I have seen too many potter friends suffer with back problems over the years. It’s made me be very conscious about the health of my back and my efforts to stop any problems before they begin. Every potter who throws at a wheel has a different set-up. Although mine is based on a pretty traditional set-up, I have tweaked it enough to be both a more efficient work space and back friendly.
You might notice that there is a 2nd wheel in the background. I have a throwing wheel and a trimming wheel. I love being able to move back and forth between the two wheel and not have to clean up and change the set up. I keep either my Giffin Grip or my foam bat on my trimming wheel. I have it set up in the corner of my studio so I do not track any clay trimmings around my studio.
I know many potters who throw standing up to alleviate any potential back problems. For me this just creates another problem from being on your feet all the time. I think the most important thing I can do is to constantly change my tasks (throwing, trimming, wedging, decorating, glazing, paperwork, cleaning, etc…) and my sitting and standing positions throughout the day. Sometimes I will even give up efficiency for this.
Another thing that I did to help keep my back happy is to get a new throwing stool. After a ridiculous amount of research, I found this great potter’s stool: Artisan S-2 Stool that I bought from Clay King. It’s totally adjustable- both the height and the tilt. It tilts your hips into your work so your back can stay nice and straight. This has made a HUGE difference for me. I also put my non-pedal foot on a brick to keep me balanced and symmetrical.
You might have also noticed from the picture the mirror in front of my wheel. I started doing this a couple of years ago and it has also made my throwing life much happier. It took me about 2 days to get used to it (I had to remember to look up!). It stops me from constantly cranking my head over to the side to see what my piece looks like. It also makes a huge difference in the forms that I thrown. I can see exactly what is happening by looking straight ahead. You can make sure that each piece you throw actually has the shape that you think it does. The result is that both me and my pots have better posture. My back and neck are straighter and my pots end up having more lift.
I feel like I’ve lost a lot of time over the years looking tools on the other side of my splash pan. To stop this problem from continuing, I built this little shelf on the right side of my wheel. All the tools I use regularly are kept right there- nice and easy for me to find. (The mini-Altoids tin is perfect for a pair of bat bins). The tools in the picture are on the list of “clay tools that I cannot live without.” (I’ll talk about that in another post.) This little shelf mean less bending forward trying to search for the clay covered rib that has slipped under the splash pan…. My throwing bucket sits right in front of the shelf also for easy access (I’m right handed).
I realize how much I miss my tweaked space when I am teaching and do not have this set up.
A couple of (cheap!) things that you can do, even if it’s in a shared space, like a classroom:
- Tilt a standard throwing stool by sticking a 2 x 4 under the back 2 legs. You can even drill into the wood about 1/4 – 1/2 an inch so the stool won’t accidentally slip off the wood.
- Get a mirror. A hardware store, thrift store or Ikea are all great places to find a mirror. The just lean it up against whatever is in front of the wheel- shelves, a table, a wall. You’ll really see a difference in your throwing, and your back might be a bit less achy.
- Keep your tools and water bucket on a stool next to your wheel. You can keep the stool clean by putting a bat on top of the stool, and tools and bucket on top of that.
update (10/29/07)- a post from John Zentner about his standing wheel set-up on his blog pots and other things.
update (10/30/07)- another great post from Anne Webb at Webb Pottery about her favorite tools and her wheel set-up.
update (10/30/07)- an article from the archives of Studio Potter magazine on back problems and potters.
update (10/31/07)- a post from Jeanette Harris about tools that she can’t do without.