Tutorial: How to make a square plate on the wheel

Before I delve too deeply into this post, I want to thank everyone for the warm “welcome back” that I received after my last post; comments on the post, comments on Facebook and some really wonderful emails. Thanks for all the warm fuzzies and cheering on! I’m happy to be blogging again!

And now for the fun stuff! How to make a square plate on the wheel. Or at least my version of a squared off plate.

First you have to start by throwing a deep plate/ shallow bowl. I want to have a nice curve to the piece, even after I cut off the sides of the plate. So I have found that making a deep plate or shallow bowl (however you want to look at it)  is the best form to start with. I am working in porcelain and want my end result to be a small plate. Something just right to hold a sandwich. I start off with 3.5 pounds of clay. Because of the way the foot is cut, it’s good to leave a thick bottom to trim. I also really seem to like these to have sort of a chunky feel. When I make them thinner, they just feel like there isn’t enough clay there. But really, that’s up to you.

It is important to make sure that your plate is in just the right stage of leather hard for trimming and altering. If it’s too soft it’ll warp too much from all of the handling. And if it’s too dry, you’ll just struggle and it won’t have that “fresh” look. I like a look where you can tell something was made without too much fuss. Marks that have made with a single bold movement.   It takes good timing, lots of practice (aka mistakes) and self restraint to not overwork something.

I trim a foot that flows easily into the form. Yes, I love my Giffin Grip. And my Bison trimming tool.

Then I flip the plate back over onto a bat. I use a sharp, thin cutting tool to mark my lines. An Xacto is perfect for this, or there is a similar type tool that I think Kemper makes. I enjoy the not perfectly square shape so I just kind of go with it.

I’m sorry that with all of these photos I do not have one of the actual cutting of the pot. It’s too hard to make the cut and take a photo at the same time. I hold the knife at an angle so you can see the thickness of the pot from the top – which is your typical view when eating off of one. And then I cut. I might hold my breath. I’m not sure. But I do know that I don’t stop or hesitate. Just go in and make a bold cut.

And then repeat on all 4 sides. There are times when maybe the line isn’t quite as fluid as I’d like, so I will use a Surform tool (or a Mudtool Shredder) to clean it up, and then smooth it back out again with a soft little red rib. But again, show some restraint here. Or at least I have to do so myself!

Then I flip the newly squared plate upside down onto a piece of foam. This is important. If you don’t put it on something that is cushiony, then you’re either warp it or mark up the corners of the plate. I use high density foam that I get from Joann Fabrics. It’s the same stuff I used on this post: How to make a foam bat. You can use one of those egg crate mattress toppers or whatever else you might have hanging around.

Then I use my Mudtool Mudcutter. This is on my top 5 list for favorite tools. The wire is very thin and tight. I use it for so many things. For me, it’s the only thing that really works for cutting the feet on these pieces. I tape the wire onto the foot ring to mark where I am going to cut. Then I cut down, over and then up again. And it’s just like cutting the sides of the piece. Make bold, confident cuts!

I think it gives the piece some much needed lift. I just love the movement and individuality of each piece. It’s fun to embrace that aspect of the pots.

And there you go … that’s how I make square plates on the wheel. Although technically much of it is done off of the wheel. It’s quite liberating to cut into a piece. I hope you’ll give it a try and put your own spin and unique character.

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And just a little parting story… The other day I set up a plate for Ada with a fruit snack. Cantaloupe, watermelon and bananas arranged on plastic plate. I put it on her little table. She sat down, ready to eat. Then got right up, went into the next room. And then emerged back at her table with a porcelain bowl. She put it down on her table and started transferring her fruit into the porcelain bowl, off of the plastic frog plate and then started eating. This potter mama was quite proud.


Bowl by Brian Boyer.

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Thanks for reading!

24 thoughts on “Tutorial: How to make a square plate on the wheel

  1. I saw Bradley Burkhart demo making square plates on the wheel at Penland last summer. He used a plaster hump mould that attached to the wheel head and a template but it was a similar idea. I do like the cut through the foot that you do and the fact that you don’t need a mold.
    Thanks for the demo.

    1. One thing that I forgot to mention in this post is how important I feel like it is that these plates are wheel-thrown. I love the soft swirl in the clay juxtaposed with the hard lines of the square. I would miss that if they were made in a different way. But that is my preference… on these particular forms. I haven’t done much throwing on a plaster mold. I can definitely see the appeal of it!

      I think one of the ways we all get to our own style of work is to see as many different approaches out there as we can find- and somehow one part here and another one there catches our attention and we find our own voice.

