How to Make a Stopperless Salt and Pepper Shaker on the Pottery Wheel

Most ceramic salt and pepper shakers require a stopper of some sort – usually cork – to keep the contents in. But there is a way to make them without stoppers. Just throw a double-walled vessel, but instead of joining the inner and outer walls, form a funnel with the inner wall.

In this post, potter Keith Phillips explains the stopperless salt and pepper shaker process in greater detail (and with great step-by-step photos!). – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

 


 

Process

Click to enlarge!

Depending on the size of your hands, the amount of clay will vary between 3/4 to 11/4 lbs. I don’t have overly large hands, but when throwing these with less than a pound, it’s difficult to get my fingers where I want them to go. However, if the forms are too large, they are difficult to use. Center the clay and press your finger all the way down until you reach the bat. You want the opening to be about an inch or so in diameter.
Create a stair step in the ring by lifting your finger to about halfway up on the inside of the ring and pressing outward toward the side wall, which will open the sides more (figure 1). Leave about a ½-inch thickness of clay between your finger and the outer edge of the ring (maybe even more). Now, press down on the step, leaving enough clay to pull up your inside funnel (figure 2). You are essentially making a double-walled vessel, but the inner wall is actually a closed cone form. You will find you really don’t need much clay to create this inner funnel. It’s all about using your fingertips and pinches to pull the walls up. Try to pull it up to about 2–3 inches in height.
Once you have the funnel high enough, collar it in and close it off. Try to just close off the top, you want the funnel hollow, not solid, because later you will want to drill your hole and you don’t want to have to drill forever (figure 3).

 

Click to enlarge!

I also flatten the top of the funnel slightly. I think this helps catch more salt when shaken. Take a sponge and mop up and extra water in the recesses.
Now pull your outer walls up. You want this wall to easily clear the height of the funnel, and you want plenty of room between the top of the form and the top of the funnel or else salt won’t be able to travel in and out (figure 4).
At this point you have an opportunity to play with the form and make it your own. I tend to like the architectural feel of these little towers, but I’ve seen fruit, balls, squares, and every shape in between (see page 32). Once you’ve raised the outer wall enough that it clears the inner funnel, sponge out any water and collar in and close the form at the top (figure 5). Once the form is closed, air is trapped inside and the vessel begins to act like a balloon when altered or ribbed (figure 6).
After you have the shape you want, smooth the surface and add finishing touches with a rib (figure 7). At this point, pulling it off the bat is essential for me. Inevitably I either forgot to and/or can’t reach a sponge into the center to mop up any extra water that has collected inside the funnel. Removing it from the bat allows excess water to evaporate through the bottom. At the same time, throw a small chuck about the same diameter as the shoulder of your vessel. It should dry alongside your shaker

When both are leather hard, I use a combination of the Griffin Grip and a chuck to trim a shaker with a pointed top like this (figure 8). If your shaker is flat at the top or just slightly rounded, a chuck is probably unnecessary. If you don’t have a Giffin Grip, simply center, then attach your piece (or your chuck) to the wheel head using four balls of clay, or place slightly rounded forms onto a small ring or coil of clay. When using a chuck, remember to check that your piece is level using a bubble (torpedo) level before starting to trim.

FInished salt and pepper shakers by Keith Phillips

Define the width of your foot ring and trim the bottom. Trim both the outside edge and the area leading into the funnel to remove excess clay and refine the shape, but try not to let any shavings fall into the funnel as you work (figure 9).
Drill a hole into the top of the funnel from the bottom (figure 10). I’ve found an 1/8 inch drill bit is just about the perfect size. This lets a fair amount of salt in easily, without dumping too much when you are dispensing.
Glazing is pretty simple, just make sure no glaze gets inside the funnel or closes the hole. If you dip, just hold it upright and dip it into the glaze, the air trapped inside will keep the glaze from entering the funnel. After glaze firing, fill the funnel with salt or pepper. You may have to give it a gentle shake to help the salt travel down. Once it’s full, flip it right side up. The salt will fill into the vessel.

To dispense, simply give it a little shake over your food and salt or pepper will find its way to the hole and sprinkle out.
Tip: Do NOT place stopperless shakers in a dishwasher. If water gets inside the shaker, it is nearly impossible to dry out. Just wash the outside with a damp rag and soap.
Keith Phillips is a full-time artist and potter in Fletcher, North Carolina. To see more of his work, go to khphillips.etsy.com or visit his blog at blog.mudstuffing.com.

Comments
  • Judith M.

    I do not understand why you would not make the hole in the throwing or drying states. Why drill fired clay? When I made these, I threw it with the tiny hole.

  • Judith M.

    I see now that I was wrong, you use the drill when trimming. i see it might help you control the final size of the hole.

  • Janice W.

    I love this idea. I have been meaning to make some salt and pepper shakers for myself for a while. Will give this a try as I like the fact that there are no corks. Thanks for sharing the idea and a photo of the finished shakers. 🙂

  • Irene S.

    I find that if I use a standard wooden skewer when throwing the inside the hole is the perfect size – also when I trim the inside of the underneath I use a small plug of softish clay to stop any trimmings getting inside the piece. To date mine have all been round so am inspired by your shapes!

  • Doris P.

    Those are really cool and interesting! Thanks for giving us the shakedown on your shakers!

  • Richard P.

    i leave the ‘cone filling hole’ open too. why drill? as interesting as these are (and i use them at home)…the buying public, although intrigued about them, are much less interested in buying them. i even bisque fired one i cut in half to help describe the whole process during sales. it only seems to baffle them. fickle, they are… ;^)
    i use a wiggle wire, with the pattern adding texture on the bottom, no feet. i say it keeps the salt/pepper drier…

    these are beautiful containers! thanks for describing your process.

  • Forgive me if i am being daft, but how does the salt/pepper come out? I assume you make tiny holes in the outside top of the form? If so, what do you use to make these openings? How do they not get clogged during glazing?

  • I’ve been making these for years, and customers love them. Maybe because I hand build, and make them as a “stacked” s&p combo, and make them into little characters. I often make the pepper part in this fashion, and let the bottom just be a salt cellar, or two of this type can be made to stack nicely. I always have to explain how to fill, and how they then despense, but once they “get” it, they love the idea.

  • Teresa O.

    Do these truly work as pepper shakers? I make them and market them for salt. My concern is that the pepper is too light to fall out of the small hole.

  • Richard P.

    sean,
    there is one hole, only. the pepper or salt is poured down the funnel.
    you right the shaker and when you shake it up and down a little will hit the inner ‘roof’ of the shaker and fall back through the same hole. i do it into the palm of my hand so i can see how much has been dispensed.
    hth

  • I really like these but I’m bothered by the fact that they cannot be washed or touched in any way inside. When the temperature is moist, the salt absorbs water from the air. I had matches in closed matchbox and got wet. If it does, the whole piece becomes useless.

  • I meant to say, when the air is moist. sorry

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