• James Hobbs

Starting a Pottery on a Budget

So I thought I would share how I planned and created my studio for all the people that may be considering something similar, whether for potting or not as this might help and also it's nice to share where it all began. I had recently moved back from university so needed a space to continue working with clay on a fairly modest budget. I worked for about a year first (in retail) before I had enough money to make the initial investments for the studio and my equipment.

When I first planned my studio the main thing was figuring out what equipment I wanted and what the dimensions were. This was then the main factor in determining the overall space needed. This is the list of the things I chose to include in my studio as a 'must have', I can talk on how I chose the kiln in a later post.

  • Kiln

  • Wheel

  • Table

  • Sink

  • Shelving

Once I had the sizes of these I drew several grids on a piece of paper with 1 inch equalling 1 foot in various sizes and then had cut-outs of each of the above that I could plot in various areas. This led to a range of different 'shells' giving a visual representation of what different sizes of shed would feel like. By doing this I could really visualise the space and how my work would flow around the room, is there enough space to throw, dry, store? etc and also enough room for the kiln to be safe whilst firing. I ended up choosing a 10ft x 10 ft (3m x 3m) space with double front doors and lots of windows. I didn't have the budget for a 'garden room' so instead purchased a standard garden shed for around £900.

It took a few weeks for the shed to arrive but in May 2015 the studio started to come together, the benefits of a shed is it can be built in a day or two with minimal tools and doesn't require any fancy foundations. I just used some sand and some old patio tiles as the base and before long it was ready.

Thankfully the weather was perfect for a good month so I managed to get a lot done whilst enjoying the sun. I used chipboard flooring for the floor which was painted in heavy duty garage floor paint This sealed all the wood allowing for a moppable, durable surface that is both heat resistant and would endure the rolling around of an 80kg kiln. The walls were lined with repurposed big bubble wrap and I then used a cheap MDF which I cut to size and screwed into the main shed structure. This, I was hoping would give extra strength and provide some insulation from the elements for year-round use. The total outlay for the flooring (including paint) and the panels on the walls was around £400

Once the shell was complete the next thing was plumbing and electrics. It would have been far too expensive to run mains water to the studio so instead I put up some guttering (£60) which I used to harvest rainwater into a tank that could be pumped in and used with the sink. I built a wooden frame to hold a 'Wickes' sink which overall cost around £150 including the piping/buckets to make a clay trap. The pump itself was a 'hoselock' pump which plugged into the mains electricity and pumped through water from the tank to the sink with a standard hose nozzle. Overall the outlay for hooking up the water was around £280 (pump inclusive). It's important to note that with this water supply method I used a chemical cleaner in the water tank every two weeks to destroy any bacteria and make the water safe to use.

Electricity was another matter, I needed a 16amp 3 phase power supply for the kiln and of course several plug sockets and lighting for day to day use. I employed an electrician to do all of this which included running an insulated cable from the house (around 20 meters) alongside a separate meter for measuring usage, fuse box, 6 X double sockets and interior lighting. This overall came to around £900 which was the biggest additional cost to building the studio but getting this right first time around was probably the most important thing. I now use most plugs (especially in winter where there is a heater running) so I would suggest always planning for more usage, you definitely don't want to be caught short.

I built myself a table out of old fencing and some leftover MDF sheeting which saved around £600 on a 'real' workbench which I still use 5 years later. My equipment slowly arrived following the build, first the wheel, then the kiln and some plastic shelving, I finally had a space to work in after all these months of planning.

Overall I was fairly happy with the finished studio, It's first test came in winter when I was still trying to throw in -7c temperatures, A small space heater was all I needed to keep the space warm and I used an old kettle to heat up water as I used it. I was happy that I managed to keep the costs fairly low compared to other studios I had seen at the time and considering it's still being used (with some minor adjustments to shelving) it was definitely worth it.

Overall Costs:

Studio Shell & Interiors: £1300

Studio Electrics & Plumbing: £1180

Total Cost: £2480

Equipment Costs:

Kiln £2500

Wheel £700

Total Cost: £3100

Total Startup Costs (2015): £5580


I learnt a lot in the years since first building the studio, the main one being the amount of space needed to actually store, dry and manage my pots, especially as the workload has grown. I have recently built 'static shelving' throughout the studio to make use of all vertical space from ground to ceiling, this has really helped with the flow of work from one section to another.

Secondly I no longer recycle the rainwater in the studio, this is used for gardening only. I now bring in 5L buckets directly from the house. I chose to do this due to periods of leaving the studio unused where the water couldn't be treated, this led to bacteria growth and long periods of cleaning the pump which wasn't sustainable so I opted for an 'ad hoc' supply from the house, to use as and when. If you are considering a non-mains supply I'd stick to a bucket system if you have access to an outside tap.

I hope you found my insights useful and please feel free to ask any questions, the studio for me has been a labour of love as it has developed over the years and hopefully many more years to come.

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