Pinch pots are one of the oldest construction techniques used to form clay. Today, pinching clay is a ceramic technique still used to create stunning and creative handmade pottery. It’s popular among beginners, children, and easy step-by-step craft projects.
Read on to learn everything you need about pinch pots. We’ll start by explaining what they are and show you the steps you need to make your own pinch pots at home.
Basics of Pinch Pot Pottery Technique
The pottery wheel was invented to speed up the time it takes to create ceramics, which according to The Origins of the Potter’s Wheel, took place around 4,000 B.C. Before its invention, people used their hands to create items from clay.
The pinch and coil construction techniques were mainly used to form the clay. The pinch technique involves making small and creative pots using your hands. You work the clay by pinching it with your fingers and the clay moves away from the pressure. Where and how you apply the pressure determines how the clay responds and forms.
When you make a pinch pot, you start with a ball of clay. Open the clay using the tip of your thumb on the interior, creating a hole in the center of the clay. Push the clay down and outward. You’ll mold the shape of the clay into your pot, depending on the size you have in mind.
The pot’s floor will widen and the clay starts to flare outward. Then, you use controlled pinches in certain places to form the pot. Once you have the shape you prefer, leave the pinch pot out to air-dry or bake the material. Lastly, you can decorate the pot any way you want.
If you use glaze, you may need to fire the object a final time. However, there are plenty of simple craft ideas using polymer clay that doesn’t require a kiln at all.
Pinch pots are simple to make, making the basics easy to follow. But if you don’t control the pinches as you shape the pot, you’ll lose control of the shape and need to start over.
Why Make Pinch Pots?
Pinching is a creative and valuable method to work with clay. It’s the most direct way you can interact with clay. You push and pinch, and the clay immediately responds. Molding the clay’s form with your hands is an excellent way to introduce beginners to clay for this reason.
Pinching also teaches you how to work with tactile sensitivity. Over time, you’ll learn how to rely on your fingers to learn more about the clay. You’ll develop awareness on forming walls and floors in varying thicknesses as well.
Later, the awareness you gain translates to your overall pottery skills. In a way, starting out by creating pinch pots can help you work using touch instead of relying on your sight alone.
Many people like creating pinch pots because they’re easy and the clay is forgiving as well.
Types of Pottery You Can Make with Pinching
You can make many types of pieces with the pinching method, including pinch pots. Most pinch pots are only around six inches in diameter. However, they can be much larger.
When it comes to the size, shape, and decoration of pinch pots, you have many options. The shape of the pots ranges from chunky and substantial to thin-walled, delicate vessels. However, you don’t have to only make vessel forms. Pinching is also commonly used to make the following types of clay objects:
- Sculptures, such as pinch pot animals
- Vessels, like vases, pitchers, bowls, and cups
You can allow your creativity to roam, as the pots can be decorated in a wide range of ways and look great in pottery displays. Most pinch pots are burnished, which is a method that adds a layer of gloss to polish the piece and create shine without a glaze.
How to Make Pinch Pots: Step-by-Step Instructions
Use the following steps to learn how to make pinch pots from scratch. The instructions are easy enough for beginners and children alike.
1. Choosing Clay
To start, you much choose the clay. There are many different types of clay, each of which come with varying firing and glazing requirements. You have three main choices with pinch pots.
For homemade pinch pots without a kiln, use oven-baked polymer clay. Polymer clay is popular among clay hobbies because it’s versatile and durable. You can purchase it online or in-person at any major craft store. After you make a pot with this clay, you can easily cure the material in your home oven.
However, there are a few major considerations to take into account. While polymer clay can create jewelry and sculptures alike, it’s not food safe. If you make a pinch pot using polymer clay, you should never eat or drink from it.
Polymer clay may also damage wooden or varnished surfaces around your home, so don’t work with this clay in an unprotected workspace. Cover your wooden table with a towel or plastic bag for protection.
An air-drying clay won’t require heat to harden. It’s widely available online, in craft stores, and in some professional pottery stores. You don’t have to bake it in the oven or fire the clay in a kiln. You can also paint, varnish, and otherwise decorate the surface of the pinch pot to create food-safe vessels.
However, you cannot use air-drying clay for beverages. This type of clay cannot handle water, so never submerge it or fill it with a liquid or it will disintegrate.
Traditional pottery clay is durable and food-safe, so you can use it for food or drink vessels. Pottery clay is intimidating for beginners because it requires you to fire it in a ceramic kiln. However, you may find kiln services at some pottery supply stores where you can drop off your work for firing and return a few days later to pick it up.
