Want to get a clear idea on how to knead clay, what mistakes to avoid and some useful tricks?

Kneading is a fundamental task for the ceramist, which saves us future problems in the following phases of creation of our pieces and is the basis for the successive ceramic techniques that we will apply.

Kneading clay



To knead the clay there are two techniques:

The first is the manual one as it has always been done, which I describe below.

The second, at the industrial level or large workshops, which had a machine where you put pieces of clay, and pass through a propeller that kneads the clay, compacts it and comes out in the form of a roll, and then you cut it.

In any case, this clay must be kneaded with the hands.

Why is this done? On the one hand, air is extracted and on the other hand, elasticity is provided. It is very important the kneading before starting to work.

Clay for making ceramics is kneaded with the hands, it is a technique very similar to that of kneading bread, let’s say that with the two palms of the hand we exert force towards the inside of the piece while we roll it, we stretch the piece forward and we make it return dragging it towards us to push it again.

In this way, a spiral is formed, in fact, to know when the cone is perfect to start working it is when you see on the sides that it has formed like a snail, like a spiral shape.

The handmade clay is that clay that was obtained in a non-industrial way, that is to say, the potters had an area in the locality where they lived, of “fields”, which instead of being cultivation fields, were the “clay fields”, each potter had his own land, they were delimited.

They went go to their field, extract the clay, dig with a pick and shovel to the depth where they found that the clay was in a good state to be worked, then they would load their baskets and return to their workshop.

Then they added whatever they had to add, such as feldspar, which they also went to the mountain to look for in the form of rock, which they also pulverized. That was the way to obtain the handmade clay.

You can also watch a very interesting video (in Spanish with subtitles) documenting the traditional process of obtaining the clay.



In addition to the need to extract oxygen and give it elasticity, it is important because, being a mass to be worked on a lathe, it must be homogeneous if we want to avoid the appearance of lumps or air bubbles while we are working on the lathe or modeling.

The kneading has to be very well done and it is necessary to dedicate some time to it, it is not enough to say “I am going to knead in a moment” NO! Kneading requires physical effort and it is a tiring job, but it is essential to be able to start doing a decent job that is going to work. Let’s say that the work of art we are going to make needs the raw material to be well kneaded.



When the mud is hardened, it must be softened with water. There are different techniques for this:

You can moisten that piece of clay with water using a sprayer, spraying it as a spray, you pour water and you knead it, so it goes in and the moisture goes in. In my case I wrap the clay that is too dry to be able to work it in plastic, I put it already wrapped in a bucket with water and I leave it for a few hours to soften.

I have found very hard pieces that return to the ideal consistency to work them by being submerged, but protected inside a plastic bag, otherwise the clay will mix with the water.

Softening clay



It is always done on a wooden table because wood absorbs moisture and allows the dough you are working on not to slip.


Kneading with machine


Mention that there is a machine to knead the clay, it is electric, of a considerable size and has a hole through which you put those pieces that have remained harder, or remains of work that are still wet and with a propeller performs the kneading, however after this it is necessary to do it with your hands as well.


Mistakes to avoid when kneading clay


The first mistake is to go too fast, take it easy and repeat the operation several times until you have obtained the elasticity you need. For example, if you see that cracks form after you have kneaded the clay, it means that it has dried out too much, so you will have to moisten it, you will have to add a little bit of water.


A useful trick:


When you are kneading the clay hit it with both hands. You take the cone and, as if it were a ball that you have between your hands, you slap it and in this way you help to extract the oxygen that it still has inside.



For me it is very important to recycle. It doesn’t make sense to me to throw the clay away, because all clay that is left over is reusable, it is simply to let it dry, make it into small pieces and pour water on it, and that mass you grind it with a mixer or you do it with your hands and that way you get clay again.

In my opinion it is very important to save the clay that is left over, whether it is the slip or clay left over from work that has been drying out.


How to fix hard clay


It is very easy to recover the hard mud by adding water, neither too much nor too little, finding the point of humidity that the mud needs.

There are times when you wet and cover with plastic and let the moisture soak into the piece or spray directly to find the right point of humidity to work.

A clay that is too wet, that has too much water for some potters, for others is adequate, they are very comfortable with this point of humidity and find it easier to “lift”.

I like the clay to be a little drier, I like to moisten it while I am on the wheel until I find the point that I like.

The problem with a too-hard cone is that it will be very difficult to “lift” it with the potter’s wheel, because you will have to pierce it and pour water on it so that it gets wet and you can start to make the tongs.

Author: Lucinda Carod