Tips for Making and Attaching Handles to Mugs

Comfortable handles make a world of difference. Here are tips for making and attaching comfortable handles!

attaching handles to mugs - featured

Making 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 archives, 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.

Free PDF: Get Beginning Pottery Projects and Equipment Lists for Getting Started!

Get expert guidance on the fundamentals when you download this freebie, Pottery 101: Beginning Pottery Projects and Equipment Lists.


Figure 1

Figure 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).

Figure 3

Figure 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).

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

Figures 5-7

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.

attaching handles to mugs - finished

Paul Donnelly’s cup, showing an elegant and well-balanced handle.

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

**First published in 2014
  • Joseph T.

    I rated the video and meant to give it a higher score but I couldn’t change the rating. Really good stuff.

  • Alex W.

    ‘Potters’ complaining about, “a muddy mess” and work that leads to understanding (practice)! Whatever next?
    Have a look at some 18/19C industrial (made in a factory, ma’am) pottery for some interesting handles and forms.
    Then… practice, practice, practice.

  • Well timed, doing mugs tomorrow. Will have to re-read the bit about the curved rib. Didn’t get it the first time.

  • I so wish Ceramic Arts Daily would make the photos enlarge-able. Clicking on the photo makes it only barely larger (and often text is still too small to read), and there are times I really want to zoom in on something. The mini-lessons are great daily reminders to get into the studio!

  • I accidentally deleted the video and want to have the recipe for the ‘magic water’ that eliminates the need for scoring and slip. Where can I get it?

    • Reader L.

      Magic Water! Lana Wilson’s recipe is (from website):

      Magic Water
      1 Gallon Water
      9.5 Grams Sodium Silicate
      3 Grams Soda Ash


      1 Gallon Water
      3 Tablespoons of Liquid Sodium Silicate
      1 1/2 Teaspoons of Soda Ash source

      I use a toothbrush to score and apply and have had really great success! No more messy slip and cracks in pieces during the drying process!

      Give it a go – you’ll impress yourself!

  • Amarilis A.

    Me parece un modo fácil y práctico de hacer las asas o agarraderas para tazas. Felicitaciones.

  • Mary Jo B.

    Thanx for another way to make handles. They are as custom to fit one, two or three finger as the upper rim is to meet the mouth. Just a lot of things to consider when when making a mug. The hardest thing for abeginner is to learn that there are several parts of a bowl or a mug and considers for each part that makes up the whole. I hope Some of my beginners see this

  • Sandra W.

    Handles can be a pain, in my opinion, tend to avoid them. This is a great little tip. As others have said above there are many ways to make handles and it all depends on the style you are working with and the look you want to achieve. I have pulled handles and I have flattened coils by rolling them out. They have all worked, each having its advantages and disadvantages. All tips welcome. Thanks for sharing.

  • Vanessa S.

    Thanks so much for sharing your technique! I like the idea of making multiples…when making a set of cups I always run into the problem on my handles not looking enough alike. I’ll have to try this next time *
    Thanks again **

  • Valerie M.

    Always worth a try. You never know what you will learn no matter how long you’ve been doing something…I will give it a try too.

  • shawn f.

    Nice, I saw Fong Choo do a demo with smacking rolled handles onto a table to get the shape he wanted and they turned out just as nice as the ones above. Just goes to show that there are always more than one way to get a great result. Excellent post… Especially the bent rib cutting the top of the handle !!!!

  • If your handles look like an afterthought .then you need to start pulling handles directly off the mug. Yes its takes some time to make handles but they will never look like part of the mug if your not pulling it from the mug. Make a mug, no handle ,fire it to bisque temp and soak it in water,start pulling handles on this form. Yes ,over and over!remove your handles and see how you progress. Its like driving a car with a standard transmission .You can only learn to shift by stoping and starting over and over. If you get on the freeway and drive 1000 miles in 4th gear ,you learn nothing ..Start pulling the handles.

  • Regina B.

    You say he “allows the handle to set up”. How does he keep the bend? Does he lay it on a curved item, does he lay it on a board in a curved shape? Explain please.

  • Karen S.

    I like making handles, its attaching the handles that is harder.I don’t make “cups” I prefer mugs. There is nothing like a big 16 or 20 oz. mug of coffee or hot chocolate or even soup on a winter day! But I am going to try this other method & see how I like it.

  • Harry M.

    I started throwing pots on my time off about a year ago and have pulled a lot of handles because I’ve made a lot of cups and pitchers. Glad to know about your technique.

  • I agree with the above post- and personally think that these handles are upside down- unless meant for one finger. Form follows function. I make good handles- both pulled and extruded- and my customers often prefer the extruded ones. Consider the design of your fingers before you consider the handle.

  • Constance S.

    The handles are beautiful to look at, but from experience, a handle placed that low on a cup makes it difficult to hold. One has to exert considerable pressure on the top of the handle to keep the cup level.

  • Louise O.

    I’ve been extruding handles because I feel like such a klutz pulling them. Neat and good looking but really really too much the same. I’ll definitely try this technique for good looking + unique. A tip on length – I found that making the handle about 1/2″ longer than the cup height, then attaching at about 1/2″ or so from the top and bottom leaves the right amount of space for a good grip without looking like Dumbo ears.

  • Leann A.

    Interesting! I used to pull all my handles then discovered extruded handles and have never looked back.

  • I am new to pottery and I am confused by this post. Is there any chance someone could make a video.

  • Penny A.

    As a beginner, my handles and cups rarely look like they belong together. I’ll definitely try this technique…although step 3 is a little confusing on first read. I wish this was a video!

  • This was very helpful, thanks! More how-to and quick “Try This” ideas are exactly what I need to keep improving my pottery.

  • Natasha M.

    Interesting! I still have to successfully pull a handle so this is definitely something worth trying.

  • Catherine F.

    Awesome–I struggle with handles, maybe I can use this technique to finally get handles proportional with the cup rather than too small.

  • Pauline H.

    I have exactly the same sentiments as toni, above. That ‘muddy mess’ is very off putting, so I too will be giving this method a go.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Enter Your Log In Credentials
This setting should only be used on your home or work computer.

Larger version of the image
Send this to a friend