Making Lidded Jars That Work Together Like a Happy Marriage

Plus, a video about creating, fitting, and decorating the lid!

Lidded Jars

I haven’t made a lidded jar in a while but I remember what a fun exercise it is to make two-part pieces and find ways to make the components hang together visually. Bill Wilkey’s jars do this perfectly. From the soft squaring off of both the jar and lid, to the slightly arching rim that echoes the arches on the feet of the jar, every detail is considered to make a cohesive whole. In today’s post, Bill walks us through his jar-making process. I have also included an excerpt from his video Altered Forms and Textured Surfaces that details how to make the altered lids fit just right. Scroll down to find it! – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

About three years ago, our family bought a small jar made by Nick Joerling. We enjoy Nick’s work, and also needed a container for sugar to sweeten things up. As time has passed, I don’t believe there is another pot in our house that gets more continual use. Thinking about that jar that sits quietly on our countertop, waiting to be used, spurred interest in making small jars in my own studio practice. Starting with small amounts of clay and gradually increasing over time, this jar form has progressed from a small sugar jar to larger ones like canisters.

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Lidded Jars

My version of the sugar jar represents the continual investigation of texture and form within the architectural aesthetic of my work. I look for strong profile lines and flat planes to catch the user’s attention. It’s my hope to have this stalwart companion become a heavy hitter in your kitchen just as it is in mine.

Throwing and Altering the Body

Lidded JarsBegin with a 1½-pound ball of clay and throw a thick, slightly tapered, cylinder with a gently curved floor. While the walls are still straight, start to establish the lid gallery. At the end of each pull, remember to leave the rim thicker and wider than the body. Finalize the lid gallery by splitting the wide rim and supporting the exterior with a rib, while using a finger to lower the gallery on the inside wall (figure 1). Because the rim will be cut later, make it deeper than necessary.

Once the lid gallery is in place, curve the body’s profile. This slight curve makes the body more activated by adding a sense of volume. Now alter the form by making corners. I do this directly in front of the holes on the wheel head—this ensures that the corners will be more evenly spaced. Move your hands up while bringing the fingertips of both hands together. Repeat on all four corners and cut the body from the wheel (figure 2).

Let the body set up to leather hard, then center it upside down on the wheel. Trim the interior of the foot, leaving plenty of room for carving feet later. Make a mark equidistant on all four corners of the base. Using the edge of a flexible rib, connect the marks made on the corners of the foot and press the rib into the clay lightly to establish the soft square profile of the foot (figure 3). Remove clay quickly to this guideline using a cheese cutter. Make sure to follow the angle of the inside of the body so as to not cut through the wall (figure 4). Further define the corners and the exterior walls by using a rasp to remove clay (figure 5).

Creating, Fitting, and Decorating the Lid


Lidded Jars  Lidded JarsWhile letting the body set up, start making the lid from a ½-inch-thick slab. The slab needs to be thick enough to stretch later. Use a serrated rib to texture the slab. This will eventually be the interior of the lid and the texture will help relate the interior to the exterior of the sugar jar. Next, use the body of the jar as a slump mold and place the slab over the rim of the jar. Starting at the corners of the rim, lift the underside of the slab up, while gently pushing down in the center of the slab with the other hand. Further establish the facets of the lid by pressing from the corner of the slab to the center point of the interior (figure 6). Spend some time making sure the lid has the right curve and sense of volume. Trace a line around the lid where it meets the rim. Keep the lid seated on the jar until it has set up.

Lidded Jars

Note: Don’t let the body dry out too much during this process—wrap the exterior in plastic while leaving the lid exposed to set up. Once the lid has stiffened to a soft leather hard, cut it to fit the gallery on the body. Before turning it over, make a corresponding mark on the lid corner with a mark on the body. When the lid is flipped, the impression from the rim on the exterior produces a guideline for cutting the excess away (figure 7). While the lid sets up, refine the outside of the body by applying texture with a rasp to opposing sides of the body (figure 8). Then, with a citrus zester, apply texture in the opposite direction to the remaining sides (figure 9). Now, fit the lid into the gallery seat on the body. The lid should still be flexible enough to press and shape into the corners of the gallery.

Make a dividing line on each ridge of the lid to line up with the facets on the jar’s body (figure 10). Apply texture to alternating planes that match the body texture. To finish fitting the lid, take a few minutes to adjust and remove material with a rasp to get the right fit.

Bill Wilkey received his MFA from the University of Missouri, and has studied at Penland School of Crafts and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. He has shown nationally, including three consecutive National Student Juried Exhibitions in conjunction with the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) and was featured as one of Ceramics Monthly’s 2014 Emerging Artists. He is currently the Lincoln Fellow at The Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana. To see more of his work, check out

**First published in 2014.
  • Marie P.

    Do your lids warp at all when drying? What does the bottom edge of the lid look like and what does the angel of the galley look like?

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