  Do not try to operate the controller without this, you can burn up your controller and it'll be a total waste of time and money.  It took 10 minutes to hook up a foot pedal and the motor to this controller.  I wanted to punch myself in the face for wasting so much time with the other one.  Be sure to read the instructions thoroughly.  If you can, find someone who understands this stuff to help you.  It could save you money in the long run.  Once you get everything wired, it still takes a little fine tuning to get the acceleration and deceleration, start and stop figured out, but stick with it and the pay off is big.  You're own potters wheel that you built!

Step 8: Finish It Up!

In the end you'll wan to first, protect the wood with some type of finish that is water proof and durable.  Epoxy resin etc..  Also, you'll want to waterproof and protect and exposed electronics from splashing water or slip.  You can buy a cover for the motor controller or mount it under the wheel chasis where no water or slip can get to it.  Better yet make a waterproof box to protect it and mount it under the chasis.  I hope this makes some kind of sense.  As i stated earlier. I will try to go back and do other detailed tutorials on the small things like wiring the motor controller, installing the bearings, and making retrofit parts.  If you have any questions let me know.  Good Luck!  Make some pots!