You probably never thought you needed a soy sauce dispenser, but this is a fun project that’s guaranteed to intrigue anybody who sees it, and once you have one, you’ll find it useful! When you first encounter this traditional Chinese form it’s not immediately obvious how you use it. It appears to be a closed form with only a spout and a handle, but if you pick it up you’ll see the conical opening underneath for filling. You may be familiar with a similar form, without the spout, which many potters make as a salt shaker. This type of dispenser is filled by turning it upside down and pouring soy sauce in through an opening that extends into the interior like a mine shaft. The soy sauce fills the interior but doesn’t come back out the underside because the conical shaft extends almost all the way to the top of the inside.
This form is great practice for throwing spouts off the hump. It has a spout, just like a teapot spout but smaller; a handle that is much like a spout; and the shaft that is used to fill it is essentially another spout.
Throwing Spouts Off the Hump
Start with 2 pounds of clay, center it into a hump, then use the sides of your hands to create a knob from a few ounces at the top of the hump. Open up this knob with a thumb or fingertip then widen it out a bit at the base where the knob meets the hump (1). Unlike most things you might throw off the hump, when you’re making a spout you don’t need to worry about leaving a floor on the bottom of the spout. If it has a floor, it’s easier to keep it round when you remove it from the hump, but if you go too deep, you haven’t ruined it.
1 Center 2 pounds of clay and create a small knob at the top of the hump. Open up for the spout, then shape it.
2 Make the spout opening smaller by pulling up with a needle tool handle inside, then bend the spout before removing it.
3 Throw the handle similar to the spout but flared at the rim. Cut a groove at the base, wire under it, and remove it.
4 Open up the remaining lump of clay to the bat to make a donut shape, then create a channel in the center of the donut.
Pull up the walls of the spout, creating a tiny cylinder, then collar in to make a very narrow opening. Alternate pulling and collaring until you have a graceful spout. A spout should never flare at the tip. To make a very small opening on this little spout, your last pull can be done using the handle of a needle tool or small paintbrush instead of a fingertip inside (2). If you don’t curve the spout, you might need to cut the tip with a needle tool and clean it up with a soft sponge. If you want to curve the spout, put the tool handle back inside and push gently with a clean left index fingertip on the tip of the spout while you smoothly pull the tool handle out and to the right. Cut a groove at the base of the spout, then wire it off and remove it with dry fingers.
Create another small knob at the top of the hump to make the handle (3). Open it up and pull up the wall until it’s similar to the spout. The main difference is that it flares at the tip, to help you hold the pot securely. This one isn’t curved.
Forming the Body
Once you’ve removed the handle, you should still have 1½ pounds of clay for the body of the pot. This part starts out a lot like a tube-cake pan (see Sumi’s process for throwing a bundt pan in the Nov/Dec 2015 issue). Flatten this mound out a bit and open all the way to the bat. This will create a volcano shape, which you want to flatten out a little more so there’s no hump in the center. With a fingertip, open up a channel in this donut shape as close to the center as you can (4). You need to create the shaft in the center of this form, but you only need a few ounces of clay for it. Don’t worry about having enough clay to make the shaft tall enough—I guarantee you’ll have more than you need and you’ll end up cutting it shorter. Make the channel an inch wide or so with a floor only ¼ inch thick. Now put your finger back into the center opening and pull it toward yourself to widen it out to 1½ inches or so, undercutting the channel a bit. This allows you to bring more clay up into the shaft so there isn’t any extra weight at the base to be trimmed off later.
5 Alternate pulling and collaring on the middle cylinder to create a narrow and even central shaft.
6 Pull the rest of the clay up to create an outer wall then collar it in. Make sure the top of the wall is above the shaft tip.
7 Collar in with finger- and thumb-tips as the opening gets smaller. The opening should be slightly conical at this point.
