How are handmade ceramics made? Part Two: hand-building

Part 2: Hand-building

Hand-building refers to a multitude of making techniques which predominately use hands to create. In contrast to throwing on the wheel, hand-building is a slower way of forming the clay into your desired shape.

The main types of hand-building are pinching, coiling and slab-building. Each of these techniques refers to the way the clay is formed to join together in the creation of an object. These techniques can also be combined with each other, with wheel-thrown or cast elements to create a final piece. Functional objects made using these techniques must also still be decorated, glazed and fired before becoming useful.


The first pot that anyone will ever make is usually a pinch pot. Pinch pots are made by pressing a finger or thumb in the centre of a ball of clay then slowly pinching while rotating the ball to create a bowl shape. The walls can be thinned out and made larger by repeating this process. The surface of pinch pots is usually marked with lots and lots of small fingerprints. Pots made using this technique can be made larger by adding coils onto the tops of the walls to make them taller, which brings me to the next technique, coiling.  


Coiling involves rolling out long coils (extrusions, or snakes) of clay which will then be placed on top of each other to create the walls of an object. In a similar motion to 3d printing, each coil of clay is placed on top of the other to create height in the walls. Between each layer, the clay may be scored and slipped – where the clay has many x’s drawn on it then liquid clay applied between the join – or they may be attached by smoothing the joins to hide the coils. Coiling is a common technique for building vases.

Coils can also be attached as handles using the score-and-slip technique where the handle meets the wall.

Slab building

Slabs are rolled out clay – much like pastry or cookie dough – the clay is spread out using a rolling pin, hands or a slab roller (think printing press). Each slab of clay can either be cut out to form objects such as plates or small bowls, or it can be dried to leather hard and attached to other pieces to form larger works such as vases. Slabs can also be draped over moulds to create large works such as plates, serving bowls or platters.

Hand-building techniques are crucial to being able to understand how to use clay in a variety of ways. Even the most dedicated throwers will use these techniques sometimes!

Discover hand-built ceramics.