Learn the age-old pottery technique of coiling

July 29, 2015

The technique of coiling, which formed part of the pottery tradition of many ancient societies, is still used by potters to build vessels or sculptural forms. Follow these steps to create your own coiling works of art.

Learn the age-old pottery technique of coiling

Coiling 101

Coiling gives the potter the flexibility to create almost any desired shape or size. If you want to build a complex sculptural form or a very large vessel, choose a clay with plenty of coarse grit in it to add strength. Coil pots can be as symmetrical or as quirky as your imagination allows. They are suitable for texturing, glazing or sawdust firing.

Rules for coiling

There are several rules you need to keep in mind when coil building.

  • Add coils only when the piece can support their weight — you may need to pause occasionally to allow a completed section to stiffen slightly before continuing. If doing this, remember to skim the top off the last coil once it has stiffened to remove the hard surface layer before adding the next coils. This will help prevent cracking as the clay dries out.
  • If you are working on a piece over a long period, keep it well wrapped in plastic to exclude as much air as possible and to prevent drying.
  • After the addition of every four or five coils, check the shape to make sure it is even. Put the pot at eye level and check the right and left profile. If they do not match, modify the shape until they do. Keep turning the pot a quarter turn and repeat this process until it has a symmetrical shape.
  • Try to finish your pot with a thicker, even coil, to give it visual strength. You can even choose to close off the top of the piece with coils and then cut an opening off centre, to one side.
  • There will be a lot of stress on the joins, particularly if the coils are uneven, so dry the pot slowly to avoid cracking.
  • Keep it wrapped loosely in plastic away from the sun and wind. A large pot may take several weeks to dry.
  • To make a full-bellied form, build a cylinder using thick coils and then push the shape out from the inside, stretching the walls with a firm rubber kidney (a potters' tool to shape clay) or a shaped credit card.
  • You can vary the shape by varying the width of the coils — thick coils provide strength for broad or "swollen" pots, while thin coils are appropriate for narrow, cylindrical shapes. Experi­ment with different coils until you find the shape and size that you prefer.
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