Tools of Colonial Potters

A colonial potter used a wheel to turn his work as he formed it.

Colonists in America faced many challenges when they arrived. They had to establish communities where they could depend on each others' skills to provide the various necessities. They needed people with talents to provide the trades, sharing expertise by providing goods to one another. One of these important tradesmen was the potter. The potter provided containers for cooking and storing food as well as for other purposes.

1 Wheel

Modern potters' tools

Colonial potters are known to have used wheels to turn the clay as it was shaped. The potter made his wheel using materials at hand and generally devised a method of spinning it using his foot in a kicking movement. Watery clay or "slip" could be added to the clay to keep it moist and workable as the form developed. The potter then could use his hands to form and shape the vessel as it turned.

2 Clay

Clay had to be dug up by hand. Rocks and debris were removed to create a smooth product. After cleaning, the clay would be kneaded or thrown repeatedly on a clean surface to remove air bubbles. This process was referred to as wedging. Any bubbles left in the clay would expand during the firing process causing an explosion in the oven. An explosion would ruin the piece and possibly other pieces being fired with it. Wedging was a very important part of the process of making pottery.

3 Kiln

The colonial potter had to make his own kiln for firing pottery. He could use clay to form bricks and build an oven from the bricks or he could use earth and stone to construct the oven. The kiln had to be constructed in such a way that it could reach high enough temperatures to harden the pottery. Flammable materials had to be gathered in large enough quantities to build and maintain heat for the required length of firing.

4 Tools for Decorating

Colonial pottery was generally plain with various glazes made from salt, slip or lead. When decorating was desired, tools were made from easily obtainable materials. A piece of sharpened bone, a stick, or an antler might be used to make markings in the clay or to create a pattern or a textured surface. Woven materials or leather might be used to smooth or otherwise provide texture on the piece. Various readily available objects were used to imprint into the surface of the clay.