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Handbuilding in Clay

Updated on June 23, 2012


Welcome to The Kiln Goddess' Clay Pit for Handbuilding in Clay. Explore some handbuilding techniques, projects and resources for the clay artist and potter. Some of these techniques have been in use since man first touched clay, creating both pottery and art. So come and touch your hand to clay and add your chapter to the ceramic story of man.

This lens is always a work in progress, new stuff added often, your feedback is appreciated.

Pinch Pots

The techniques used to make pinch pots is one of the oldest methods for making clay vessels. The results can be primative or very symmetrical and fine. Some fall in love with this method as it requires no other tool than your own two hands. Pinch pots can be small, made with the pinching of fingers and thumb or can be large, made by pinching the clay between fists. Whatever the size, this method has stood the test of time and is still used today by functional and decorative potters and clay artists the world over.

Art and Artists, Pots and Potters - Pinching Method

My most admired pinch pot artist is Roddy Brownlee Reed, his pinch pots are so amazing. Sadly, his website went down after his death and very few example or his work can be found on the web. I first came across his little gems of pottery was at an outdoor show while I was in college. I went back an inquired about them to me pottery professor as I wondered as to the symmetry of Reed's pots, up to that point pinch pots I had seen were fun primitive clay expression. If you have the chance to take a look at one of his pots do so they are wonderful. Here are other artists whose work can be admired online:

Basic Handbuilding Tools from Dick Blick

This is your basic kit that you will need to start handbuilding in clay. Add to this a soft steel fettling knife and you are ready to start creating in clay.

Kemper Pottery Tool Kit

Quality tools of finest stainless steel and select, smooth hardwood. Includes a potter's rib, steel scraper, wood modeling tool, needle tool, ribbon tool, loop tool, sponge, and wire clay cutter.

Kemper Fettling Knives

Use these knives to trim, carve, remove mold marks and sculpt ceramics, greenware, styrofoam, and more. The softer steel blade is flexible enough to bend while the harder is a tempered steel blade with the same feel as other conventional blades. Blades are 4" (102 mm) long, total length 8" (203 mm).

Solid Build Up Project

This method is one of my favorite ways of handbuilding small sculptures. The method can also be used to make larger forms too.

Take a solid lump of moist clay the size you need for your project. Start to move the clay around with your fingers and thumbs to get the roughed out shape you want. If I was doing a face I would pinch up a nose and chin. Push in the eye sockets, start to define the brow and cheek bones. Continue until you have the form you want. Then come back and carve and refine your form with tools. Carve out the eyes and lids, define a mouth, carve the nostrils, carve out the ears and texturize the hair. Smooth rough places with your fingers until you are happy with your creation.

If we fired the resulting solid form now it would likely crack or blow up in the kiln.

So we let it dry a bit and let it get to leatherhard. Leatherhard is when the clay firms up a bit. Your light touch on the clay doesn't imprint marks on the clay anymore. The clay is still moist enough tho to cut with a fettling knife. And that is what we do. We cut the form so to hollow out the form. Cut it somewhere where the details of the form will not be marred. Then take a ribbon tool and carve out the clay, be careful not to carve thru the wall. You want to carve so that your walls are an approx. 1/4 to 1/2 in. thick.

Now we need to put it back together. We slip and score the two cut surfaces where we sliced the form. Take a needle tool or other tool to score hatch marks on both cut surface. Now take a bit of the clay you removed from the inside of the form and put it in a bit water and smoosh it around til you have slip(consistency of thick cream) and smear this slip on your cross hatched cut surfaces. Now place the two halves back together. Careful not to mar your form or push it out of shape. Take care to line up the halves so they match. Now clean up the seam removing any excess slip. Smooth the seam line til you can't see it.

Set it aside so the seam has time to weld together. One last step. If we were to leave the hollowed form as it is right now it would blow up in the kiln. We need to give a place for the air to escape while the form fires so we need to make a vent. This can be as simple as to cut a hole in the bottom or as complex as to incorporate the hole in the design of the form such as an open mouth or other opening.

