Coning and Centering Clay

One of my very favorite teachers taught me how to cone my pieces in order to restore integrity to them. Whenever I cone-in, I feel like I have a do-over, another chance to start from a centered place. Please enjoy. 😊

Coning and Centering

John Britt

John Britt is an extremely generous teacher who gives tirelessly and shares from the heart.

A North Carolina potter, author, and educator who specializes in glaze recipes and techniques. In this video, he goes back to the basics and teaches pottery students a quick cone and center, and of course, it looks easy when he does it! But by following his simple steps – and practicing – coning and centering can be easy for you, too. 

He starts with a general cone-shaped lump of clay and rounds it on the bottom so that it won’t capture air bubbles when placed on the wheel. Then he “cones” the clay. Coning is just what it sounds like: a process of molding the clay into the shape of a cone on the wheel. Coning mixes the clay and homogenizes it, working out inconsistencies and air bubbles that wedging may have missed. 

Repeatedly, Britt lifts the clay by squeezing in, and then pushes it down with his palms, while kind of rolling them out and down over the clay mound. 

Once the cone is centered well, he gets the wheel going faster, and pulls the cone up rather high and narrow, then pushing it down one last time. 

Now he is read  for the final centering. With hands held in opposition on each side of the clay, he holds steady, leaning in and pressing with one hand and holding the clay steady with the other. 

How to Cone Up Clay

Kara Leigh Ford

Kara Leigh Ford is a potter and instructor who lives in southwest England. Her work is gorgeous – you really must see the combination of form and palette that she works in.

In this video, she shares her technique for coning and centering clay.  Kara uses coning to homogenize clay and to remove air bubbles. This technique goes a long way in getting her clay perfectly centered.

Holding a water-soaked sponge in her dominant hand, she presses her opposite elbow into her hip and begins to work the clay. With the wet sponge and her opposing hand, she cups and slowly pulls the cone up into a tall cylinder. Ford makes the point that moving too quickly when coning does the clay a disservice. She talks about essentially “moving at the speed of the clay” and allowing it time to respond to your hands.

Once the clay is up in its cone, Ford pushes it back down. She does this several times.

Potters will often find that a little concave area or “volcano” shape emerges in the top of their cone. This isn’t good, because it will build air bubbles into your clay. Ford suggests keeping opposing hands low on the cone and avoiding applying too much pressure at the very top. If you keep your hands low and pull back the pressure at the top, you’ll avoid the dreaded “volcano.”

Finally, push the cone back down into a clay “pancake.” It should be consistent, centered, and ready to go! As I said, Ford’s work is lovely. I recommend checking out her site and shop!