How to Make Cane Handles for Pottery

If you are looking for a different and interesting way to make handles for your pots, you might want to investigate how to make cane handles. Sure, you can buy pre-made cane or bamboo handles for pottery, but if you make them yourself, you can really make your mark.

In this post, an excerpt from the May/June 2017 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated, Barbara Banfield walks us through the process of making cane handles. If the thought of using another material to make handles seems intimidating, you’ll see that it is really pretty simple in Barbara’s straightforward instruction. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

PS In the May/June issue of Pottery Making Illustrated you can learn how Barbara creates her clay baskets before adding the cane handles. The article includes step-by-step images of Barbara throwing the basket, which starts as a cylinder and is altered into an oval form with alternating slits.


 Making Cane Handles to Add Something New to Your work

Cane Handle Making

Throughout history, cane handles have been used on ceramic vessels of all sorts. Due to the nature of the cane material—its pliability and strength—the possibilities for design and function are endless. Your imagination is your only limitation. This is a very basic handle that you can extrapolate into numerous ideas.

There are a wide variety of reeds that can be used to make the handles. I use a ¼-inch-flat oval and the basic round reed (1). You can purchase the cane from companies that sell materials for caning and repairing chairs. A little research on the web will result in a supplier close to you.


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1 The two the most commonly used cane for handle making are the ¼-inch flat reed and the round reed.


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2 Soak the reed in water for 4–6 hours before use. It needs to be soft enough to bend without splitting or breaking.

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Prepare your tools before you get started, as your hands get busy holding everything in place while you wrap the reed. You’ll need the following tools: needle-nose pliers, flat-nose pliers, scissors, and a spray bottle for water. Soak the quantity of reed you’ll need for at least 6–8 hours in water (2). You can use fabric dyes to add color to the cane.

Using a single strand of the round reed, measure the amount you will need, being sure to leave extra for overlapping on the ends (3). Select and cut the number of round reeds to attain the handle thickness that you want. Cut extra length and a few extra reeds. The round reeds fill the interior of the handle. The flat oval cane wraps tightly around the outside to secure the round reed. Holding the reeds, thread them through the lugs, back and forth over each other, loosely shaping the handle (4).


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3 Use a single round reed to measure the length for the handle. Allow extra for over lapping and securing the ends.


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4 Cut the number of round reeds for the desired thickness of the handle. As the reed folds back, the thickness doubles


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5 Hold the overlapped round reed tightly around the lug and start wrapping it snugly with the flat reed.


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6 Continue wrapping and twisting evenly as you go around the handle right to the other side.

Next, securely hold the round reed at the base by the lug and position one end of the flat reed so that when you start wrapping, it will be caught under itself. Wrap the flat cane back over itself to secure it tightly (5). Continue wrapping the flat oval cane around the round reeds, twisting and tightening the flat oval cane and keeping it flat as you go (6). Tip: Spritz the reed with water to keep it moist and pliable.

When you get to the end of the wrapping, cut the flat oval cane on a sharp angle and feed the end back under the wrapped cane, tucking it up as far as possible (7). The wrapped cane can be tight; sometimes pliers can be useful to assist in pulling the reed back in order to keep it from unraveling. When the reed is secure, trim the loose ends to your liking (8).

As the cane begins to dry, it will tighten and shrink, which will make it stronger. You can always rehydrate the reed if you need to tighten or repair.


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7 After wrapping, cut the flat reed sharply on an angle and feed it back under the wraps as far as possible to secure the end.


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8 After the handle is completely wrapped, use a pair of scissors to cut the excess reed while it’s still damp.


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**First published in 2017
Comments
  • Ethan C.

    What size is the round reed? I looked it up and there are so many different sizes

  • John H.

    great. We use telephone wire here in Namibia to do the same thing. I have also used stainless cable to make handles and used copper ferrels to clamp them. Where do you get the flat reed?

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