Search the Daily

Published Dec 11, 2020

attaching handles to mugs - featuredMaking and attaching handles to mugs can be very challenging, especially if you are attaching the handles when they are really wet and floppy. But they are important elements of pots, both functionally and aesthetically, so potters should really work to learn the skill.

In this post, excerpted from the Pottery Making Illustrated archive, Annie Chrietzberg takes us through Paul Donnelly's processes for making and attaching handles to mugs. If you struggle with pulled handles, this is a great alternative because it cuts down on the mess and the drying time, and still makes lovely, elegant handles. - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

Making and Attaching Handles to Mugs

Handles seem to be a bump in the road for aspiring potters, and I’m always pleased to find a different technique for making and attaching handles to mugs. Especially one that is 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.  

Fig 1 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).

Fig 3 Fig 4

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).

Figs 5, 6, 7

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).

Attaching Handles to Mugs

Rather than attaching handles to mugs when they are really wet, Paul 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.

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

**First published in 2014