In the Potter’s Kitchen: Making an Oil Cruet

My dad starting buying olive oil in a very large glass jar from a local market. He wanted me to make something so he could keep a small amount of the oil on the counter—ready for cooking and dressing salads. I’m challenged by this form each and every time I make it: making a better spout; getting each component to work together visually; and, of course, making an object that pours well.

Throwing and Shaping the Parts

Start with 2 pounds of clay for the cylinder and ½ pound for the base. Throw a 7–8-inch-tall cylinder without a bottom by opening all the way to the bat. I don’t throw this cylinder super thin because I will refine the shape later with a Surform rasp. The base and top of the cylinder are slightly flared, giving the thrown cylinder a subtle hourglass shape. Using calipers, measure the diameter of the bottom. This is the diameter for the base of the cruet. Before removing the cylinder from the bat, use a metal rib to push in on the bottom, while pushing in on the opposite side at the top, creating a slightly undulating appearance (1). When the cylinder is leather hard, use a Surform to accentuate the undulating shape of the cylinder, following the curve of the cylinder on each side (2).

1 Throw a bottomless cylinder with a slight hourglass shape.

2 When leather hard, use a Surform to accentuate the shape.

To throw the base of the cruet, pull up a really short cylinder. Using ½ pound of clay, throw a cylinder that’s about 2–3 inches in height, making the sides slightly concave. This wall will become the foot ring of the form when the base is flipped over and attached to the bottom of the cruet. Check with the calipers to ensure the base is the same diameter as the bottom of the cylinder (3). There will be some trimming later with the Surform tool so it doesn’t have to be exact.

Next, when the cylinder and base are leather hard, score and add slip to join the pieces together (4). Making several tops and bottoms allows you to mix and match to find the best pairings. I make about 5–6 of each at a time. I use a long throwing stick to help compress the inside attachment. I also compress the groove on the outside where the two pieces meet with a porcupine quill or any similar smooth pointed tool.

3 Throw a base that’s about 2–3 inches in height with slightly concave walls.

4 When both parts are leather hard, score each part, then join the two with slip.

The Top

Roll out a slab and cut out a circle that is about 1½ inches wider than the top of the cylinder. Next, cut out a small triangle-shaped pie wedge from that slab. Score and slip the edges of the triangle and attach. This creates a shallow cone (5). Drape the cone over plastic, or a small mound of fabric, to create a curve in the top and allow it to set up to leather hard (6). When firm, place it on top of the cylinder, trim off any excess, leaving about 1/8 inch around the edge (7). Score and slip the rim of the body and the perimeter of the top. Using a soft rib, smooth the attachment around the edge of the top and around the side. Place these under plastic so the attachment point can set up. Next, use a Surform to trim off any extra clay, creating a smooth corner transition between the body and the top of the cruet.

5 Cut out a circle. Remove a small triangular wedge, then create a shallow cone.

6 Attach the edges of the cone, then drape it over a mound of fabric to let it set up.

7 When firm, join the dome to the cylinder and trim off any excess.

8 Place a thin slab on thin plastic. Trace a spout template on the slab and cut it out.

The Spout

Create a spout template with paper. You can vary the length of the spout to create the shape that best fits the cruet. Fold a piece of paper in half, draw one half of the spout and cut it out. This creates the other side of the spout, so you have a symmetrical shape. Roll out a very thin slab and place the slab on plastic. Place the template on the clay slab, trace it, and cut out the spout form (8). The plastic underneath helps to prevent the spout from drying out while the shape is being formed.

Use water to taper the edges of the spout shape all the way around with your fingers. This is done before molding the spout and attaching the edges. With the plastic still on one side, overlap and smooth the tapered edges together. Slowly work the sides of the spout around, creating the interior space (9). A porcupine quill or any other long, thin, smooth tool is great for holding the shape. Once you have formed the spout, peel off the plastic to allow the spout to set up slightly.

Next, hold the spout up to the body of the cruet to determine where to attach it and how much to cut off. Mark the placement with a needle tool. Cut the opening, score, and apply slip around the areas to be joined. When scoring the spout, create a slightly flared base. This creates an edge to attach and smooth into the body. Attach the spout, using a sponge and small flexible rib, making sure to reinforce the attachment point (10).

9 Taper the edges, mold the spout, then attach the edges.

10 Attach the spout, smooth the cylinder, then wipe the form with a damp sponge.

11 Cut out a hole on the top for a fill hole, then add a coil around the opening.

12 Use a sharp tool to cut out shapes in the base to add decorative elements.

Finishing Details

When the top has set up to a stiff leather hard, create the opening for pouring in the oil. Use a sharp knife to cut a ½-inch square into it opposite from the spout. Roll out a thin 4-inch coil, score and apply slip to it and to the edge around the square opening, then attach it. Smooth the attachment of the coil to the top with your fingers, rounding the opening (11). This will be the rim at the top of the cruet.

Next, to decorate the base, use a sharp tool to cut out small circles from the base (12). People are drawn to these cutouts and when they pick up a cruet to investigate them, they immediately notice how comfortable the cruet is in their hand.

Finally, when all parts are attached, use a metal rib to smooth out and minimize the texture left by the Surform, then finish up with a damp sponge, wiping down the entire form.

Photos: Chelsa Yoder Photography.

Wendy Wrenn Werstlein is a potter living and working in Floyd, Virginia. She left a career as a high-school science teacher to be a potter. Wendy attended Haywood Community College for an associates degree in professional crafts and completed a two year apprenticeship with Silvie Granatelli. Wendy creates functional porcelain pieces for the home and table. She seeks to create pots that will engage the user visually and tactilely through the daily rituals of serving, preparing and sharing food. To learn more, visit http://wrennpottery.com.

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