You may also need to consider how you want to glaze pottery clay. For food-safe vessels, for example, you must purchase a safe glaze as well.
2. Forming the Pinch Pot
Once you pick the clay you want to work with, you want to roll a tennis ball-sized piece of clay into a ball and begin to form the pinch pot. Make the surface as smooth as possible. Avoid creating pockets in the surface of the ball. Press using your palms to mold the ball rather than your fingers.
Next, thin out the walls by applying pressure with your fingers. Cup the ball in your hand and gently press your thumb into the center of the ball, creating an opening. Leave at least an inch of clay along the bottom for the pot’s base. Use gentle motions to thin out the walls of the pot, working in circles to create even walls.
Keep pinching the walls until they’re thin and similar in thickness. Form the shape (circle, square, tall, thin, etc.). Smooth out the cracks in the clay using your fingertips. Once you’re done forming the pot, make sure the walls are no thinner than ⅜ of an inch. Otherwise, they may collapse later.
3. Hardening the Clay
Smooth the surface of the pot, if needed, using your fingers before the material fully hardens. There are also specialized pottery tools like wooden ribs you can use for this step. Some potters also enjoy leaving minor stretch cracks in the clay to create a textural effect.
Then, you can even out the lip of the pinch pot if you want. Cut the uneven areas off using a craft knife or use a potter’s needle to trim off the rim after the clay is hard. This step is totally up to you, as you can leave the pot’s rim untrimmed and still produce stunning objects. Shape the pot exactly how you want before allowing it to harden.
Next, you can add embellishments or use a wooden stick to carve patterns into the side. You can also add texture to the side of the pot by scraping it with a metal rib. Allow the clay to fully dry afterward.
Allow the pinch pot to completely dry before firing or baking it. Set it in a low-traffic area where it can sit safely. Cover it using a lightweight hand towel for added protection, and allow the pot to dry for at least a few hours.
Check on the progress periodically. Fully air-drying clay can take five to seven days. The pot should feel as hard as leather or a block of cheese when it’s done. If it starts to appear chalky, it’s too dry.
Polymer clay and pottery clay must be completely bone dry before you can bake or fire or it may melt or explode. When in doubt, leave the clay to harden longer. It’s always better to have the clay become too dry than too moist.
If using a lump of clay that you must oven-bake, follow the clay’s package for specific temperatures and baking time. Preheat the oven to the designated temperature and place the pottery on a baking sheet before placing it in the oven.
Unlike popular belief, polymer clay is totally safe for baking in a home oven. However, don’t use the baking sheet for food after baking polymer clay on it.
If firing your pottery in a kiln, cure the clay to rock hard status, then transport it to a kiln. How long you fire the clay and the temperature the kiln must reach depends on your clay type.
4. Decorating the Surface
The final step is to add the embellishments you want to decorate the hardened pinch pot. You can use paint, varnish, or glaze.
Any type of water-based paint, chalk paint, metallic pastes, or mica powders are ideal for decorating the surface of a pinch pot. You can find these materials widely available at most craft supply stores.
Air-dried pinch pots are best when decorated with acrylic or latex paints. If you want to store foods in the pinch pot, you’ll need a food-safe varnish on the surface of the clay. They’re sold in craft supply stores, and you’ll apply at least four or five coats of varnish to cover the entire surface of the pinch pot.
After you decorate a polymer clay pinch pot, seal the paint to the surface using a sealing varnish. Keep in mind that polymer clay isn’t food-safe, so don’t worry about finding a food-safe paint or varnish if you’re using this clay type.
If using pottery clay, you can glaze or paint the pot however you like after it’s fired in a kiln. You can choose to use these pots for food and drink if you want. Only use acrylic or latex paints on pots you don’t plan to use for edibles. Glazing the pot will make it more food and drink safely. To glaze pottery clay, you’ll need to fire the pottery in a kiln a second time.
Select a glaze with a similar firing temperature as your clay for the best results and never glaze the bottom of the pot or it may stick to the kiln shelf when firing.
Never use nail polish or oil-based paint. These types of paint can dissolve the clay’s surface.
Learning how to make pinch pots is simple, even for beginners or young children. You can make just about anything and may not even need a kiln for homemade pinch pots, depending on the type of clay and glaze you select. Using this method also causes less damage to your wrists than traditional ceramics techniques.
Plus, there are so many ingenious ways you can decorate or customize pinch pots. Pinching ceramics may be the first technique you learn, leaving plenty of time to play around with different clays, glazes, varnishes, and shapes or sizes. Let your creativity wander. The options are endless!