Handles can be an attractive and practical embellishment for pottery and there are many many ways to make them: pulled, coiled, press molded, etc. But as with any other element in a pot, handles should be an important part of the design of the piece.
Potter Mike Guassardo decided to throw handles for his large platters on the pottery wheel because this method enabled him to carry a decorative element on his rims through to the handles. Today, he demonstrates this process.- Jennifer Harnetty, editor.
Making Wheel Thrown Handles
by Mike Guassardo
A handled platter is ideal for fruit and salads, and for serving. Provided you are using the proper clay body, you can also use it as a baking dish, as long as it is preheated along with the oven and not taken over 200°C or 390°F.
Platters look deceptively simple to make, as creating one involves very basic throwing, but the larger scale translates into specific technical and design challenges. The form needs to be well constructed so that it survives the drying and firing processes, as well as years of use later on.
Because the platter form is so large, it will be a focal point on the table. In order to integrate all of the parts, the character of the pot needs to be addressed early on, and followed through in the finishing details. Handles can serve both a functional and visual purpose on very large platters. Of course, they make it easier to carry, but they also provide an area where you can exercise your design sense. As shown here, thrown handles echo the construction of the platter, and can visually continue a line started in the rim.
This article was excerpted from Ceramic Projects: Forming Techniques, which is available in the Ceramic Arts Daily Bookstore.
Throwing the Platter
To get started, you’ll need 10 pounds of clay and an 18 inch bat, a fettling knife, rubber rib, metal trimming tool, needle tool, a sponge and chamois, a kitchen scouring pad and a Surform tool.
Center and open up the ball of clay, leaving about ½ inch-thick base in the center (figure 1). If you are not used to throwing large pieces of clay, make sure that the clay you’re using is a little softer than normal, and slow the wheel down slightly as you center. Use both hands if necessary to create the center opening: overlap your hands, and use the upper hand to reinforce the pressure of the fingers that are in contact with the clay as you create the center hole. This will steady your hands and help with the added resistance of a large piece of clay.
Slow the wheel down slightly. Pull (or push) out the clay so that the base of the platter is about 17 inches in diameter (figure 2).
Using the palm of your hand, smooth the clay out evenly. This will condense and strengthen the base at the same time.
Use a rubber kidney to finish compressing the bottom, smooth out the throwing lines and giving a slight rounding of the base as it meets the wall (figure 3).
Starting where the base meets the wall, thin and pull up the wall about halfway. Take care not to thin this bottom wall section too much, or it won’t be able to support the thickened rim. By stopping halfway, you’ve given yourself a lot of clay at the top to create a distinctive rim shape.With your fingers supporting the outside of the rim, press down with your thumbs on the top of the clay to define the rim (figure 4). Keep your thumbs tightly together. Repeat this until you are happy with your rim, then go back and pull up the half-thrown wall to its full height. When you’re finished throwing, the walls should be about 1/4 inch, and the piece should be about 3 inches high.
Always check your base thickness when you finish throwing. It should be at least a quarter of an inch at the side and a little thicker in the center. Your cutting wire will tend to lift slightly at the center and the slightly thicker bottom allows for this. About an hour after throwing, trim off excess clay from the outside edge of the base with a pointed wooden knife tool and use a fettling knife to undercut the pot about a ½ inch in from the edge to help facilitate your cutting wire (figure 5).I do this on any pot I intend to trim later. Since the pot is still attached to the bat, and therefore centered, the indented ring made by the knife on the bottom of the pot is accurate to the center of the pot while the clay edges are often not. This ring will also help you center your pot for trimming.
Cut about an hour after throwing, keeping the wire pressed down on the bat as you run it under the base. After running the wire under the piece once, rotate the bat ¼ turn and run the wire under again.
Throwing the Handles After you’ve finished throwing the platter, set it aside to dry and create the handles. The handles designed for this platter come from a thrown ring and attach to the top of the rim. Center a 1 pound ball of and create a center hole that is open through to the bat. Pull the open doughnut of clay out to a diameter that leaves enough clay to form an upright ring about 1½ high (the width of your pot rim) (figure 6).
Supporting the inner wall and the rim with one hand, use two fingers to push into the outside wall to form a shape with similar ridges as your pot rim (figure 7). Cut into the outside of the circle with a fettling knife and repeat on the inside taking care not to cut all the way through which could distort the thin walls.
Assembling the Pot
When the platter is leather hard, center it upside down on the wheel and use a Surform tool to flatten and trim the bottom and sides of the platter (figure 8).
Use a steel kidney to smooth the bottom and sides. Finally, cut a 45° deckle or bevel on the edge. This gives a precise mark for where to start cleaning the underside after glazing and, on the completed piece, creates a shadow that gives the platter a slight visual lift.When it’s leather hard, cut a suitable length for each handle from the thrown ring, slicing it vertically down to the bat. Then, make eight balls of clay, each a little larger than a marble for reinforcing the attachment between the handle and the rim (figure 9).
Use a sharp knife to trim the sides of the handle that were attached to the bat (figure 10). This will roughly resemble the thrown top.Using a damp scouring pad (Scotchbrite), roughly smooth the cut edges. Finish off with a sponge
Divide the platter in half visually and make a small mark on opposite sides of the rim. Take the crescent shaped handles, dampen the edges and gently work them backwards to form flattened out areas to attach to the platter. On each side of your marked edge, score the rim and apply slip.
Place the handle in position over the slip and push down and along the joint attaching the handle to the platter. Dip one ball of clay in water or slip (I use a little vinegar in either because it helps clay adhesion) and place it at the base of the handle. Supporting the underside of the rim, press down and along, attaching the ball to the handle and rim (figure 11).Repeat the process with the remaining balls of clay, using four for each handle. In addition to reinforcing the join, the added clay provides a visual transition between the handle and rim. Clean up the handles and rim using a wet chamois or piece of leather (figure 12).
Michael Guassardo with handled platter, 17 inches in diameter, light colored fine grog stoneware with a transparent base glaze layered with cobalt, copper red, transparent blue, chrome green and rutile glazes, fired to cone 12 in reduction.