  2. Hi Emily…I just found you via Carole Epp @ Musing About Mud. This seems like a perfect time to find you as you are starting a new circle in pottery.
    I’m in love with your plates. The demo was very clear and informative. Sometimes I find still photos easier to comprehend because I can look and get details down. I like the way you don’t get compulsive about measuring before cutting the rim. The way you make the foot emphasize the corners of the surface enhances both….sort of the sum being greater than the parts.
    I don’t throw much more than three lbs. these days (I do a lot of hand building) but these looks doable.
    I think high density foam is one of man’s better inventions.

    1. Thanks for heading over this way! Carole is such an amazing wealth of information. We are lucky to have her as a resource! And yes, high density foam is a wonderful thing ;)

  3. What a great tutorial! Maybe I’ll try my hand at a square plate in the near future. It’s great to “see” you back online!

  4. Well, one of the originals and certainly one of the best is BACK, baby! (“What, you’re using my ‘babies’ now?! – George Costanza)
    This is the kind of stuff we have been missing and needing for three years now, and it i s way overdue. Great photos, clear explanations, DETAILS, DETAILS! ( you know, all the stuff that Facebook lacks).
    All hail the queen of pottery blogging!
    Long live Emily Murphy!

    1. Ken, thank you! I feel like I can conquer the world after reading your comment!

      The blogging format really does allow much more than FB! Plus, you can actually go back and find something that you wanted to refer back to. I tried to do that on FB tonight and scrolled and scrolled until I finally found the post I was looking for, but there was no way to link/ share that particular post. It’s much more “in the moment.” But it does have it’s place….

    1. The key to starting to work on altered forms is to not have any intention to create pieces that will ever get to a finished state. Just let it be all about the process and have fun. And if you have a buddy working in clay too, make some forms/parts on the wheel, and then get together and deconstruct and reconstruct! Let it just be about making and you’ll stumble upon some aspect that is exciting and that you’ll want to recreate on purpose! Have fun!

  5. Ditto Ken Po! And everyone else, really.

    Super informative and inspiring post!

    Not sure if you wandered on over to Ron Philbeck’s recent post on why Facebook is killing his blog, but a post like this is the exact kind of argument for why we can never replace bogs with FB status updates and twitter feeds. I’m so glad you are back and that you are aiming higher than those other media here (not to denigrate them for what they ARE good at).

    Joel over at the Fetish Ghost blog had a word that I think is my new favorite pottery term: “Swagger”. I think what you were describing about the unhesitating looseness of your cuts can be summed up perfectly by that word. See what wonderful things happen on blogs!

    Thanks Emily!

    Happy potting!

    1. Thanks for pointing me over to Ron’s blog post. I’ve gotten behind in my blog reader, but I don’t want to miss anything so it’s taking me a while to catch back up. I am actually in the process of writing something about the whole FB/ blog connection. It’s an interesting thing to think about. I don’t think blogs are in any way “old school,” I think they’re the new normal. Or at least part of what is expected out of a site. And FB has it’s place, but it just not for archival stuff. It’s a different category. But I think the two can have a nice long (for the web) relationship together!

      I love the term “swagger!” Thanks for passing that on. Years ago I took a workshop from Gail Nichols. She was throwing these huge serving bowls upside down. Yes, from the rim at the bottom to closing up the foot at the top. She talked about how there is a freshness in beginner’s pots that she missed more and more as she became more and more skilled as a thrower. So she started adding in new variables to capture some of that freshness.

  6. Just going through bookmarks tonight, and thought to check your blog. I always enjoy your writing, and had wondered how you were. I found two entries, both with great information. Beautiful creations of all sorts, thank you for sharing!

  7. Great tutorial! I refered my high school ceramics class to this post (although I am sure not many will take advantage of the tutorial).
    I agree with Carter about the foot you put on the plates. I am a sucker for a good foot, and I am always looking for interesting feet on pottery. I tend to put a foot on (just about) everything I make. I also hand carve most of my feet as well. I look forward to seeing more of this sort of interesting content. Happy Mudding!

  8. A friend send me your page….love it…I’ve made plates this was a long time ago….but love the idea of cutting the foot with a wire…i had kept mine round….this add a lovely lift to the plate…pix are great….think it’s time for me to get back in the studio….thank you for sharing..and your work is lovely.

  9. Thank you for being generous with your square plates instruction. There isn’t much on YouTube or through Google for the style I like. I love your style of plates and I am in the middle of making a dinnerware set for myself. I will post a photo when I get done. I love cutting the feet!I’ve never tried that before. Do you have any problems with chipping on the edges where you have cut with the exacto knife? I’m going to lightly sand them when they’re bone dry just to make sure there’s no sharp edges to invite accidents. But this is just the perfect blog for what I was looking for. My first batch of plates were done with a slab roller and they would not hold their perky uprightness. Well, you could say they were flat. Such a disappointment after making 8 of everything. But I happened across your blog and you saved my life right in the middle of deadlines for semester. Thank you so much

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