Repurposing A Ceiling Fan Into A Pottery Wheel

The wheel goes round and round as does [Lou Wozniak]. He’s come back to us, this time hacking together a pottery wheel from a cheap ceiling fan. This is a great use for a discarded or inexpensive fan and the build should cost less than $50. As you watch the video you learn that repurposing the ceiling fan was no simple feat. Lucky for us [Lou] spins through detailed construction procedures and doesn’t fail to cover every tip and trick. He really does think outside the box or should we say inside the bucket and peanut butter jar. The fan gets dismantled as well as rewired inside a 5 gallon bucket which is used as the pottery wheel housing and stand. A plastic peanut butter jar was used as a makeshift electrical junction box inside the bucket. He remounted the motor’s string operated speed switch on the side of the jar and routed the pull string out the side of the bucket. The fan motor should have three or four switch speed settings which might be enough control. If continuous variable speed control is desired he could add in a controller similar to [Ben Krasnow’s] AC controller using one pin on a microcontrollerUPDATE: [AKA the A] tells us in a comment below that this controller won’t work with a ceiling fan, but we still really like [Ben’s] project so we’re leaving this link here.

Most potters use significant amounts of water to wet the clay while they throw, so we have reservations about having the high voltages and open motor design directly under the wheel with no shielding. We know [Lou] could easily hack in a splash pan and of course always plug into a ground fault protected receptacle when using electrical appliances around water.

We do get to see the wheel in operation at the end of the video, which you can watch after the break. However, [Lou] makes no claims at being a pottery artisan.

Discarded ceiling fans have sparked more than one hacker’s imagination when a custom drive platform is needed. Check out how [Jeremiah] used a GoPro and a ceiling fan to create Matrix movie style footage in “Bullet time with a ceiling fan

29 thoughts on “Repurposing A Ceiling Fan Into A Pottery Wheel

  1. The “AC controller” from the link uses a triac, which will control jack shit with an induction motor the fan uses, this would only work for a series wound (also known as universal, since they don’t care if you feed them AC or DC) motors…

    1. Darn! Palm meets face. I should’ve realized that when I was referencing the link. That will teach me to do a better job reviewing content. I was just geeking out about Ben’s controller so much I didn’t engage my mind. Thank you, it is feedback like this that helps the readers and writers.

    1. Exactly! Notice the skull and crossbones in the Hackaday logo :-)

      Seriously, it isn’t as bad as all that. The wheel is intentionally mounted 1/2 inch down in the bucket, to catch spraying water and slip. Mount it deeper, if you want. The motor is mounted under a spinning umbrella. I think it will stay pretty dry. Plug it into a GFI if you want to be extra safe.

      1. The bucket is going to fill with water, a GFCI (which wasn’t even suggested in the video) isn’t a primary safety device, a drilled out peanut butter jar is hardly a proper NEMA/IP rated enclosure, a drilled piece of wood is hardly a water shield, using an open motor vs TEFC… I appreciate you putting the time into making the video but this build is irresponsible. Yes, it sort of works but that still doesn’t make it a good idea.

        1. I could be wrong, but I don’t think there is typically enough water used to fill a bucket. It will get a little in the bottom, but that should dry out between uses. You can drill a hole in the side of the bucket, 3 inches up the side, as an overflow, if the water ever builds up. You can use an approved enclosure, if you like. The PB jar keeps water out, just fine, for me, as does the spinning wheel. In fact, after using much water and really wet clay, the motor is bone dry. That is proof enough for me.

          1. Proof enough for you is up to you Lou. But when you put this out on youTube you put others at risk. Please add a disclaimer to your video so you can at least claim it is an informed risk. The two good points about your design are that it’s insulated with a floating ground. A floating ground isn’t normally a good thing. Please also add the GFI recommendation, it wasn’t in your video. Sealing the motor plate would help but would also make the motor over heat faster.
            Not saying this in a mean spirit, just out of concern.

    1. Not a bad recommendation, but the chance of injury depends how strong the person is. I’m reminded when HS wood shop instructor was demonstrating how to rip board with a radial arm saw just to show how to do it safely if that’s the only power tool at your disposal. He made a point to be sure we understood from what direction to feed the wood into the blade. Turns out a bear of an oilfield worker attending a night class feed the board backwards fighting the saw trying to pull the board away from him

  2. As an amateur potter, I can tell you that this wheel will not have the power to handle anything other than the most tiny amounts of extremely wet clay (the clay he is using is way too wet to hold together once it is pulled more than 4 inches tall). Centering enough clay to make even a mug requires quite a bit of torque from the motor as the potter is PUSHING both down and in on the clay. Fully variable speed control is also essential as the higher you pull the clay and/or the wider you pull it (think a flared edge bowl), the slower the wheel must to in order to not have the clay rip itself apart via centripetal force. Final cleanup of a form before cutting it off the wheel needs the rotation speed to be down to a couple of RPMs only. I think Lou has a great start, but he is going to have to switch to a higher torque motor and get a speed controller if he wants to do anything other than frustrate himself. He will also want to change the wheel head to metal, as the wood will warp and rot due to the moisture, as well as give him splinters from hell.

