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Easy, Basic and Fun Steps to Throw on a Wheel- Part 3 - Pulling Handles

Updated on January 6, 2017

Pulling and Attaching Handles

Literally Pulling the Clay to Get the Correct Length, Thickness and Shape - Examples 1

This is about how the clay will appear as you start pulling
This is about how the clay will appear as you start pulling | Source

Various Ways to attach the Proposed Handle

Technique I Use to Attach the Handle-Scoring - Picture 4

There is always a bit of estimation on the appropriate length- which is why I suggest practicing but once ready to attach, I score/rough up area(s) I will be attaching the two ends
There is always a bit of estimation on the appropriate length- which is why I suggest practicing but once ready to attach, I score/rough up area(s) I will be attaching the two ends | Source

More Examples of Attachment

Gently attaching the ends of handle to main piece.
Gently attaching the ends of handle to main piece.

Consistency- When Making a Set of Cups for Example.

Here is why practice is important = to increase the ease to produce identical handles when doing sets of mugs, teapots, pitchers, etc.
Here is why practice is important = to increase the ease to produce identical handles when doing sets of mugs, teapots, pitchers, etc.

Pulling Handles is Fun But Requires Some Practice

I am using one single article to deal with the pulling of handles. It is fun and once mastered, gives the potter more variety with potential clay pieces. I would recommend even before having a cup or pitcher as your final product that you simply take a piece of clay, learning how to pull it in various sizes and shapes. This usually will not take too much time, depending on your confidence level.

I would also recommend creating a "quick" pot, not trim it and then use it to practice attaching a handle to the piece. By doing this, you will save lots of time when you go to create your first "official" handled creation.

Take a well wedged piece of clay and roll it into a conical shape. The pointed end should be pointing down. The clay should be malleable but you must dampen the area that you will pull to make the pulling go easier. Now you simply start pulling down - almost like milking a cow. Keep the clay moist and keep elongating the clay by your pulling action. The first two pictures in Examples 1 demonstrate fairly well what this will look like.

As the clay elongates, begin using less squeezing pressure or you will make the handle too thin or pull the "tongue" from the mass of the clay. Remember, keep the clay well moistened. Once you think you have enough to work with, shape the handle as you would like it. Let's keep it simple right now. If I want a flatter handle, I will use my thumb on one side and fingers on the other and apply EVEN but appropriate and gentle pressure to flatten it a bit. The length, thickness and shape will depend on what you are making the handle for.

A common method in making handles is once you get enough length to work with, you fold the handle around and semi-attach it to the ball of clay you are pulling the handle from. If this is the only handle you are making at the time, you can gently put the ball of clay and handle aside until it dries/hardens a little so you can, in a short period of time, do the final attaching to the main piece.

When you fold and form the handle, it is important to have the moisture "just right". If the clay is too dry, it will crack as you bend it. If it is too moist, it will not sustain the shape you want and collapse. AGAIN, this is why I suggest a little practice. It does not take long to correctly evaluate the correct moisture. Like all the steps, handle making is fun and if something goes wrong, it becomes quite easy to make another. What I liked to do in the beginning was make a rough unfinished pot or cup and use it to practice attaching handles. It is an easy and speedy way to practice and not ruin finished pieces.

Once the clay/handle has sufficiently hardened, it is now time to cut it away from the ball of clay you were pulling from. A clay cutting tool is used to make a clean straight cut. If in doubt, it is better to leave a little extra clay attached to the handle as it is easy to either work the extra into the main body or slice a little more away.

Grasping the handle gently on the side, you want to place the handle in the position where the final attachment will be. You take the scoring/needle tool and outline where the attachment will occur. Put the handle aside and "rough-up"/score where the handle will attach. Please see Picture 4 I have as an example. I moisten the scored area and the ends of the handles that will attach to the piece and simply put the handle ends to the appropriate scored area. Now it is a simple matter of gently smoothing the handle ends into the main body. It does not have to be perfect but you do want a complete seal. If a prospective receiver of the finished product wants a "perfect" looking attachment, I would suggest sending them to K-Mart or Wal-Mart to get a cookie-cutter, uninspired piece from them. I personally like a piece that shows individuality. Of course, you are the artist in control of your piece so that decision is yours.

Probably a good practice to follow is when you have the handle attached, have a very moist mixture of clay and water called slip ready to smooth/paint/work-in to attachment area. This always gives a nice finished look without losing the individual aspect I like and believe makes a clay piece individualistic and beautiful.

As in all the steps I have gone over in all three articles so far, they are just that: basic and an outline. Your own "outline and technique: will come with experience and the resulting confidence. Reading the steps are one thing but for me, nothing really jells or really makes real sense until I "do it". That was and is true of my studies in chemistry, pharmacy, ballet and art. One can extrapolate that belief to almost all areas of life.

Remember, mistakes in pottery are a good thing as they teach so much. I guarantee few things in life but I can guarantee you that if you couple your learning with patience and fun, you will be a huge success in ceramics!


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    • Peter Grujic profile image

      Peter Alexander 9 months ago from Pittsburgh

      Thanks James- Thanks for the feedback. Glad my article helped. Making handles is more than just learning technique. It involves "feeling" when the result is correct which just requires a little practice.

      Gook luck in your pottery journey.

    • profile image

      James Robinson 9 months ago

      Thanks for the good advice. I practiced making handles as you suggested and when I got to the point where I could almost do it automatically , I made a nice set of handles for a set of 8 cups . The same with just a little originality on each one.

      I enjoyed the article.

    • Peter Grujic profile image

      Peter Alexander 13 months ago from Pittsburgh

      That is one of the best feedbacks I have ever received. Making a positive change in someone's life because of something one wrote is a great thing.

      Continued success with your pottery journey.

    • profile image

      Susan Thomas 13 months ago

      I was having trouble pulling handles until I read you article. Now I am having success.


    • Peter Grujic profile image

      Peter Alexander 22 months ago from Pittsburgh

      Hi Tom - Thank you for reading my article and your insight into your personal experience with pottery. Having been the professors teachers aid and from my own experience on the wheel I can say confidently that when you have fun on the wheel, your confidence increases and you control the clay and it does not control you. Thanks and keep me posted how you do with your pottery journey.

    • profile image

      Tom Bronson 22 months ago

      Hi Peter - I read your article and tried your suggestions. As you said, it becomes easy with practice. I agree with you that having fun makes a big positive difference-


    • Peter Grujic profile image

      Peter Alexander 2 years ago from Pittsburgh

      Hi tommy- I read your second comment first- glad you liked the articles. Again, keep me posted with how you are doing and anytime you wish to share something with me that improves my techniques, I will enjoy learning that!

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      Tommy Benson 2 years ago

      I enjoyed reading your article. I also think when you do things with the sense of fun that you learn better. I look forward to reading your other articles. I started a ceramic class a few weeks ago and will use your advise. Thanks.