Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rolling a Slab

You don't need many tools, much room, or a slab roller to make a slab built piece in clay. Here's how I roll a slab to make a slab for a vase. I do have a slab roller a friend of mind made me, but it is trapped behind pallets of tile.

I start off by cutting a generous half inch of clay from a fresh block of clay. I put the block of clay on my smooth sided Masonite board. Be sure and click on the link for Masonite board, I learned a lot about this environmentally friendly material. I have cleaned the Masonite board with a sponge beforehand. I don't want any loose particles of dry clay to contaminate my fresh slab of clay.

If I use very plastic clay or porcelain clay I might roll the slab on a cloth to flip it over easier without making an impression in the clay with my fingers. Most of the clay I am using now I can roll out directly on the board and it doesn't stick.

After I cut the section of clay I lightly wipe the block of clay on all its sides with a sponge to remove any dry particles of clay from the surface. I don't want it too wet but I don't want dry clay in the slab. Each time I use the sponge I rinse it out in my bucket of water and squeeze it well.

The most important part of getting a good slab of clay is rolling the clay in every direction. I roll the clay lightly and flip the slab over one quarter turn, roll again, and flip, roll again and flip. If I flip clockwise, I switch halfway through and flip counterclockwise.

I'm using a plastic rolling pin, it's easier to clean and clay doesn't get embedded clay in the surface like a wood rolling pin does. I check the rolling pin often to be sure no clay burrs are sticking to the surface. If they do I sponge the rolling pin off and wipe it dry before rolling the slab any more. I let the rolling pin do the work and take my time getting to the slab thickness I want. Sometimes the edges of the clay slab get thinner, but I cut those off anyway so it doesn't matter to me.

While I'm rolling the slab of clay, if I see surface cracks developing I might lightly wipe with a damp sponge to keep the clay moist. After I roll out the slab I lightly wipe the edges of the slab with a sponge to keep the edges from drying out too much.

After I apply the slip in the pattern I want, I cut off the edges to square up the clay and then I use the slab for the piece I want to make. For this slab I made a vase. I stood up the vase by wrapping the slab around a paint roller. A roller has just enough shape and yet it is soft which makes it easier for me to stand the clay slab up while I score the ends add the bottom for the vase. For photos of the paint roller in a vase and more slab photos, please see this other post of mine, Reverse Design. Comments and questions are welcome.


  1. thanks Linda - great tips! if you have to use a wooden rolling pin, spray it lightly with WD-40 and it becomes non-stick.

  2. I like the slip trailing! Lovely! :)
    Somedays if I'm not doing production work, I use my rolling pin too.. Something about the rhythm of rolling is very relaxing to me! I like the tip above about WD-40 I had no idea!
    Thanks for sharing! Lovely blog! :)

  3. Good for you doing a "how to" about slab work. I know it takes time to do the photos and so on, but it is really helpful when blogging potters share like this, and I am sure it is interesting for potters and non potters alike. Good tips in the comments too!

    Love the cat photos by-the-way.

    P, L, G & NS

  4. Hi Linda,
    I love the stripes and your how-to. I use a couple of wooden rolling pins but finally bought the "portable" slab roller. Love it! It also doubles as a place to pile things. ;)

  5. Hi Tracey, thanks, I know about using sticks to keep the thickness even, but I have never done that, too lazy I guess. I need some of those big stir sticks, the one gallon ones are so thin you cant stir anything with them.

    Hi Michele, thanks, never tried wd40 on a rolling pin but I do use it on my slump and hump molds and it works great, I have also heard pam works great too.

    Hi Chrissy, thanks for stopping by, you can use the wd 40 for slump and hump molds too or pam.

    Hi Peter, thanks, the cats really are great company. I wish I had known about blogs when I was first learning so I thought if I can occasionally help others that would be appreciated.

    Hi Donna, thanks my slab roller is piled with stuff in the garage, not sure I will ever find it. having tile put in the whole home is so disruptive, but it will be nice when it is done.


I love suggestions, questions, critiques, thanks for your comment