Friday, February 22, 2013

Tips for Pulling Handles Off Of Mugs

I think that handles are one of the main skills that separate the real potters from the wannabes, especially on mugs. Almost every time you see a great handle it was made by a potter who had what I would call professional training of several years at a university, college etc.  And most of those have been pulled directly off the mug. I know there are many other types, and lots of those handles are great as well but everyone should have a handle that is pulled off the cup in their handle making repertoire.
I am still working on this. It took me many years to "see" what was wrong with my "pulled first and then attached handle". Three years later I am still working to perfect this type of handle. I suspect that it will always be a work in progress.
One thing that I find is that if you do not time the stiffness of the mug correctly you can easily distort the cup when pulling the handle which may distort again in the firing due to clay memory. This would always discourage me trying to make this type of handle.
In order to be able to attach a handle without distorting the cup when I was learning this type of handle I would keep a variety of fast food cups on hand and stick them into the cup until they fit snugly and make a good seal. For the initial attachment I would put my left hand inside to support the wall of the cup. But once I started pulling the handle I placed a correctly sized fast food cup inside the rim until it fitted tightly. That way - no distortion when applying and working on the handle and less chance of clay memory distorting the cup in the firing. I have a variety of different sized cups on hand for this. Also as a final touch I rotated a tightly fitting cup inside the clay cup to "set" the roundness of the rim.

Many tips also mention tapping the end of the handle to compress the butt end. You can do this with your forefinger, or tapping on the table or use a wooden paddle. For a long time I just did not see the reasoning behind this until it finally hit me (duh!!). The more compressed the clay, the smaller the distances between the particles and so the less they will shrink when drying - so this prevents cracks from developing at the joint.
Tapping to compress the end of the handle prior to attachment

Pulled handle pugs prior to compressing on left and after compressing
 on right - note its oval shape and smooth edges of the butt end.
Rather fuzzy pic - but it shows the scoring that leaves an unscored
edge all round the butt end.
Another tip is not scoring the butt end right to the edges. This way you have a solid "rim" around the butt and when you apply it it leaves a slight crack with smooth rounded edges all around. You can accentuate this with a pencil after you have attached the handle and it has set up a bit.This slight crack tends to fill with glaze - and depending on the glaze will nicely emphasize the join.

I never score the bottom join and never compress it either and never seem to have problems on the bottom join. I always cover the cups overnight and after that air dry them. - even speed stuff up after that in the oven or kiln with no cracking.
Three cups with the pulled handle

So after three years I find that I have finally managed to put on handles with this method just as easily and fast as those that are pulled first but they look so much better - they seem to grow more out of the cup. However looking at the above three pics I think that they still need work - they seem to stick out a bit too much. It is hard to make them comfortable for two fingers yet look stylish.

Right now I seem to have gotten into a rut in the shape and style of pulled handle off the mug. My next goal is to work on the blended handle - where the join either top or bottom or both are fully blended into the cup. I really love those, but they are more time consuming to make, though well worth the effort.


  1. The take-out cup inside the cup for sturdiness is brilliant. I'm ging to pass this one along to others! Thanks.....I found you via Musing About Mud.

  2. I found you via Musing about Mud too - great tips - the distortion factor has kept me doing the prior pull then attach method but will try this next time :^)

  3. Putting handles on any item is one of the most difficult task I believe to do and also get afraid will it last for long or will break in very less time.

  4. sure you didn't mean anything by it but are a large number of professional potters who never attended a university or college and pull very professional handles.

    1. Yes that is true - but I find that far more great handles are made by those that have had prof training via schooling than by those that have not.

    2. Unless you are an old hippie potter who has been potting for 30 yrs, my first teacher told me I couldn't be a potter unless I could pull 50 handles on 50 mugs in a day. I seem insurmountable then.

  5. Professional training in any field of study has many, many benefits and while true that the condensed nature of a university ceramics program will produce a well rounded experience for a potter and will certainly be more likely to expose that student to a wide variety of knowledge beyond a potter that works mostly alone, attending workshops and/or non university classes.

    I would still say that what you are saying is simply not true, actually a little absurd and comes off as a put down to a lot of potters. I just assumed you would post a reply that on reflection that I was right and that of course many professional potters regardless of how they came to be professional potters throw wonderful handles.

    At this point I think your a little to proud of the 4 semesters on actual studio work that you did in school and have forgotten that throwing handles was only covered over a short few lectures and the rest of the time you were, like everybody else, on your own to perfect your handles.

    1. Well I did not say that all self taught potters have bad handles - there are bad handles from both university taught and self taught but on average I find that if I see a bad handle more OFTEN than not, but not always, it was made by a self taught potter. By the way I never studied pottery at university - I wish I had - I am self taught and I do not consider my handles really good - I still need to improve but they are way better than when they were not pulled off the cup. And that is what this post was all about - everyone should have handles pulled off the cup in their handle making repertoire.

    2. Ditto! I'm not trained at any prestigious university but I take classes at the local community college, go to every demo that I can, and I'm a YouTube junkie! Pulling handles was covered in one class and then we were on our own. I can pull a beautiful on or off the mug handle and it's because of trial and error and my own research.

  6. I think that you have misunderstood the benifits, and there are many, a university program offers. Handles would not rank high as what sets the two backgrounds apart. My reasoning in pointing it out is that the comment really serves no purpose to what is otherwise an excellent post. It matters because it misplaces where skill and knowledge in pottery comes from. A university ceramics program condenses pottery into a short time slice and exsposes a student to as wide of a range of knowledge possible
    and the benifits are enormious. If done right it allows the student to go through a sence of discovery and helps them decide how they want to pursue pottery. Things like handles and other skills are certainly taught but there is certainly nothing in the way it is taught that would set it a part from learning it in a workshop, community program or by viewing youtube videos and of course reading great post like yours.

  7. No matter how you do these handles... your mugs have plenty of pizazz!

  8. interesting read and the cup for maintaining round is simply brillant.