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Published Sep 9, 2015

pavelkautensils_620 We've all upcycled old, out-of-use objects into useful tools (like the credit card rib). But I had never thought about it in terms of using my finished clay work to help breathe new life into an old object until I saw Kristin Pavelka's article in the Pottery Making Illustrated archive.

Kristin finds antique kitchen utensils with broken handles, and replaces the broken handles with gorgeous handmade handles. In today's post, I have excerpted a bit from the article. - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

Forming Handles

I enjoy the hollow pod shape as a handle because it feels nice in the hand, it's symmetrical, there's an animal quality to it -- like that of a turtle shell -- lending itself to some fun decorating decisions. The pods are comprised of two slabs, about a quarter inch in thickness, that are pushed out from the inside to create a curved volume (figure 1), then pressed together around the curved edges (figure 2), and pinched together with my fingertips, trapping air within (figure 3).

As the clay is very soft, no slip is needed for the joint. I use a small printing brayer to compress the seams (figure 4), but leave the evidence of the joint visible to create a nice dividing line. A small disc is joined to the end of the handle where the metal element will be attached after firing (figure 5). Using a wooden kidney rib, I press along the seam to create a more uniform and defined line (figure 6). The handle is curved by pulling down on the ends with one hand and up on the middle with the other hand (figure 7). Then it is left to set up to leather hard

With an appropriately sized drill bit (I used a 3/8-inch bit), create an opening for the connection to the metal piece (figure 8) (allowing for shrinkage), that will accommodate the metal shaft of the tool. To find out the shrinkage rate of your clay, refer to the chart at right. I compress and taper the edge of the hole with a soft rubber-tipped shaping or cleanup tool (figure 9). This opening is checked throughout the drying process and tweaked as necessary.

Bisque and glaze fire to your liking. I always leave one area of the utensil unglazed so that the handle can be positioned on the kiln shelf without the need for stilts. As the forms are long and slender, an internal firing prop may be required for your form, so plan ahead as you design, and build a custom prop or stilt to fire along with your handle in the bisque and glaze firing.

Uniting the Old and the New

Once the completed handle is out of the glaze firing, check to make sure the metal component still fits (figure 10). Fine tuning with a Dremel grinding bit on the hole may help the fit, otherwise the metal can also be filed to fit. If necessary, shorten the stem or shaft of the utensil to maintain the right balance and proportions (figure 11). I look for a sense of proportion that is pleasing to my eye that creates a good feel in the hand. I am drawn toward slightly awkward proportions that lend humor to the piece. A super fat handle alongside a thin blade or line fits that bill. Filling the ceramic handle with resin gives the piece a nice heft and weight in the handle, almost like the user is giving the utensil a handshake. If you find that a lot of tweaking is necessary to get the utensil end into the handle, it might be easier to make another handle with the appropriate hole-sizing revisions. Save the first handle for a future utensil.

To secure the metal in place, I use a casting resin inside the handle (Castin' Craft Clear Liquid Plastic Casting Resin). I've also used silicone aquarium sealant, but when visible, it's a little too cloudy and a little too flexible. The casting resin is labeled as being food safe. Handmade objects require a little more care, so I would opt to hand wash these utensils over using a dishwasher.

Prepare the resin according to the directions, and be sure to follow safety tips listed on the package. Mixing in a well-ventilated area, I fill my hollow handle about 3/4 full using a disposable paper container (figure 12) and then insert the metal shaft. I prop it so both the handle and implement are in alignment and facing the appropriate direction (figure 13). Once the resin has cured (as stated in the manufacturer's directions), I do a final fill in with a bit more resin. Allow the final pour to cure, and enjoy your upcycled kitchen tool at the next potluck!

**First published in 2012.