What is wedging? Wedging is a term potters use for the mixing and processing of clay. Wedging prepares the clay for wheel throwing and hand building by working out air bubbles and making the clay soft and workable.
When we are working with clay, the consistency of our medium matters a lot. Especially when wheel throwing as the process relies on the quality of our clay for a seamless and smooth experience. For example, when we throw with recycled clay it may have lumps, air bubbles and inconsistent parts within the clay body. This may make your throwing experience more challenging as each air bubble, stiffer chunk of clay, and softer bit of clay will throw you off.
So what can we do to make our clay smoother, more plastic and more consistent?
Clay that is fresh out of the box will be easier to work with because it has been mixed thoroughly in a large industrial pug mill. Think of a pug mill as a large sausage maker. The technician puts in clay materials, stabilizers and water, and the machine mixes the batch. After the materials have been thoroughly blended, it is extruded out through a die to make the typical square bags of clay. Smaller industrial pug mills will extrude into round forms, like the recycled clay we offer at the studio.
Pug mills help to eliminate air bubbles, and make the clay a perfect consistency for throwing. Wedging your clay is necessary if it is recycled without a pug mill, or if the batch of commercial clay is older. You don't need to wedge your clay if it's a fresh box from the supplier, as the particles have not yet settled. Have you ever had a box or bag sitting around for a long time and it felt incredibly stiff, but once you started throwing, it softened up? Wedging older clay moves the clay particles and aligns them, making the clay more soft and workable. If it's too hard to wedge, you may drop the bag on the ground on all four sides to loosen up the clay platelets. This wakes the clay up and prevents injury while wedging.
There are two types of wedging, the first we call the Ramshead method and the second is called the Spiral method.
Ramshead is the basic form of wedging, although it's reliable for all skill levels. Push the clay down into itself with two hands, and then back up and repeat this movement over and over again. It is helpful to think of the motion like a slide, pushing down and forward. If you push down too much, the clay will stick to the table. Try to keep the mound of clay within your palms, if it starts sneaking out past your pinkies you'll end up with a little sausage. We call it “Ramshead” because of how it looks during this process, like a ramshead.
“The trick is to keep the clay on the same spot as you roll and push” David Cohen, The Basics of Throwing.
Following the process of making ceramics is really important, nothing can be rushed or skipped because it will catch up with you in the end. Wedging is so important for a smooth and calming throwing experience, especially when it comes to making large work.
Want to know more? We will be exploring various ceramic topics & techniques here on our blog. Next week we will cover Spiral Wedging. Have questions or want us to cover a topic? Comment below!
The Community Clay Team.