Monday, 23 January 2012

Making Handles

I’ve been making small cream or milk jugs recently. These are about the size of a mug, just enough for serving milk with tea for instance and for general purpose around the kitchen. I was inspired by the ‘penguin’ silhouette I’ve been throwing recently (see my last post) which suggested to me it would make a very nice simple jug shape on a smaller scale. So I thought I’d make a test batch: and I decided the design of this type of jug really would benefit from a handle.

Handles are one of those additions that I both enjoy and feel nervous about, however many times I make them. I’m not sure why that should be: perhaps I’ve inherited a phobia or paranoia caused by other people saying they’re difficult to do and get right. Thankfully I got the hang of handles fairly early on in my making (unlike some other methods – I can’t make pinch pots at all for example!) I was shown a simple but effective method, which I’ve adapted and now I’m very comfortable using. It has its limits, but so far I’ve had none of that ‘my handles never work’ business that other people complain of. Touch wood! I don’t want to tempt fate but my method rarely causes cracks, broken or weak handles.

My method for making handles is to take a small blob of clay and roll out a coil as you would for making a coil pot. I make sure the coil is absolutely cylindrical and smooth before gently squashing it flat between two wooden boards. This creates a flattened strip. I then smooth and stretch this strip of clay on both sides using my fingertip, turning it over each time until I get the thickness and width I want. Then I trim the ends to a standard length before bending it into shape. I always make a couple more extra handles than I need in case of accidents and for a bit of choice (they never look completely identical!) Finally I put them on a wooden board on their ‘sides’ to dry (I used to put them ‘upright’ but I found this could make the shapes sag or crack). In the meantime I turn the base of the jugs or pots I plan to add the handles to, and when I’m finished I usually find the handles are ready to fix.

Of course it’s not the only way to make handles, but I find it works very well for my needs at the moment! As you can see from the last picture on this post I often use the base of the handle as a place to put my personalised stamp: it helps fix the handle a bit more and provides a nice softer area of clay to make the impression. To ensure the handles get a good chance to adhere without cracking or sagging I also turn the pots upside-down to dry. This means gravity works with the sweep of the handle rather than against it, keeping its shape. Secretly I suspect most people’s problems with handles are to do with this drying stage rather than any other: as long as the body of the pot dries out at about the same pace as the handle, it all should work!

Nevertheless I still worry about my handles and hope they all work out OK. No way of knowing until the pots are completely finished…


  1. Hello Jude,

    I love the shape of your works very clean.
    I would like to ask you a question,
    perhaps silly: you're using refattaria clay?
    Maybe you've already said in the blog,
    but I have not had the pleasure to read everything now.

    1. Hi there, thanks for all your lovely comments recently. I'm not sure what you mean by 'refattaria' clay - unless you mean refractory/fire clay...?
      I use normal stoneware clay rich in iron available from a pottery suppliers in the UK. It's a mid temperature range clay for general use by crafts people.
      Hope that helps.

  2. Forgive me Jude, but when I need to use technical terms
    in English language, I'm not able to do it ...
    "Refrattaria clay " for me is a half of unbaked clay
    and clay half cooked in this way is a type of clay more resistent.

    So yes!
    I Think that the italian word "Refrattaria"
    is the same of the English word "Refractory".

    Thank you a lot for the help,
    now I have understanded what is the clay you use
    for your wonderful works.

    Forgive my curiosity, but I'd like very much to know work the clay...
    Thank you a lot for your patience with me.

    1. My pleasure! Thank you for your comments! Perhaps one day I should write a post about the different types of clay...?! Hope you get inspired to have a go at making with clay too!