Dry your form slowly under plastic. Once dry it is ready for the kiln.

Happy Creating...


The coil pot, another ancient clay construction method. But coils aren't just for pots. Coils can be used to make all kinds of forms. They are great for free forms and organic forms, anything with curves. You can smooth your coils or keep them as they are. The method is fairly straight forward and easy to do. Come lets discover what you can do with a humble coil of clay.

Extruding Coils

Hand rolling coils although very mesmerizing can be very time consuming. If you find you enjoy working in coils you might want to invest in a clay extruder. Extruders not only extrude coils but many other shapes as well used for handles, knobs and other clay attachments. You can extrude hollow forms as well with special dies that come with some extruders. Here is a dependable extruder available from Dick Blick and its optional die kit:

Brent Clay Extruder

Choose your die and place it in the easy-to-remove cap. Pull the handle, and form thousands of different solid and hollow shapes! The 4" (10 cm) diameter barrel holds 10 lbs (4.5 kg) of clay. Heavy-duty steel pipe construction with case-hardened wear and stress points. Bolt it to a wall or bench with the included hardware, or use optional stands to mount it to the end of SR series slab rollers. Shipping weight is 45 lbs (21 kg).

Brent Clay Extruder Die Kit

Great Books about Coiling and Coil Pots on Amazon

Coiled Pottery: Traditional and Contemporary Ways
Coiled Pottery: Traditional and Contemporary Ways

Fantastic book. I highly recomend this book. Betty Blandino's pots are fabulous.

Coiling (Ceramics Handbooks)
Coiling (Ceramics Handbooks)

Great photos of coiled pots. A very indepth look into the different things you can acheive with coils.


Slab Construction

Working with slabs is fun. There is so much you can make with a slab of clay. I've made everything from tiles to furniture to fountains from clay slabs not to mention pots and other containers. All it takes is imagination and a slab roller or rolling pin and you have all you need to make some great projects in clay. Slabs take texture so well. Rolling and pressing things into the surface of your slabs opens the door wide for all kinds of surface decorations. Exploring your creativity with slabs is endless and unlimited. So what can you make?

Easier Slab Rolling with a Slab Roller

Rolling slabs is so much easier and quicker using a slab roller. This slab roller pictured here is similar to the slab roller that is in the classroom studio where I teach. This slab roller can be connected to a table so you can use it when needed in your home studio. This is a great time saver for anyone finding they are rolling many slabs.

North Star Polaris Slab Roller

Two driven rolls 2½" diameter by 24" long (64 mm à 61 cm). Clay is sandwiched between canvas strips, then cranked into the machine. Knurled rolls grip canvas and pull slabs through easily. Wet slabs can be moved on the bottom canvas. Two-roll system gives least warping in kiln. Infinite thickness adjustment from 0 to 2½" (64 mm) with no shims or boards. Polaris accepts texturing materials, press molds, and makes tapered slabs. Roll opening and handle can be locked in place. Full five year warranty. Furnished complete with canvas and mounting hardware. Shipping Weight 35 lbs (16 kg).

Favorite Handbuilding Method?

What is your favorite method for handbuilding clay art and pottery?

See results

Great Books on Handbuilding on Amazon

Handbuilt Ceramics: Pinching * Coiling * Extruding * Molding * Slip Casting * Slab Work( A Lark Ceramics Book)
Handbuilt Ceramics: Pinching * Coiling * Extruding * Molding * Slip Casting * Slab Work( A Lark Ceramics Book)

Great book. Lots of wonderful photos and insights into the work and methods of many clay artists and potters.


Clay Cutters on Amazon

Handbuilding in clay can be as simple as...well...using your hands sometimes a few tools can help. Here are some neat clay cutters that are fun to use when building with clay.

