donnelly_620newHandles can often be afterthoughts. They are put on at the end of the building process and, at that point, I think many potters are ready to move on to the next pot. But they are important elements, both functionally and aesthetically, so they should really get the attention they deserve.


In today’s post, Annie Chrietzberg takes us through Paul Donnelly’s handle-making process. It’s a great alternative to pulled handles because it cuts down on the mess and the drying time, and still makes lovely, elegant handles. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.




Roll a coil that’s thin in the middle and thick on both ends. Slam the coil down on the table to give it length and flatten it on one side.

Fig. 1

Handles seem to be a bump in the road for aspiring potters, and I’m always pleased to find a different handle making technique that’s simple and direct. Paul Donnelly’s finished handles are both elegant and well-balanced. His process is whittled-down to simple and direct actions and isn’t water-intensive or messy.


Make handles in multiples for both efficiency and to have options when pairing them with each cup.

Fig. 2

Paul starts by rolling a coil that’s skinny in the middle and thick on both ends. Since most beginners unintentionally roll them that way, they’re already familiar with the first step. He then slams the coil down on the table to flatten one side and pulls a damp sponge along it to smooth it out and align the particles (figure 1).


He makes several handles at once for efficiency and to give himself options with each cup (figure 2).


To create the curve at the top of the handle, Paul uses a long, thin, metal rib, bent so that the ends meet and the fairly sharp edge of the curved rib cuts through the clay (figure 3).

This post was excerpted from the November/December 2010 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated.
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To create the curve at the top of the handle, use a bent metal rib to cut the clay.

Fig. 3

Using a fettling knife, he cuts away some of the bulk from the front (convex side) of the top of the handle (figure 4). He then uses his thumb to compress, shape, and widen the top of the handle (figure 5).

4. Use a fettling knife to trim away some of the bulk from the front (convex side) and top of the handle.

Fig. 4

With the top done, he moves to the bottom, making a diagonal cut and removing clay from the back or flat side (figure 6).

Holding the handle by the top and the bottom, Paul now bends the handle into the desired shape and holds the handle up to the cup to check the shape and possible placement (figure 7).

He then allows the handle to set up so its moisture content is equivalent to the cup it’s being attached to. Paul finishes the piece by scoring and slipping the areas of attachment on both the handle and the cup and joins the two. He cleans up any visible slip or excess clay from the scoring, being careful not to overwork the handle or the area of attachment.



Click to enlarge!



For more great pottery making techniques, be sure to download your free copy of
Five Great Pottery Wheel Throwing Techniques: Tips on Throwing Complex Pottery Forms Using Basic Throwing Skills.

Paul Donnelly’s cup, showing an elegant and well-balanced handle.

Paul Donnelly’s cup, showing an elegant and well-balanced handle.

Paul Donnelly received his MFA from the New York School of Ceramics at Alfred University, and currently teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. To see more of his work visit

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