You may wonder how a beautiful ceramic bowl being sold in an expensive store can be made so well compared to, let's say, an average pinch pot. While the artisan probably has some years of practice under their belt, something that can improve your work in one day is acquiring the right tools and the know-how to use them.
There are tools for applying, removing and manipulating clay in any which way, provided you know what they are and how to use them. Pottery tools are relatively inexpensive, and you can usually find them in your local arts and crafts or fine art store. Most of them come in plastic, wood, and/or metal; plastic is normally cheaper than the latter two choices, but given the longevity and quality of tools made from traditional materials, you may want to consider investing in them.
- Pottery needles are arguably the quintessential tool of the potter. They are partially or completely made of metal, and can be used for virtually any clay-carving endeavor from making the tiniest perforations by jabbing the clay, cutting off pieces of it or drawing fine lines.
- Loop, ribbon and wire tools are the ones that look like oddly-shaped miniature cookie cutters on the end of a little stick. They can dig larger gullies and depressions into the clay than can the needle. You can also use them to cut little rounded pieces to add to your larger work.
- Various sizes of paddle-like modeling tools in either plastic or wood are great for moving clay, making divots and depressions and more gradual highs and lows on the surface of your clay.
- Plastic and wood scrapers and ribs can act similarly to your modeling tools but offer a shorter and stouter surface. Additionally, these are what you'll use to scrape excess clay off the wheel when you're done.
- The wheel is a centrally-oriented mechanism that you will probably only find success with after you've done a fair share of bench work. As it spins (and you can normally adjust the speed) you try to keep your piece in the direct middle so the final product has balance and radial symmetry.
- The kiln is the oven where your piece will be baked, and it gets dangerously hot, so stay safely away from it if you aren't experienced or old enough yet, and follow your teacher's instructions for kiln safety.
- Slip is extremely wet extra clay that is put into a container and saved; it is used as the binding agent between two pieces of clay being joined, along with scoring each half with your potter's needle. You may want your own slip container, or your teacher may provide slip.
- Glaze is the enamel used to coat the piece after it's been bisqued, or sent through the kiln once. Typically your instructor or studio will provide it, but again, you may want your own; it comes in countless colors and levels of shininess. It is most often applied with ordinary paintbrushes that are usually available to you at the studio, but again, you can bring your own if you want to.