8 Close the top, then use a metal rib to smooth and press on the form slightly to test the join at the top.
Now you’re going to practice the spout form again—pull the center shaft up and collar it in until it resembles a spout in the center of your pot. The tip doesn’t need to be narrow, so skip that step. It should be 2–3 inches tall now, although you may need to cut it down later (5). The next step is to pull up the outer wall, making something that resembles a mini tube-cake pan with a tall outer wall (6). Be rigorous about pulling clay up from the base. It’s a small piece of clay and you shouldn’t need to leave extra at the base to support the wall. Plus, once the form is closed it’s stressful to trim since you can’t judge the thickness. And most importantly, you need to pull the wall up as tall as you can so it will clear the central shaft when you collar it in to create the enclosed form. Once you’ve pulled the wall up as tall as you can, it should be an inch or more taller than the central shaft (see 6). If the shaft is too tall, cut it down. To close the form, collar it in from about halfway down. As you collar, the clay thickens up so you can pull it a bit taller. Alternate collaring and pulling until you can no longer get a finger inside (7). Keep checking the central tube to make sure there is space between the top of the tube and the underside of the closed-in wall, and cut it down again if you’re getting close. When the form is almost closed over, you should have a little chocolate kiss shape in the center, not a flat surface with a hole in it. If the opening is ragged or uneven, cut it down before you attempt to close it. To close it all the way, push with just the tips of your index fingers and thumbs until the kiss closes up all the way. If you do it right, the edges of the hole will seal up from the inside so the full thickness of the wall is joined together, ensuring it won’t open back up as it dries.
Smooth the form with a metal rib, being careful not to push the top down (8). Slight pressure from the rib reveals if the closed-over spot is still weak. Trim it slightly at the base of the form, then wire it off.
9 Wrap a cutting wire at an angle around the base of the spout, then make the cut with a sharp knife.
10 Place the spout on the pot so that its lower edge is slightly below the top of the pot. Mark a line, then cut a hole.
11 Join and smooth the pieces. Give the spout a sharp pouring edge, then cut the base of the handle and attach it.
12 The finished soy sauce dispenser shown in cross-section. Note the way the fill shaft almost touches the top of the body.
Once all pieces are a soft leather hard, cut the base of the spout at an angle to fit the closed form and bevel the cut edge (9). If you curved the spout, the curve is the underside of the spout and you’ll take more clay from the upper side as you cut the angle. Dry fit it on the closed form until you get the angle right. The tip of the spout should be just lower than the top of the closed form. If it’s too low, you won’t be able to fill the form all the way. If it’s too high, soy sauce comes out the spout as you try to fill the pot from underneath (see the cross-section in 12).
Hold the spout onto the pot and draw around it, then cut a hole into the pot ¼ inch inside the line you drew (10). This is your chance to check if you need to trim at all, and to see if there’s space between the top of the shaft and the closed-over top of the form. If you need to trim, you can place the pot upside-down on a chuck. I use a needle tool to remove some of the ragged clay that remains at the bottom of the shaft. If the shaft touches the roof, you can cut the top of the pot off, cut the shaft down, and re-attach the top with slip. Attach the spout with slip or magic water, smoothing the join with a sponge and rib (see 11).
The last step, if you curved the spout, is to cut the tip at an angle. Cut off the upper edge of the tip, leaving the lower edge of the spout sharp for pouring (see 11). Tip: Shave a tiny bit more from the left-hand edge since it will untwist in the firing. If you threw counter-clockwise, the spout will untwist clockwise, so you must attach it angled slightly counter-clockwise.
Attach the handle next. Cut off the base, bevel the edge, and attach it with slip or magic water. (11) The handle should extend straight out from the body of the pot, high enough that your fingers fit around it.
The finished soy sauce dispenser shown in cross-section (12). You can see the soy sauce can only fill the cavity inside the form to the height of the pouring edge of the spout, and likewise only to the height of the shaft inside, so it’s important to get the shaft as close to the roof as possible and to get the spout attached at the correct height. There should not be a dimple on the underside of the roof from closing it over. If careless closing leaves a dimple there, it’s likely to crack as it dries.
When holding the dispenser by the handle at the correct angle for filling it with soy sauce, the tip of the spout is at the same level as the bottom of the form, so soy sauce poured into the shaft won’t pour right out the spout. As soy sauce is poured in, the air inside the form will go out the spout, so you only need a very small gap between the shaft and the top of the form.
Drying, Glazing, and Using
Dry this form slowly! The closed-over spot at the top is especially vulnerable to cracking if it dries unevenly.
Glaze the pot with a stable, food-safe glaze and be sure to fire it to vitrification since the pot will sit around full of liquid.
To fill the pot, hold it upside down, angled so the spout is pointing upward, then slowly pour soy sauce into the shaft. When the soy sauce starts to come out the spout or backs up into the shaft, it’s full.
Of course there is no good way to clean inside this pot other than simply rinsing it between uses. Soy sauce is salty enough that you don’t have to worry about residue molding. You can also fill this dispenser with vinegar or brandy, but don’t fill it with anything sweetened with sugar—no mirin, cooking sherry, or liqueurs. You can keep this by the stove while you’re cooking to add soy sauce to recipes, or on the table during a meal. In addition to acting as a conversation piece, the elegant design has no lid to get misplaced or get dirty while you’re cooking.
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, https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/bookstore/in-the-potters-kitchen.