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Published Jul 13, 2020

mug handle ideas

Looking for some new mug handle ideas? Getting bored with the status quo? Today’s post is just what you need!

In today’s post, a couple of excerpts from the Pottery Making Illustrated archive, Mike Cinelli, Ashley Kim, and Eric Van Eimeren share their unconventional and creative handle techniques. Mike’s unique mug handle idea was inspired by science fiction and Ashley’s idea came from her Korean heritage.

Eric Van Eimeren's handles begin as slip-cast tubes, which are sliced into 7/8-inch-wide rings, then are sized to accommodate average-sized fingers using a tubular rasp. Where will your next great mug handle ideas come from? - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

Mike Cinelli’s Science Fiction Handle

My mug handle is constructed of multiple thrown and extruded parts. The struts that project off the mug and connect to the handle are thrown off the hump and ribbed to created the texture (1). They are dried by using a torch briefly to allow handling and then cut off and set aside. I’ll usually throw a group of 12–18 mugs, and once the surfacing is done, I’ll throw a corresponding number of these struts. They are cut in half, slipped and scored, then attached to the mugs. I typically let these sit overnight to allow proper adhesion.


1 Throw, then texture strut-like forms using a serrated rib.2 Form extruded strap handles that are curved into loops with the ends joined.3 Attach struts to the mug, attach the handle to the struts, and add a coil to the joint.

Clay straps are extruded and cut down, slipped, scored, and folded over to become the handle (2). The resulting loop is then slipped, scored, and attached to the mug. The interior seam receives a small coil (3), helping strengthen the joint while also adding a visual detail. After the handle is appropriately placed, outer details are attached to the handle.

Ashley Kim's Korean Thimble Handle

My thimble handle is inspired by traditional Korean thimbles that are often a flat oval shape made of either layered fiber or leather. Cut out tombstone shapes in clay, then curve one using the pad of your middle finger (4) before attaching two together to form a hollow thimble handle (5). When the handle reaches leather hard, cut the open end to match the curve of the cup body (6), then attach it to the cup along the seam where the pinched area joins the textured bottom. I find this placement sensible and functional.


4 To make the thimble handle, cut out and curve dome shapes over your finger.5 Take two of the domes, score the edges, apply slip, then attach them together.6 Cut the thimble’s open end to match the cup’s curve, then attach.

There is a continuous visual line wrapping around the form, which includes the thimble’s seam, while at the same time, the thimble shape serves as a place for holding the cup. On another level, I enjoy how the thimble handle changes the personality of the cup, which would otherwise be generic, while the reference to a traditional Korean thimble relates to my background.

Eric Van Eimeren's Slip-Cast Handles

7 Cut and sponge the lips to accentuate the texture (shown before and after).I get quite a few questions on Instagram (@vepottery) about making my handles. Unlike my other handles that are press molded, these ring-like handles begin as slip-cast tubes, which are sliced into 7/8-inch-wide rings (7), then sized to accommodate average-sized fingers using a tubular rasp (8). The edges are rounded using a leather-working tool and a knife, then sponged smooth.

The connection brackets are cut from a leather-hard, 1/2-inch-thick slab (9) and attached to the body at the seam. After smoothing out the handle rings, clay is removed from each ring to make a flat area for attachment and joined together, forming a comfortable two-finger handle (10).

Once the handle is attached to the bracket, the very last step is to carefully form the lip into a slight oval, squeezing the seam toward the opposing lip (11). I’ve discovered through trial and error that as the pieces dry, the clay memory kicks in and pulls the cylinder into a funky looking oval, sometimes resulting in a crack at the seam. By squeezing the cups into a reverse oval, they will straighten out as they dry, resulting in a fairly uniform circular lip.

 8 Measure and slice rings from a slip-cast (or thrown) cylinder to make handles.9 Use a tubular rasp to size the inner diameter of handle rings.10 Using a template, cut handle brackets from a firm slab.

Loosely cover the finished pieces in plastic for a day or two, allowing the moisture content in all of the different elements and joints to equalize, reducing the likelihood of cracking as they dry (12). I enjoy playing with different ways to finish these cups. Some textures do really well with slips and glazes, others look best when left unglazed.

11 Cut and attach rings before attaching the finished handles to the mugs.12 Squeeze the mug into an oval. It will return to cylindrical as it dries and fires.Finished mugs ready to dry evenly under plastic for a day or two.

Cups and mugs are the most intimate forms of functional pottery. Held in our hands and brought to our lips, there needs to be careful consideration given to every detail. They should be well balanced and comfortable to hold and drink from, but also fun and interesting objects to look at. This sounds easy enough, but after 30-plus years of studio pottery, I still find making a good cup to be as fun and challenging as ever. Cheers!

**First published in 2019