Folk wisdom tells us that locally-produced raw honey carries health benefits beyond its power to sweeten your day. If your daily ritual involves spreading honey on your toast or stirring it into your tea, then perhaps the next pot you need to make is a honey pot. Honey is classically served not with a spoon but with a wooden honey dipper, a utensil that allows you to drizzle honey over your toast with some degree of control. Since honey is sticky, you need to be able to leave the dipper in the pot—rather than taking it out and setting it aside between uses as you might with a sugar spoon—but the pot must have a lid to avoid attracting insects. Thus the defining characteristic of a honey pot is an opening in the lid to accommodate the handle of the dipper.
The Right Approach
One approach is to throw a small covered jar and simply cut a hole in the lid, but the fun of making a honey pot is finding a creative way to make the opening. I like to use a fingertip to reshape the lip of the pot and the edge of the lid to create what looks like a little open mouth to receive the dipper.
On a bat, start with 1½–2 pounds of clay for the pot and throw a wide-bellied form, collaring in to give it a neck and a flaring lip, similar to a basic vase or pitcher form. Use a soft rubber rib to define the neck; with the rib pressing in from outside, use a finger inside, above the rim to push out just slightly (1). The lid is going to be thrown right-side-up, and it will set into the flaring lip of the pot. To measure for the lid, set your calipers just inside the flared rim (2). Set the form aside (while still attached to the bat) and throw the lid immediately.
Since the lid will take a very small amount of clay, it’s easiest to throw the lid off the hump. Tip: Throwing off the hump means centering a mound of clay on the wheel and using it to throw several small items. Once you get used to using only part of the clay on the wheel, you’ll find that throwing off the hump is easier than wedging and centering very small amounts of clay, and saves you time as well. Generally I’ll make a few honey pots and then throw all the lids from a two- or three-pound hump.
To throw the lid, roughly center a mound of clay—the whole mound doesn’t have to be perfectly centered, only the top part that you’re going to use. For a small honey-pot lid, you’ll only need a few ounces of clay, maybe the size of a tangerine. Use your pinky fingers to create a shallow groove toward the top of the mound to separate the appropriate amount of clay for the lid. As you throw the lid, ignore the rest of the mass of clay, as if the groove is the surface of the wheel head. Center the clay above the groove and, keeping your pinkies in the groove, open the center with your thumbs. If you’ve never thrown off the hump, you’ll be wondering how you can be sure to open up to the correct depth. Here’s the secret: if you keep the sides of your pinkies in that groove and open up with your thumbs, you won’t go too deep. Your thumbs just aren’t long enough or flexible enough. Separate your thumb tips as they drill down, so that a small spike of clay is left behind in the center of the lid (3). Shape this bit of clay to form the knob. Once the knob is shaped, pull out the rest of the clay into a wide, shallow bowl form (4). The rim should fit right inside the caliper measurement.
Dip for the Dipper
Okay, so now you have a simple lid that sets into the rim of the vase form you’ve made, but how will it accommodate the dipper? You’ll need to alter the rim of the vase form very much like a pitcher’s pour spout, and make a similar but opposite shape in the rim of the lid. Place two fingers of your left hand on the outside of the lip of the vase, and draw one finger of your right hand between the fingers of your left hand to pull a section of the lip down (5). Then do the opposite on the lid; pull a section up (6).
To cut the lid off the hump, use a wood or metal tool to further deepen the groove under the lid (7), then wrap your cutting wire into this groove and pull it through. Remove it from the hump with dry fingers.
When the lid is placed on the pot, this will create an opening just right for a dipper. As soon as the two pieces have stiffened up enough to handle, put the lid on the jar and make sure it settles into place and the opening is adequate for the handle of a dipper (8). Tweak the rim of either piece as necessary while the clay is still soft enough.
You shouldn’t need to do much trimming on either piece. If the lid came off a bit heavy, turn it upside down in the mouth of the jar, center the jar on the wheel head, and trim off the excess. Alternatively, center the lid upside down on the wheel-head, then use a coil of clay under the lip to accommodate the lifted section and level the lid for trimming (9). If the pot needs trimming, the altered rim won’t keep you from turning it upside down on the wheel head and holding it in place with three wads of clay.
If you prefer a pot with a gallery, it’s only slightly more complicated to make it this way. Throw a jar with a thick rim and split the rim to form the gallery. Then throw the lid upside down, measuring to make sure it fits the gallery of the pot. Reshape the rim of the jar and the lid and try them together before they get too stiff (10). You’ll want to cut off the gallery inside the reshaped area of the jar to accommodate the dipper. Once the lid has stiffened up enough, trim it, attach a small blob of clay, and throw it into a knob. It’s a good idea to put a small dry sponge under the lid when you do this to avoid collapsing it.
Be sure to use stable, food-safe glazes on your honey pot. If you don’t want to leave an unglazed area inside the rim of the honey pot, fire the lid separately. You can dip the whole lid in glaze and fire it on stilts, or wax the underside and fire it right-side-up next to the honey pot.
Sumi von Dassow is an artist, instructor, and regular contributor to Pottery Making Illustrated. She lives in Golden, Colorado. Check out Sumi’s book, In the Potter’s Kitchen, available in the Ceramic Arts Daily Shop.