Handles are such an important part of pottery. They can make or break your pot (literally!). The different pottery handles techniques vary a lot in their difficulty and the style of handle that results. This article covers the main different types of handles, and how to make pottery handles in a few different ways.
How to make handles for pottery
Making handles for your pottery can add to the functionality of the piece, add decoration, or both. There are many styles and techniques to choose from for making pottery handles, but the basic idea is the same: a small piece of clay that is applied or attached to a pot that allows the vessel to be carried.
It is very important to make a handle that will be comfortable for your pottery user. The handle should be able to withstand the weight of a heavy pot (if necessary), be easy to grip, be well-constructed, and be pleasing aesthetically.
Before you make your pottery handle, you will need to make some decisions about the size and shape of it. A handle should always be strong enough to support the weight of the piece, and if it will be used to carry things, the handle should be strong enough to lift the piece plus its contents.
There are three basic types of pottery handles you can make, and many different ways to make them. This article briefly discusses the basic forms of handles, and then describes the main ways that are commonly used to construct them.
Types of pottery handles
There are three basic types of pottery handles:
- A loop handle: A loop handle is made separately from the main ceramic piece and is shaped with enough space between it and the object so that it can be held by a hand looped through the handle. This is the typical style used for a mug handle, a jug handle or a teapot handle.
- A lug handle: A lug handle, in contrast, does not have enough space for a hand to fit inside it, and functions as a handle by being gripped. There may or may not be space between it and the side of the vessel. These can be made in two ways, either separately (as the loop handle), or It can be made in two ways, either by making the lug separately and attaching it or by attaching a piece of clay to the main body, and pulling or shaping it while it is attached.
- A knob handle: this type of handle is commonly used for pot lids, but can also be used as handles on the sides of vessels. Knob handles would usually be formed separate from the main vessel and attached when complete.
To decide what type of handle suits the vessel you have made, consider that some types of handles are not as functional as others. For example, a lug handle may not be as easy to grip as a loop handle, and so not so suitable for an item like a coffee cup or teapot where the handle is used frequently, and may cause injury if the user was unable to grip it sufficiently well.
Techniques for creating a pottery handle loops
Usually, loop handles are generally flat. However, sometimes round, square, or triangular handles are employed for more creative pieces. Consider the perfect handle shape for your piece before you select the technique appropriate to make it.
In general when making a pottery handle, the clay should be around the same thickness as the walls of the pots they will be attached to, and should be made of the same clay body as the pot. This will help to avoid problems that could occur once the handle is attached due to different shrinkage and expansion rates.
When making handles from pottery, always start with wedged clay to remove any air bubbles.
There are 5 main ways to create a loop handle.
1. Hand built loop handles
Probably the simplest way to make a handle is to form it from a lump of clay using a hand building technique. Two of the fundamental ways to do this are:
- Slab built handles: Roll out a soft slab of clay, and cut into straps around an inch wide. This is a good way to create many handles at once.
- Coil built handles: To make a coil handle, take a ball of wedged clay, and roll it out gently on a plaster bat until it is the right length and thickness.
2. Pulled handles
Ceramic pull handles are attractive for many reasons, but mostly they work well, as their design is strong and robust. The action of pulling the handle aligns the clay particles, which strengthens the clay, forming a stronger handle. In addition, the aesthetics of handles created this way is often more flowing and organic-looking.
The basic technique to make a pulled handle is to take a ball of clay, pat it into a carrot shape, wet the clay and start to pull it downwards to create the handle shape. It will usually take several pulls to form a handle.
You can throw the handle down onto a plaster bat to flatten it on one or more sides.
For a more detailed tutorial, see this article: Pulling handles – how to pull handles for pottery.
Pulling handles takes some practice. For an easier way, it is also possible to make a handle using a combination of coiling and pulling, so that the main form of the handle is created by coiling, and then the final shape is refined using pulling. Here is a video of potter Ben Carter demonstrating this technique: How to make refined handles.
3. Thrown handles
Throwing handles is a good way to make hollow handles. It may take some practice to throw a long thin cylinder, but it is a very satisfying way to make a handle. This is how to make hollow handles for pottery.
Another great way to create a handle on the wheel is to carefully slice the top off the pot on the wheel. The removed ring will be the perfect thickness to create a handle for the pot.
4. Extruded handles
A quick and simple way to make handles is by using a clay extruder. Extruders come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and styles, from small handheld units to large, wall-mounted machines. However a small hand held unit should be sufficient for making handles.
To create an extruded handle, select a disk of the size and style you want, fill the extruder with soft clay, and press out until you have the right length.
Some extruders have a disk to make hollow handles.
If you want to make a lot of handles with the same design (eg for a set of mugs) then a good way to make them is to create a plaster cast and cast the handles from slip.
How to make lug handles
Lug handles can be made using any of the techniques described above, and then attached to the main body. However, an alternate way to make lug handles is to form them on the vessel itself.
You can either attach a small piece of clay and use that to shape the handle, or you can indent the side of the pot and pinch the handle out.
How to make a knob handle
Knob handles can be crafted in many different ways, however the typical way to make knobs is to thrown them on the wheel. The technique used is called throwing off the hump, where you start with a large centred piece of clay, and section off small pieces at the top and create a series of knobs one at a time.
This is demonstrated by Jessica Putnam-Phillips in this video: Throwing knobs off the hump!
Throwing knobs on the wheel allows knobs of a consistent size and shape to be created. You can, however, also handbuild pottery knobs for a more organic unique look.
Finishing Shaping and setting pottery handles
Once you have created your handle, you will need to shape it and set it. First smooth sharp edges using a damp sponge or chamois leather.
To do this you can place it so it is hanging over the edge of a table, and then leave it to air dry until leather hard.
Once your handle has set, trim off any excess clay then you are ready to attach it.
See this post for a detailed tutorial: How to attach pottery handles.