Introduction: Throwing Pottery Miniatures

This is a tutorial for people with prior knowledge of ceramics, with the emphasis of transferring their skills to a smaller scale.


  • Potters Wheel
  • Clay
  • Water and sponge
  • Loop Tools
  • Wooden Trimming tool
  • Paring Knife
  • Ball Whisk
  • General Knowledge of Throwing

Step 1: Adapting Your Tools

For the most part the tools of throwing remain the same, with a few adaptations.

Adaptation 1: The standard rubber rubs are too large for most of the curves on a miniature so I file the nail on the thumb of my dominate hand to match the same contours. (Picture 3)

Adaptation 2: The Ball Whisk otherwise known as my magnum opus. The round sphere at the end of a flexible shaft allows for you to contour your shape from the inside like you normally would with your off hand. Ball whisks can be found in kitchen supplies for about eight bucks and you can cut eight tools from it (which is great because these suckers like to wander off). (Picture 4)

Adaptation 3: Firing tray. My miniatures often don't stand on their own so I made a tray by rolling out a slab and carving out divots with loop tools for them to stand in when firing. (Picture 6)

Step 2: Throwing Off the Hump

Throwing off the hump is a common technique for throwing miniatures. It involves only centering the top portion of a bigger ball of clay, this makes centering easier since your hands tend to hit the wheel head when you try to center small amounts of clay and allows you to throw multiple vessels from one lump of clay. (Picture 1)

If you plan to throw something tall and skinny I recommend throwing directly off the wheel head. It tends to be more stable as you pull and less likely to be knocked off center and start twisting. (Pictures 2 and 3)

Step 3: Opening Your Hole

For opening the hole I recommend using the wooden throwing tool since it is softer and easier to control than the steel tool for the initial opening. (Picture 1) With throwing off the hump you have to be careful when opening up the hole that you don't go deeper than the amount of clay you have centered. To check set a tool inside the hole until it touches the bottom and a tool on the outside until it reaches the hump, pinch the tools between two fingers right at the top of your clay. Lift the tools out and compare the length of the tools visible above the pinch point. The outside tool should be longer than the inside tool. (Pictures 2 and 3)

Step 4: Pulling the Wall and Shaping

To pull your initial wall, use two fingers: the index finger of your off hand inside the vessel and the thumb nail of your dominant hand on the outside to collect the clay and pull it up. (Picture 1 showing my nail pulling on the outside)

Once the wall is established, use the tool harvested from the ball whisk to shape your form. Be careful not to push to hard on your wall, a steel tool can be aggressive and thin your wall to fast. (Picture 2)

One of the rules of throwing is if you are right handed you do all your shaping and pulling on the right side of the wheel and I break this rule every time with this tool. I use this tool on the left side because I have better control over the tool in my right (dominate) hand but I still use my left hand to support the outside when needed. (Picture 3 and Video)

The advantage of the Ball Whisk Tool is that handle is thinner than the head of the tool and has some flex to it allowing you to shape the belly without flaring the lip. The lip on these small vessels rip and break easily which is why I tend to favor thicker, squared off jug style lips rather than thin, flared vase lips. (Picture 4)

Step 5: Removing Your Vessel

After you have shaped your vessel to your satisfaction, use the point of the wooden tool to define, and trim the bottom half of your vessel shape. Once you have created a groove turn your tool so that the flat side of your tool to compress the rest hump down to give you clear access to under your vessel. Slowly move your tool towards the center of your clay to cut the vessel off, while severing your vessel keep your off hand hovering around the vessel to catch it when you cut through. Go slowly and gently, use plenty of water to avoid snagging.

Set your vessel aside to dry, rinse and repeat until you use your entire hump. Your vessels will dry quickly since they are so small, so be careful they don't dry past the leather hard stage required for trimming.

Step 6: Trimming

Trimming by wheel can be done with miniatures but I find it more effort than its worth and trim by hand instead. I have three standard styles of trimming for miniatures: with facets, with a foot, and to a point (Picture 1). They all start the same way: with the knife.

For a foot or a point

With the paring knife, whittle away chunks as while slowly turning the vessel with your fingers. Start with big chunks that get smaller as you get closer to my desired shape (Picture 2). In the same manner, next take a loop tool and use the natural fitting curve to smooth out any unwanted faceted edges (Picture 3). For a foot, cut a flat surface on the bottom and carve a groove along the border (Picture 4). The final step is to smooth out all tool marks by burnishing. Burnishing is smoothing the clay over by rubbing a tool against the clay with gentle pressure and can be done by using your wooden tool, the flat side of your knife, a rubber rib, your finger nail or any combination there of.

Picture 5 shows the progression of these steps on different vessels.

For faceted trimming, carve away overlapping chunks with your paring knife of varying sizes being careful always not to carve too deep.

Step 7: The Finished Results

The final products ready for firing with a bearded dragon who is very done with my shenanigans for scale.

I was able to throw twelve vessels (plus a about five more that I mangled) from one softball sized lump of clay.

In the third picture, I have all my pointed vessels in my firing tray.

Tiny Speed Challenge

Participated in the
Tiny Speed Challenge