Ceramic Art Trends, Tools, and Techniques for Potters Worldwide


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How to Pull Great Handles

By Cindy Strnad

From the May/June 1998 issue of Clay Times

Have you noticed how some handles look like they grew out of the pot, and some handles look like the potter stuck them on as an afterthought?

We all know potters who feel coffee cups and beer steins are better off without handles. Be that as it may, no potter should be stuck in the no-handle camp against her will. To make handles that "grow" from the mug, follow these instructions . . . about 100 times. Actually, you may want to practice pulling handles from plastic or glass tumblers, or anything roughly cup-shaped that can't defend itself. That way, you can become proficient without sacrificing so many mugs.

The sizes mentioned assume you're making three- to five-inch handles. Adjust sizes for larger or smaller ware.

· Start with clay of moderate moisture content. Wedge and knead well. Pulling good handles with ill- prepared clay is nearly impossible.

· Take a baseball-sized lump of clay and roll it into a coil the thickness of a hot dog. Cut the coil into two- to three-inch sections.

· Roll each section into a fat, stubby, blunt-tipped carrot shape. Flatten the wide lateral surfaces of your future handles by slapping them down gently against your kneading board. If you wish, flatten the edges by tapping. Flatten the large end of the handle (which will attach to the top of the mug) by tapping.

You now have a handle blank. Repeat until you have enough to attach to all your mugs. Mugs should be stiff leather hard from top to bottom. After throwing, turn mugs over as soon as possible. Place them in loose plastic bags or a damp box as necessary for even drying.

· Some potters advocate scoring and slipping the handle attachment to prevent handles from cracking away from the pot.

Sometimes I use vinegar in a spray bottle to improve adhesion, but I don't slip or score. You may find, with differences in clay, that you need to take these extra steps.

Dip the handle blank in water. While supporting the inside of the mug with your free hand, push the handle end against the wall of the mug. I attach a bit below the rim. Attaching a handle to the rim can cause the rim to tear during drying.

Wiggle the handle a little against the cup wall to form a stronger bond. Using a reverse handle-pulling motion (rather like "throwing downward"), ease some of the clay of the handle blank toward the mug and use this clay to smooth over the attachment. When you have smoothed all edges of the attachment in this manner, you're ready to pull the handle.

· Hold a cup in your free hand so that the opening faces you and the handle blank extends downward. Wet your other hand. Hold thumb and first finger in a narrow, sideways "V" with the handle blank between them. Gently squeezing, pull downward until you reach the end of the handle blank.

After two or three pulls, turn the cup so that you can comfortably grasp the handle from the opposite side, then repeat the pulling process from that angle. Keep handle and hand wet. Alternate directions every few strokes, until the handle reaches the desired thinness and length. Alternating directions keeps the handle from growing crooked.

While pulling the handle, adjust your fingers in such a way as to form a gentle taper at the edges of the handle. Every two or three strokes, slide your thumb or knuckle around the attachment to smooth it and keep it level and well-formed.

Note: Don't get the handle too thin, and do work quickly. A handle should take less than a minute to pull. Work too slowly, and you'll have a limp, floppy, spindly handle. You can sometimes revive handles like this by drying them for a few moments with a torch or heat gun after they are attached.

Curve the handle around and tentatively apply the end to the bottom of the mug. You will probably need to pinch off a small amount from the end to get the length right. Handles should curve out from the mug far enough to allow fingers to fit comfortably, but should not stand out like big ears.

Turn the mug so the handle faces you and adjust to make the bottom of the handle lie directly below the top. Smooth the bottom attachment. Turn the mug sideways, and adjust the curve of the handle to your preference. Try for a smooth, continuous curve from top to bottom.

You may need to dry your completed mugs under plastic or in a damp box, at least until the moisture content of the handle and mug equalize. This will minimize the chances of cracks at handle attachments.

Now that you know how to pull elegant handles, you'll likely find yourself making pitchers and coffee pots and tea cups. The principles are the same-only the sizes and shapes of the handles change.

Flat handles are comfortable to hold, but not all handles need be flat. Try making round, square, and triangular handles for special pieces. Just shape your handle blanks accordingly, then maintain the shape by the way you hold your fingers during pulling.

Do you remember those handles that look as though they grew from their pots? Well, they probably did. And now, with a little practice, your handles can grow in the same natural way.

1. Roll each section into a fat, stubby, blunt-tipped carrot shape.

2. Score both areas of the handle and cup where joins will meet. Apply slip; attach.

3. Press firmly when attaching (but not too hard or you'll deform mug and handle.)

4. Smooth out clay at edges of join to prevent cracking.

5. Tilt mug so handle hangs downward and begin pulling handle with wet hands.

6. Keep handle well-formed with even strokes.

7. Make sure handle grows out from the mug in a straight line.

8. Examine handle placement and score areas where lower join will take place. Be sure it is in a straight line below upper join or handle will be crooked. Curve handle around and attach lower end to mug. Smooth join.

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