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Published Mar 13, 2024

Steve Showalter likes to make dramatic handles on his large thrown bowls. He found that attaching the handles before trimming was the best way to avoid cracks. But this presented a challenge when trimming because the bowl could not simply be placed upside down on the wheelhead. The solution, a tall chuck. 

In today's post, an excerpt from the Ceramics Monthly archive, Steve shares all the info you need to make beautiful handles and trim bowls on a chuck. - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

Creating the Handles

I love handles and look for reasons to put them on as many pieces as possible because they are the perfect blend of form and function. The handles for this bowl style are extruded with a custom die made from a plastic cutting board (1). I pull about half of my handles and have made my own dies for the other half. In this case, using an extrusion cut to size (2) helps me better match the clay stage of the bowl to the handle, reducing the chance of a crack between the bowl and the handle. These handles hug the rim on both sides, creating a strong connection. They are curved into a half circle (3), attached with slip, and backfilled with clay on the inside connection to fully complete the now-enclosed circle (4). The mix of circular pot, squared rim, and circular handle really appeals to my design instincts.

1 Use a ruler to mark the middle of the sides of the bowl and use a circle cutter to cut a half circle in the rim where the handles will be added. 2 Use an extrusion die (this is a custom shape I created) or pull handles from a thick coil or cone of clay. 3 Use an extrusion die (this is a custom shape I created) or pull handles from a thick coil or cone of clay. 4 Once cut to the appropriate length, bend the handle into a half circle and prepare for attachment.


Trimming the Bowl

I thoroughly believe that it’s better to throw the form you want, rather than to simply reveal it through the trimming process. When trimming, I set the boundaries of what needs to be trimmed first and then proceed to remove the excess clay. At every stage of the process, clay likes to be worked with when it’s ready, not when it’s necessarily convenient. Altering the rim and attaching the handles before trimming helps to prevent cracks from forming in the handles. It’s also a great way to reduce warping that can show up after a glaze firing. I trim on a bone-dry chuck, dampening the chuck before use to keep the bowl in place while trimming (5–8).

5 Slip and score the handle and bowl and attach the handle. Make sure to backfill any voids and clean up the slip around the attachment. This is a great time to do final refinements before trimming.6 These serving bowls are trimmed on a chuck after the rims are altered and handles are attached. Either use a leather-hard chuck or dampen a bone-dry chuck so it sticks to the bowl while trimming to keep it in place. 7 Center the bowl upside down on the chuck and make sure it is level before trimming. While the top may be quite firm, the bottom should still be leather hard and ready for trimming. 8 Set the boundaries of what clay needs to be removed and trim away the excess clay.
**First published in 2021.