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Build A $75 Electric Wheel
by Jolyon Hofsted
Building your own equipment can drastically cut the cost of establishing or expanding a studio. The electric wheel depicted here can handle up to 20 pounds of clay as well as most commercial wheels.

I don't claim to have invented it; it simply came to be one day in a junkyard. Twenty years ago, I had a new teaching job, with no equipment to speak of, and had gone to a wrecked auto yard looking for an inexpensive way to make kick wheels. The mechanic at the yard and I talked, and the idea for an electric wheel was born. I've been showing people how to make them ever since.

Based on the front wheel assembly of a car, this potter's wheel is compact, quite easily constructed and will give many years of trouble free use. The first step is to go to an auto junkyard and purchase a complete front wheel assembly (prices vary, but the cost should be well under $50). Have them cut it just behind the mounting bracket connecting it to the car. This will be used to mount the wheel, complete with rim but without tire. Be sure the bearings in the wheel assembly are not frozen, and that they are in good condition.

Next, you'll need to find an electric motor from ¼ to ¾ hp. If, after a little scouting around you can't come up with one, a rebuilt motor can be purchased.

Then you'll need to find a heave industrial plug, the kind with a metal clamp around the back used to secure it to an electrical cord. This will become the rubber drive for the motor. The plug's male prongs are removed either by unscrewing or just snipping them off. The plug is then slid onto the motor's drive shaft and secured in place with its own metal clamp.

Standard wooden 2x4's are used for the wheel's framework. The width will be determined by the diameter of the front wheel assembly. Plan for at least a 2-inch clearance around the wheel assembly. Once this is laid out, the frame's length is constructed from 3-foot-long 2x4's, standing on edge.

The front wheel assembly is mounted in place, using the existing brackets secured to 2x4's running across the frame. Make sure the assembly is mounted level. Next, secure two 2x4's on each end of the frame to raise the wheel off the floor. At this point, you should have a frame constructed of 2x4's with a free spinning wheel head (car wheel without tire) secured in place.

The next step is to fill the top of the tire rim with plaster. Clay can be used to plug any holes from which the plaster might leak out. The plaster provides the necessary weight, as well as a good throwing surface. Pots can also be thrown on bats attached to the plaster.

To mount the motor, secure a 2x4 across the frame directly in line with the back of the wheel assembly. Attach a 12-inch square of plywood to this cross member with the use of a hinge. Secure the motor to the plywood. Some motors come with mounting brackets; if yours has none, metal straps can be used to bolt it in place. Position the motor so that the rubber (plug) drive shaft just clears the bottom of the wheel rim. By lifting the hinged plywood, the rubber will make contact with the rim and the wheel will go around.

Speed will be controlled by a pedal. Drill a vertical hole, in line with the center of the hinged plywood square, through the right side of the 2x4 frame. With two nuts, secure a long bolt through the frame and a 3-foot length of 1x2. This should be a very loose connection so that the pedal lever has lots of play. One end of this lever will be under the hinged plywood; the other will project from the right side of the wheel. Stepping on the lever raises the hinged plywood, thus touching the rubber drive shaft to the wheel rim. Removing your foot from the lever will disengage the drive shaft, thus slowing the speed.

The last step is to build a plywood box around the frame to enable you to sit (over the motor) at your $75 variable speed electric potter's wheel and work comfortably.

Below Average skills, a front wheel assembly from a junked car, a scrounged or rebuilt motor, some 2x4's, plywood, and standard hardware are all it takes to put together the potter's wheel shown in this cutaway drawing.

$75 Electric Wheel
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Copyright © 2007 A publication of The American Ceramic Society. All rights reserved.