WHEELS - SELECTING ONE FOR YOU
There are several basic types of potters wheels and many manufacturers. We have found that the more popular national brands all provide adequate performance, durability and generally trouble-free operation. Differences between brands are relatively insignificant and the choice is often a matter of personal preference and small details like the design of the splash-pan, the size of wheel-head, adjustability in height or direction of wheels spin. With a few noteworthy exceptions, prices for comparably powered and featured wheels are quite similar. Additional details follow starting with a discussion of the basic types of wheels.
These fall into two basic categories. The first and by far most popular is the kickwheel which basically is operated by kicking a very heavy revolving flywheel which is connected to the wheel head by a long heavy vertical shaft. The momentum of the heavy flywheel provides the torque or power to permit throwing without unduly slowing the wheelhead. Of necessity these are large and very heavy pieces of equipment (up to 300 pounds). Their design usually includes an integral adjustable bench seat. Most kickwheels are available with a motorized option but it should be noted that this motorization is only usable to help maintain the momentum on a sporadic, as needed, basis and must be manually activated and deactivated with a foot while throwing. The second type of manual wheel is a treadle wheel whereby the foot repeatedly pushes a plate that returns automatically like an old-fashioned sewing machine. These type wheels are rare and generally quite expensive as there seems to not be a mass market for them.
These are by far the most popular throwing wheels because of their ease of operation whereby a slight movement of the foot on a pedal precisely controls the wheelhead speed allowing the potter to concentrate on the throwing rather than the mechanics of the wheel. There are some differentiations in brands and models but, generally, they all do what they are supposed to do in a satisfactory manner. The major brands have been on the market long enough that problems have been "fixed". Specifications and features are all quite similar. For instance, most have 14 inch diameter wheel heads that can accommodate bat pins (some smaller wheels have 12 inch heads but the size of the bat is what is really important and most will accommodate at least a 15 or 16 inch bat). Most have a seldom used reversing feature as standard equipment or as an option. All have the wheel head approximately 19 to 21 inches from the ground. Many offer leg extension options for stand-up throwing. All have removable splash pans for ease of cleaning. Table top shapes and designs vary but as with the other features, differences are relatively minor in importance.
DRIVE SYSTEMS There are three most common types of drive systems:
1-BELT/PULLEY. This is the most common method and includes a small pulley on the motor and a large pulley connected to the wheel head with a round, flat or vee-belt connecting the two. Although belts can slip, occasional adjustment of proper tensioning eliminates the problem easily. Manufacturers like Brent, Skutt, Creative Industries all manufacture belt driven wheels.
2-GEAR BOX/DIRECT DRIVE. Very rarely used due to expense, loss of power to the gears, and the difficulty in producing smooth speed changes.
3-CONE DRIVE. This method was popularized by Shimpo in their older wheels. Torque is transferred from the moveable constant speed motor to a small rubber coated flywheel by a cone on the motor shaft. Speed is controlled by moving the motor so that when the larger diameter of the cone is running on the flywheel, the speed increases. This is mechanically quite efficient but requires more physical force to move the motor (with a pedal and/or a hand operated lever) and is not as smooth as electric or electronic motor speed controls.
SPEED CONTROL Most electric wheels use the belt and pulley drive system and speed is controlled via electric or electronic speed control of the motor by use of a foot pedal. The technology is well tested and wheels are generally very quiet and smooth. Differences from brand to brand are quite subtle and preferences tend to be a result of what one has been used to as much as anything else.
MOTORS AND POWER Motor sizes range from under a quarter horsepower to one or even one and a half horsepower. The power is necessary to assure low speed torque so the wheel head does not slow down while throwing. Smaller motors will not wear out or fail but they may not be able to maintain their speed under severe low speed strain. Some manufacturers quote a clay weight capacity of their wheels but this is slightly misleading. First, some people throw more with muscle than finesse and second, the further from the center of the wheelhead that the throwing or centering is done (as with large, flatter pieces), the greater the force of the resistance and the tendency to slow the wheelhead. It has been our experience that on todays wheels with the technology they contain, one half horsepower is adequate for 95% of potters for life. On a cone drive wheel, one-third horsepower is comparable. Those who throw large scale objects or really wide platters should then consider a 3/4 or 1 horsepower wheel.