Making a
Bonsai pot

From clay to Bonsai Pot

Making Bonsai pots is a complex process which requires a lot of knowhow, experience and artistry.

To appreciate the work of a Bonsai potter but also in order to know what to expect when you want to try working with clay yourself, the following documentation will give you an idea.

Making an Oval blue bag-shape pot and a semi-cascade pot

The creation of a glazed and an unglazed pot is shown below, from the first work steps to the complete, planted pot.

Pot in use; pinus mugo bonsai
The pot in use. Old, large Pinus mugo semi-cascade. Photograph by Klaus Nadler.

Bonsai in the pot
The pot in use, planted with a Corean hornbeam. Photograph by Christian B.

How these two pots were created, step by step:

Clay for bonsai potbasic shape fixed
Left: Large slabs of clay have been prepared and the bottom of the pot has been shaped. The pots' walls are constructed from clay slabs, right: The basic shape of the pot has been modelled and the first layer of the upper rim added.
Walls smoothedSecond layer of rim
Left: The walls have been smoothed and the still wet and soft pot is turned upside down with some props on the inside, right: The second layer of the rim is applied.
coil of claythird layer
Left: A coil of clay is attached to form the upper rim of the pot, right: The third layer of the rim is attached and shaped and the pot is smoothed. Drainage and fixation holes are added and the feet attached.
Bonsai pot feet and drainagepot at angles
Left: The feet and drainage and fixation holes have been are added, right: The pot seen from a different angle.
surface structureAngles of pot
Left: The surface structure is created, right: The pot seen from a different angle.
Additional rimAngles of pot
Left: After bisque firing, manganese ore has been applied for dark contrasting effects, right: Some details are smoothed
After Bisque firingGlazed and fired
Left: Fired for the second time: semi-cascade pot ready for use, right: Glazed and fired: the pot is ready.

Bonsai pottery step by step

All the necessary work steps and devices for making an oval bonsai pot with a rim are shown in detail in the photographs below.

pottery tools
A set of pottery tools.

paper pattern
A paper pattern is created for the bottom shape and feet of a pot.

Clay slab
The clay slab for the bottom of the pot is prepared.

paper pattern applied
The paper pattern is applied.

cut from clay slab
The bottom, the walls, the rim and the feet are cut from the clay slab.

Bottom and walls joined
The bottom and the wall parts are prepared for joining them together.

Clay pulverized
Dry clay is pulverized.

Pulverized dry clay
The pulverized dry clay is mixed with water and stirred to make slurry.

Brushed
The slurry is brushed onto the roughened outer limits of the bottom.

Walls mounted
Now the walls are mounted.

Junctions
The junctions are smoothed with a spatula.

Clay coil
On the inside a clay coil is pressed into the pot to stabilize the junctions between bottom and walls.

Spatula
The inside of the pot is smoothed with a spatula.

Wood
A piece of wood is sawed off at the desired angle.

Gauge
The little wood block serves as a gauge for the walls.

Gauge 2
A finer gauge is sawed from thin plywood. It serves for constructing an even profile of the walls.

Wood block
The wood block is used to press a fitted clay band to the pot.

Shape walls
The finer gauge is used to shape the walls and the band.

Cut off
The top of the wall is cut at an even hight.

pot rim
The rim is attached.

rim junction
The rim junction is smoothed on the inside.

junction reinforced
The pot is turned upside down and additional clay is modelled onto the junction between the wall and rim.

rounding edges
The sharp edges of the rim are rounded.

drainage holes bonsai pot
The drainage holes are pierced into the bottom of the pot.

fixation holes bonsai pot
Fixation holes are drilled.

smooth surface sponge
The surface of the clay is smoothed with a moist sponge.

Attach pot feet
The feet are attached with the help of slurry.

cubes clay
Four little clay cubes are attached to keep the bottom from sagging during the drying process. The pot must dry slowly because otherwise the pot will break.

bisque fired bonsai pot
The pot has been bisque-fired after drying. Now the glaze is applied. The color will change completely during the glaze-firing process.

Glaze applied
Glaze applied.

Bonsai pot after glaze firing
The pot is ready after glaze-firing.

Bonsai planted in the new bonsai pot
A red hawthorn was planted into the pot.

Photos of the kiln

For firing the created pots after drying, a special pottery kiln is required. There are many different kiln types, shapes, sizes and firing methods, like electric kilns, gas kilns and woodfired kilns.

Generally the bonsai tree pots are fired twice. The first firing process, called bisque firing, takes place at approximately 800 – 900° C. Afterwards a glaze can be applied, if desired. The second firing process (stone ware firing) must go up to 1200 – 1300° C in order to achieve perfectly frost-resistant pots. In the following pictures you see Erwin Grzesinski's electric kiln.

The kiln (bonsai pots)
Erwin's kiln in a cellar room. Regard the electric power line and the exhaust pipe.

Kiln's controls
The kiln's controls.

bottom layer of pots
The bottom layer of pots and glaze tests loaded into the kiln for firing.

Middle layer of pot
A fireclay board has been added and the middle layer of pots etc. is placed upon it inside the kiln.

Fireclay board
A second fireclay board has been set in and the top layer of pots is placed on it. The inside dimensions of the kiln are 21" by 21" (54cm x 54cm).

Before and after glazing, three examples

Glazes are an interesting subject within Bonsai pottery. Newcomers will use ready-made glazes while professionals prefer to develop glazes of their own. At the beginning it might be astonishing that the colour of the applied glaze has hardly any resemblance to the glaze colour after firing. The glaze must be appropriate for the firing temperature for achieving the expected results. A good knowledge of chemical processes is useful.

The following photographs show a few examples of glazed pots before and after glaze firing.

Before
After
Bonsai pot; before glazing
Bonsai pot, after glaze
Bonsai pot, before
Bonsai pot, after

Documented by Erwin Grzesinski and written by Heike van Gunst. Erwin Grzesinski, born in 1954, studied architecture and in his professional life restored churches and - among other things - worked in the building materials business. Besides artistic hobbies like carving soap stone figurines, he has been making Bonsai since 1995 and Bonsai ceramics and accent pots since 1996. Over the years pottery became more prominent and meanwhile Erwin has a considerable number of customers among Bonsai enthusiasts and artists from Germany and abroad. As he mostly works on order and can't produce great numbers of pots because of limited capacities, his pots are generally not found at Bonsai traders (website). Heike van Gunst (from Hamburg, Germany) has been growing Bonsai for more than 30 years. She has gained manifold skills in training and caring for diverse species and has developed a passion for Bonsai pots and display. Writing and translating Bonsai articles and Bonsai book translations are her special subject.

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