Make Your Own Handles


Handles aren't necessary to any piece of pottery; a cup can still hold water even without a handle. But a cup will never be as inviting as a mug. Nothing will say “fill me with scalding hot coffee and carry me like a shield against the horrors of the office” like a good sturdy handle. In our mug-making tip, we talked about what makes a handle aesthetic and comfortable, so now it's time to talk about how to make them.


Let's start with the easiest, most straightforward technique - extrusion. Obviously, the first thing you will need is an extruder and a die in the shape you would like your handle to be (I would recommend something simple, oblong and slightly larger than you think will be comfortable). Follow the manufacturer's instructions for setting up your extruder and die then extrude a long rope and lay it flat on a clean board. Wait 10-30 minutes for it to dry enough to handle without leaving fingerprints.

Once your rope is a soft leather-hard, start cutting your handles off. You will have to cut them at least one-and-a-half times longer than their intended height so they can stand off of the cup far enough to allow 2 or 3 fingers to fit. Cut the rope outward at 45 degree angles outward, so the bottom (which will be the inside of the handle) will be longer than the outside. Now pick up the piece you have cut and shape it into a handle by gently bring the ends under the middle so that the whole handle is standing on them, like an arch or part of a loop. If the handle holds its shape then let it dry for another 10-30 minutes until it is stiffer, but not quite fully leather-hard. If it can't hold its shape when you stand it up, then lay it flat again and let it dry some more.

To attach, use a needle tool to score the ends of the handle, and score the pot where the handle will attach. Use water, distilled vinegar or slip (a liquid clay you can make by dissolving your clay scraps in water overnight) to moisten the scored attachment points. Hold the handle in one hand and support the inside of the mug with the other. Press the ends of the handle firmly into the scored spots on the mug, but not so hard that you deform the mug or handle. Smooth the edges and cover the whole thing with plastic for at least 24 hours before allowing to dry. For best results, the handle and mug should both be leather-hard.


Pulling a handle by hand is almost as easy as the extruding it, and also gives your handle a unique character. Start by rolling out a thick coil of clay (about one inch in diameter) and cut it down to a length about the size of your handle or longer, so long as it is comfortable to work with. Now shape it into a carrot by rolling it on the table and pressing slightly harder on one end.

Take the fat end of the clay carrot in the hand opposite your dominant hand (so your left hand if you are right-handed) and dip it in water, then dip your dominant hand in water too (this process requires everything to be pretty wet and slippery). Hold the carrot with the narrow end pointing down, take your dominant hand and start gently squeezing, while sliding down to pull the carrot into a handle, this will have to be repeated several times for one or two minutes. Don't try to make it perfectly round or flat or oblong, let it take the natural shape of your fingers; this is what will make your handles unique.

To dry, simply take the fat end in your non-dominant hand and press it onto the end of a table with the handle hanging down over the edge and let dry for 20 minutes to an hour (it will be wetter than the extruded rope was). Then follow the same instructions for shaping and attaching as the extruded handles.


Once you have the basics of shaping and attaching extruded and pulled handles, don't stop with just two. You can make handles in all shapes and sizes. You can cut them out of slabs, or throw them on the wheel. You could take cookie cutters and use them to cut handles in the shapes of Christmas trees or gingerbread men. Make handles that are square on the outside and round on the inside, or serve double duty as a straw. The sky is the limit when it comes to handles.