    1. Indeed. A ceiling fan motor is about the worst possible motor to use for this application. If you want to use a salvaged motor, one from a treadmill is practically perfect. Not only do they come with a speed controller, but they provide incredible torque at slow speeds and spin fast enough to allow you to gear them down for even greater torque and finer speed control.

      1. @r4k, That is an excellent recommendation. I too have repurposed treadmill motors and they are small, good torque and very easy to control speed from the dc controller board. Thanks for jumping in with your comment.

      2. I totally agree. Treadmill motors rock!. Unfortunately, they are also expensive. A cheap treadmill is $500, whereas a cheap ceiling fan is $30. If you have to spend that much money, just buy a pottery wheel. Of course, if you are lucky enough to find a scrap treadmill, go for it. Cheap ceiling fans exist at every hardware store.

  3. While in any event it would be a good idea to add a safety ground conductor and plug it into a GFCI circuit. A neat idea, but how to make it safer yet? As is is the hack introduce cooling issues for the motor, so how to shield the motor from the wet stuff adding more motor cooling issues? A plat under the platter that could drain to outside the bucket could be a first step. A water tight electrical box in place of the plastic jar couldn’t hurt anything

  4. Bitchin’ hack – I’m impressed with the creative steps taken, and the well edited video documentation. While it may not meet “safety regulations”, it’s still a good hack, and worthy of HaD and the Jolly Roger stamp. Keep on’ hackin’, Lou!

  5. As an amateur potter, I’m impressed with the attempt, but a ceiling fan doesn’t have the torque you need to center even a pound of clay. The moisture dripping down on that motor makes the EE in me deathly afraid. There is no way to make this thing safe. Most wheels have an offset motor attached to the wheelhead with a stepdown (little pulley on the motor, big pulley on the head). Being in the circuit of 120VAC running at 60 Hz is going the throw off your fine motor skills. Gotta admire the desire, and I respect the need to create. But unless you’re trying to turn an act of creation into an act of suicide, do not do this.

    1. Trust me, there is plenty of torque. It takes a lot to move five 24-inch fan blades through the air. There is no moisture dripping down on the motor. After several uses, it is bone dry, because it is under a centrifuge umbrella. The EE in me is not afraid. The rookie potter, however, has much to learn.

  6. Some types of induction motors are not as affected by water as one might think they would be. Especially induction motors that do not contain centrifugal starting switches. Those kinds of induction motors you could run underwater if you wanted to. Because those motors work via “induction”, and nothing else. Past that they are completely insulated, except perhaps where you connect power to the motor. That you could deal with using some liquid rubber insulation.

    Drive through enough automatic car washes and you might be treated to the sight of some open frame motors happily working in a splash environment. You shouldn’t see those there, but you still might.

    1. Sadly, due to their inefficiencies, I’d deduct that there aren’t too many induction motors in ceiling fans.
      I heard of a guy that wired his garbage disposal up reversing the neutral and wiring the hot to the stainless steel sink as a “ground” . They got a divorce after that.
      I wonder if you could make an inductor based pottery wheel. Magnets in the wheel head. Might be efficient enough. That one might make it on my project list.

        1. I stand corrected on the motor, but not the safety issues.

          The induction motor used in ceiling fans may be resistant to some moisture depending on its construction, but the controller is not. Unless you’ve added an opto-isolated controller to your induction motor, it’s unsafe. I’ve repaired my ceiling fan and I can definitely say that the switch is not meant for a moist environment.

          1. What controller do you speak of? There are only two plastic sealed capacitors. Please understand that none of this stuff is going to be immersed in water. There may be some extra humidity, but the PB jar will block some of that. I will add the suggestion that this be plugged into a GFI. I will also suggest that a hole be drilled three inches up the side of the bucket as an overflow, if water ever builds up to that point. I am curious, assuming a GFI and overflow hole, what is the worst possible outcome you can see with this design?

  7. I’m surprised this build works as intended. Ceiling fan motors aren’t known for their torque – one can stop them easily with the hand at the hub – where the mechanical advantage in minimized. From experience, sometimes quite a bit of force is used to shape clay on a wheel. I see this thing jamming up when in use… especially without any kind of gearing.

  8. Lou, Your design is excellent. Any design can be picked apart.
    Have you come to any conclusion about the cheapest/best way to slow the thing down…if that is actually needed. I am building a number of production jigger pottery wheels which have only a knife template touching the clay surface to smooth it down into the plate or bowl mold,thus there is very little touch friction force at the required low speed.
    Please advise

  9. I thought this was awesome. Can’t believe all the negativity here. If you want to preach safety go start your own blog or youtube channel or what not. This gave me a ton of ideas for my own project, and I think that is the point of posting things like this, not so that a bunch of naysayers can whine about it from their living rooms.

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