How to Make a Pottery Wheel From a Washing Machine

A reader figured out how to make a pottery wheel from an old washer, prompting this magazine to do the same.

| July/August 1980

Few amateur potters can justify the purchase of a motorized potter's wheel. After all, the prices of economy models start at more than $200, and variable speed units will often cost well over twice that amount.

However, the "motorized" pot turners do make throwing easier, and freedom from the chore of constantly kicking a "person-powered" wheel can be a real boon for the beginner who's trying to learn to turn a lump of clay into a bowl. As a consequence, when reader Rea Williams told us about a wheel that he'd fashioned from an old washing machine, MOTHER EARTH NEWS' research staff quickly began studying how to make a pottery wheel based on that idea.

Our wringer washer potter's wheel—which was inspired by Mr. Williams' design, but turned out to be a little different from the inventor's original—proved quite a bit easier to build than we had initially imagined. As it happened, the Maytag wringer model we chose required little more than an epoxy head and a bushing, an automobile headlight dimmer switch, a hog pan, and a wooden frame in order to be pressed into its new service. And once we located a suitable washer, the conversion materials cost less than $25 ... giving us a true bargain in wheels.

A Clean Machine

Old-style wringer washers have the virtue—for a potter's purposes—of spinning at a relatively slow speed ... most run between 70 and 90 RPM. (Rea picked up an 85-RPM Speed Queen from the dump, while our scavenged Maytag clips along at 72 RPM.) The newer automatic washers, on the other hand, have much lower transmission ratios and rotate far too rapidly for potting ... so avoid them when you're searching for your recycling candidate. (We managed to buy three functioning Maytags, for between $5 and $10 apiece, by simply placing an ad in the local paper.) Furthermore, there are many different shaft and mounting bracket arrangements among the numerous brands of wringer machines. Therefore, if you choose a make other than a Maytag, you'll probably have to make a few alterations in the dimensions we've provided.

Once you've toted your retired clothes cleaner home, remove the machine's tub and disassemble the chassis so you can extract the transmission and drive motor. The leftover parts can be stowed away for future projects, while the drive components should be set on your workbench for inspection and modification.

On Maytag units, you'll need to cut back the housing around the drive spindle about 1/2" ... to provide enough engagement of the head on the spindle to prevent wobbling. (Just cut around the tube with a hacksaw, but be careful not to mar the bronze bushing which is set into the sleeve.)

8/24/2014 10:06:53 PM

I made one from a ringer washing machine back in '72 for my children to use. Worked Great. The pan was a wooden box with a hole for the shaft. Built a dam around the shaft from 1x2's. The wheel was a sink cut out cut round to about 9". Used a pipe flange on the back to connect the shaft to the head.

6/29/2014 7:30:03 PM

You may find it difficult to obtain slow speed motors. See calenterprises for controlling high speed motors.

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