I welcome your feedback. Would you like something added? Know a good link or book? Did I manage to misspell something? Did you find a dead link? Let me know, afterall this Kiln Goddess isn't all knowing ;-)

Suggestions and Feedback

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    • caffimages profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks you for this excellent lens. It takes me back to pottery classes, which i loved. Inspiring stuff!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 

      6 years ago from Ljubljana

      Very inspirational lens. I like hand building and clay is just perfect for all sorts of projects. Thanks!

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      7 years ago

      I would love to do this. The roller sounds really effective.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 

      7 years ago from Land of Aloha

      I didn't realize there were so many tools available for working with clay.

    • christopherlee lm profile image

      christopherlee lm 

      7 years ago

      Nice tips, thanks for sharing.

    • Philippians468 profile image


      7 years ago

      i love DIY art! thank you for the craft and creative lens! cheers

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thank you! My degree is in painting and drawing, but one of my private art students is really interested in clay. I took a ceramics course back in art school in the mid 90's, but it's hard to remember everything. Great information.

    • mariaamoroso profile image


      8 years ago from Sweden

      You really cougth my attention with this lens. Very informative and made me inspired!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      What nice a creative lens. I like such like creative lens very much. Your lens rating: 5*****

      Thanks for sharing a good lens.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Nice lens. I have enjoyed. I like handbuilding. It supplied helpful information. Really wonderful lens.

      Thanks for sharing a great lens.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I like your lens! I'm inspired to get to work!

    • fotolady49 lm profile image

      fotolady49 lm 

      10 years ago

      Great Lens! I love handbuilding. My favorite thing to make is lanterns. 5*****

    • Tiddledeewinks LM profile image

      Tiddledeewinks LM 

      10 years ago

      I've never tried pottery, but I love all things handmade. I do sewing mostly and soft things. Good lens!

    • profile image


      10 years ago


    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Nice lens! 5 stars given! :)

    • Imogen Crest profile image

      Imogen Crest 

      10 years ago

      Great lens, made me want to do pottery again! Five stars and fave.

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 

      10 years ago from Royalton

      Great lens! 5 stars and Favored!

      I just read your interview with Gil. Thank you for all the tips.

      The Stars are shining down on you. I can hardly wait to read the rest of your lenses.

    • Lexi LM profile image

      Lexi LM 

      10 years ago

      Makes me miss working with clay, which I have not done in many years. I once was a full time potter however.

      A wee tip, for joining leather hard parts, a slip made with clay and vinegar instead of water results in less cracking and loss.


    • GramaBarb profile image


      10 years ago from Vancouver

      I live in a senior assisted living complex. After reading your lenses I think I will talk to our Rec. Dir. about working with clay.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Cool lens. Interesting info.

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 

      11 years ago from USA

      This is a beautiful lens.

    • MisterK1 profile image


      11 years ago

      Very nice lens, 5*****

      You have been added to our hobby Squidoo group!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      lovely lens, I would like to learn this kind of artwork. 5 stars from me

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      great lens about pottery. Thanks for sharing some tips and techniques. 5* for you.

    • ChristopherScot1 profile image


      11 years ago


      Nice lens. Keep up the hard work!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Awesome lens! I use to work with pottery and loved it! Great information! 5 stars!

      DeWayne(FilmFreak)- -

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      great lens. Very informative and interesting. I give you 5*. Awesome

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      I love your lens! Very practical with lots of good information and sources.

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      So much interesting stuff! A fine collection.

      FYI the link to Barbara Walch is not working, the only one I noticed.

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Very nice lens - great introduction to pottery and ceramics. I like everything here, but -if you're askingfor advice - maybe you could show a short video presenting how to do something using clay only... Maybe there is something on YouTube. Still, 5* from me. Thanks!

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Nice. I really like the idea of what you're doing. I would suggest spreading it out over multiple lens focusing on specific techniques. Keep it growing.


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