Hip to be Square: Making Squared Casseroles

Do you ever feel like you’re just watching the wheel spin? Around and around go the pots, and off the wheel they go to the drying shelf, only to dry round, be bisque fired round, be glazed round—you see the pattern. But no longer!

Now, I’m not going to say that making square pots from the wheel is easy, even though Mike and Karen Baum make it look easy, but I will say that it can become easy, especially if you follow their simple instructions presented here. For a bit more depth, check out the expanded version of this article that was published in the November/December 2008 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated. Heck, while you’re at it, you may want to subscribe. You know what they say; be there or be…well, not round anyway. — Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

 


 

Many years ago, someone asked me to make a rectangular open casserole suitable for baking lasagna, brownies, etc. The design I came up with is made so that when it comes out of the glaze firing, it is the right size to fit a lasagna noodle. The following technique can be used to make all kinds of differently shaped pots.

Process

Making the sections

Using a bat rather than the bare wheel head, throw a flat slab for the bottom of the casserole. I use 5¼ pounds of clay to create a 16-inch-diameter slab.

Center 4¾ pounds of clay on another bat and throw the top section as a low wide cylinder, 14½ inches wide by 2¾ inches high. I like to have a thick, round rim at the top, which helps protect the finished pot from cracking and chipping. Cut the bottom out using a wooden rib to shave away the excess clay, leaving a ½ inch lip around the whole inside. This bottom inside lip makes it possible to attach the top and bottom sections without using a coil.

After the top piece has stiffened a bit, run a wire underneath it and shape it into a rectangle. The clay should be slightly tacky at this point, but firm enough so it doesn’t slump when shaped. Hold your hands about nine inches apart, grasp the rim at the top with your fingertips and pull your hands gently away from each other. While the top is still flexible, hold two yardsticks on opposite sides of the form and push all the sides in slightly.

When the top is leather hard, pick it up and place it on the bottom slab. Cut around the outside with a fettling knife. Remove the cut pieces from the bat.


This article appeared in the November/December 2008 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated.
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Assembly

Lift the top from the bottom slab. Using a fork, score and slip the area where the top was sitting and apply slip.

Place the top back on the bottom and align the two sections. Press the bottom lip of the top section onto the bottom slab. Smooth with a sponge and flexible rubber rib until they are seamlessly joined together.

Pull the tines of a fork upward along the outside from the bottom slab into the top piece. The resulting lines will look like stitches all around the bottom seam. With your fingers, smooth the marks out and meld the two pieces together. Keep the pot on the bat to stiffen up a bit.

Place a bat over the top and flip the pot so its bottom is facing up. First with a metal then a stiff rubber rib, smooth out the roughness where the two sections were attached.

Whatever your final handle or lug design looks like, make sure they will not extend far from the profile of the finished piece, otherwise they will be prone to cracking due to heating and cooling (and therefore expanding and contracting) more quickly than the rest of the piece. Wet the handle sides that face the pot and press them firmly on. Push the handle ends flat and pinch off the excess. Decorate with your fingertips or stamps.


Note: Many clay bodies are not suitable for use as ovenware. For more information on claybodies that can withstand thermal shock from heating and cooling in the kitchen, as well as information on how to use handmade ovenware, see Pottery Making Illustrated‘s archived articles and select “Ovenware.” Also, check out Robbie Lobell’s article on Flameware in Ceramics Monthly.

Comments
  • Ann S.

    I have several Mike Baum Casseroles that I have used for over 25 years and still enjoy using. I am sure that a trip to his studio would provide treasures for years to come. Ann Suchecki

  • I think this is a wonderful and easily understandable description of the process of making a square casserole. Thanks so much for your time.

  • Colleen W.

    Hi great article! I will try it when class starts up. Thanks for your time. Would love to come and see your work but in Southern Cal.

  • I just tried this, and all seemed to be going well, but by the time I got to take the nearly finished piece off the bat the bottom had firmly adhered to the bat, and I could not pull the wire through. It was too large to get a wire under it when I threw the bottom because it came right to the edge of my masonite bat. I thought it would be OK to wire it off a bit later (1.5 hours), after trimming the excess off the bottom to give me room to place the wire, but I guess that is too late. Any suggestions?

  • Subscriber T.

    I learned to make square pots with a different technique by throwing your casserole and then cutting a moon sliver shaped piece out of the bottom where the edge meets and then doing the same on the opposite side. Take a flat board and press in the sides to close the bottom where you cut the pieces out. I think either way has its advantages/disadvantages but I will definitely try this method next time.

  • Margrus K.

    Thanks for the information in making a square dish. As a student I learn so much from people like yourselves actually taking me thru the process. Thanks so much. Would love to come to your shop sometime. Thanks again, Margrus

  • Robin M.

    I have enjoyed this technique since attending New Hampshire Institute of Art, where I graduated with a ceramic certificate. This is a wonderful method and much easier (and nicer looking) than the cutting a piece out of the middle.

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