Wedging- Spiral Method
Just like the Ramshead method, Spiral Wedging makes the clay more soft and workable as it removes air bubbles from the clay; combines variable clay consistencies; and aligns all the clay platelets in the same direction. The importance of this is not exclusive to wheel throwing as wedging clay also is also imperative for hand building to create a smooth material to work with.
To "wake up" the clay body, move it around on the table before wedging to make it more malleable and responsive to your touch. If it's really stiff you may even slam it down on the table on several sides, or drop the bag onto the floor.
If spiral wedging isn't done properly it may incorporate more air bubbles into your clay, so it is important to practice this technique extensively before taking the clay to the wheel. You may practice spiral wedging first and then employ the Ramshead technique before throwing to ensure the air bubbles have been worked out of the clay.
With your left hand holding a good chunk of the clay steady in your palm, your right hand pushes down onto the clay on a 45 degree angle while simultaneously rocking it clockwise. Bring your hands and the clay back towards you, rocking the clay on the table so that you may reposition your hands slightly to the left, and do another push. This will prevent the clay from running away from you across the table. After a few motions, it should begin to resemble a shell. Continue the holding, pushing and rotating on that angle and eventually you'll be left with a beautiful spiral of the clay as it mixes with itself to a perfect consistency.
If you decide to throw with recycled clay that is filled with air bubbles or little hard chunks of clay, you will feel the inconsistencies hitting your hand like a flat tire. The voids of air create a difference in mass, which you will feel thumping against your hand while attempting to center. It can be confusing to understand if the clay is actually centered or the wobble is from a difference of mass while in rotation.
How long should clay be wedged?
Wedging time depends on the consistency of the clay you are working with. Clay right out of the bag and fresh from the manufacturer may just need to just be softened up -if wedged at all- while clay that has been thrown before will need significant wedging. If working with different consistencies, or clay that has been previously thrown it is generally recommended to perform 50-100 rotations.
What is the best consistency of the clay for Spiral Wedging?
Spiral Wedging can be done with soft to medium clay. Using this method with stiffer clay is not recommended as it's harder on your body, due to your right hand moving most of the material. We don't recommend wedging stiffer clay at all! If your clay is hard and you are in the studio while we're pugging, you may exchange in weight for the soft clay that we're working with at that time.
Can you Spiral Wedge any clay?
Spiral wedging may be performed with any clay type. Note- if you are working with lighter clays, avoid contamination of finer bodies from the clay dust or rust particles from tools on the table. Clay your surface thoroughly before wedging.
How do I know if I am putting more air bubbles into the clay?
Slice your clay in half! Sometimes we do this to check and see what the consistency if like before throwing, can you see two different colours spiraled together? If so it needs some more wedging. If you slice it multiple times you will get a better understanding of how well you are wedging, and bubbles may be dispersed throughout the body, not just in the middle.
How much weight can you spiral wedge?
It is harder to spiral wedge smaller amounts, so ceramists usually work with around 2-8 pounds for this technique. Keep in mind that one hand is doing most of the work, so the more clay you have the more stress on your body. With Ramshead, both hands are managing the clay equally so this symmetry is better for your body.
Is Spiral Wedging easier than Ramshead?
Spiral wedging is harder to perform than Ramshead, and it takes a long time to perfect this method. We have put it to the test over the years with many of our staff, and routinely there are less air bubbles in Ramshead wedged clay compared to when it is Spiral wedged.
Which type of wedging makes a better consistency?
With enough practice, both are great for wedging!
Over the next few weeks we will be exploring the fundamentals of making ceramics from the very beginning stages, follow along to learn more about clay and the process to a finished product!
The Community Clay Team