For someone new to the world of pottery, the language that experienced potters share with one another can be intimidating. If you are just starting out with ceramic-making, have no fear. In time, you will be able to converse with even the most experienced of potters. In the meantime, though, you’ll need to learn some of the basics to get started out. The tools that ceramicists use daily are a big part of the ceramic-making process, and it’s important to understand what they are used for. From ribs to wire cutters and calipers, here is a comprehensive list of basic pottery tools to know if you’re a budding potter.

Basic Pottery Tools to Know for Beginners


A rib is a tool that is used by a ceramicist to shape and smooth clay, especially while it is on the wheel. There are several different types of ribs, and ribs can be made out of differing materials. Most ribs are made from either wood, rubber, or metal, and they can have different functions based on their material. Wooden ribs are used by most potters to do the initial shaping of the piece while it is being thrown on the wheel, while rubber and metal ribs are mostly used to smooth the clay after the initial shaping process has been completed. While these are the most common uses of the different materials, potters make their own decisions about what tools work best for them, so if you find yourself liking the feel of one material over another, go with your gut.

Trimming Tools

Trimming a pot can be done for many reasons, and with many different tools. A potter may trim a pot to remove extra clay from its bottom, which can be difficult to reach during the throwing process on the potter’s wheel. They may also trim their pot to add a foot for stability or to regulate the thickness of the pot’s walls throughout the piece. Trimming tools allow for the potter to scrape away excess clay, creating the desired pot shape. These tools are generally comprised of a wooden handle and a ribbon-like metal attachment that serves to scrape the hardened clay off the piece as it is turned on the wheel.  


If there is any true testament to the resourcefulness of ceramicists, it can be seen by walking into their studio and checking out the heaps of sponges lying around. Sponges are an incredibly valuable tool in creating pottery because of their versatility. Sponges can be used to burnish, or smooth out the finger lines left in pieces of clay, clean up workspaces, remove dust from bone dry clay, and so much more. There are even special types of sponges, such as a sponge-on-a-stick, which helps to soak up water out of the bottom of a taller piece that the potter’s hand may not fit down into. While sponges may not be the fanciest tool in the drawer, you can bet that they’re the scrappiest.


In the pottery-making process, there are different types of brushes that have different functions. Brushes can be used to apply slip when attaching parts of a piece. The potter scores, or scratches up the connecting surfaces of clay, and brushes on slip, an extremely wet form of clay. This process helps to secure pieces of pottery, and, without it, these pieces may break apart while the piece is being fired. Brushes are also instrumental in the glazing process of pottery-making. Glaze is applied to pottery for aesthetic purposes, and it can come in many different styles. While some ceramicists may choose to dip entire pieces into a certain glaze, some pottery must be painted with the glaze that the potter chooses for it. This is where the brush comes in. The potter uses the brush to pick up glaze and apply as many coats as needed to their piece.

Needle Tool

A needle tool is exactly what it sounds like, a needle! Ceramicists use needle tools for a variety of reasons, and they can come in a variety of different forms. Needle tools can aid potters in trimming, etching, piercing clay, and more. Potters may also use a needle tool to add their signature to their piece. Sometimes, potters must create holes in their clay pieces to measure the thickness of their walls, and a needle tool is perfect for this. An easy way to measure the wall thickness of your piece is to roll up a small ball of clay and stick it on the very end of your needle tool. Then, pierce the wall of your piece, stopping when your needle reaches the other side. Once you pull the needle tool back out of the piece, the distance that the clay ball has moved up the needle shows you how thick your walls are in that specific spot. Don’t forget to plug that hole back up with a small piece of clay after you’re done.

Wire Cutter

A wire cutter is a tool that contains a thin, metal wire which is attached to two handles on either side. To use a wire cutter, the ceramicist holds the two handles and pulls the wire through the clay. This allows for the ceramicist to make a clean cut, which may be difficult, especially due to the thickness of the clay and the size of the block of clay. Generally, a wire cutter is used to split up larger blocks of clay that the potter may get in bulk, remove pots from where they have attached to the wheel, or to make level rims on a piece. Potters are a crafty bunch, though, and you may find that a wire cutter can be helpful to you in other ways during your pottery making.


Ask a ceramicist what the worst part about making a lid is and they’ll probably tell you about the hundreds of lids that they’ve made that didn’t end up fitting on their pot. Calipers are used to measure the inner and outer dimensions of pots. This is especially necessary when the piece will meet with another piece, and their dimensions must match up perfectly. Examples of pieces that would utilize calipers in the production process are a storage jar with a fitted lid or a teacup that will fit into a depression in the accompanying saucer. 


As evidenced here, there are a lot of tools that ceramicists can acquire over their time spent making pottery. Many of these tools can be dangerous if left around the potter’s workspace, such as needles and other sharp tools that may be in the studio. This makes having proper storage imperative to the health and safety of you and those who will be in the studio with you.

Apron and Towels

It’s no secret that making pottery can get dirty. Even the most cautious of potters will manage to get wet clay pretty much all over themselves. It’s better to accept the messiness of the hobby and plunge right into it. You’ll want to invest in an apron and keep some towels or rags handy when you’re throwing at the wheel for quick and easy clean-ups.

Pottery Classes for Potters of all Experience Levels in Gatlinburg, TN

If you are looking to gain experience in the world of ceramics, exercise your creativity, or just pick up a new skill, consider taking a pottery class from a trained ceramicist. On your own, your first foray into the world of ceramics can be a daunting task, but if you have someone with more experience on your side, you’ll be picking up the lingo and gaining confidence in no time.

At Fowler’s Clay Works in Gatlinburg, TN, our goal is to help potters of all skill and experience levels to enjoy the process of creating pottery. Whether you are looking for a fun group outing or a chance to develop your pottery skills, our trained ceramicists want to help you create something you can be proud of no matter what your experience level is. Book your class today at Fowler’s Clay Works and enjoy the opportunity to make either a pot or a mug with our Fowler’s instructors. If you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to contact us at