Slab building allows you to make pottery, including mugs and pitchers, with clean lines. Working with slabs by hand also is generally easier to master than using a potter's wheel. But this tutorial for a slab-built mug is still for those who have some experience with pottery.
These are some techniques you should be familiar with for this project:
With intermediate pottery skills, this project should only take you a couple hours of working time and around a week of drying time before you can fire the mug. (If you live in a humid environment, it can take even longer to dry.) Then, you can decorate the mug to your taste. Besides creating customized pottery for yourself, these mugs can make excellent personalized gifts.
Equipment / Tools
- Jar or glass for a circle template
- Potter’s needle
- String for measuring
- Carpenter’s square or ruler
- Small paint brush
- Wooden trimming or modeling tool
- 1 pound Clay (preferably a mid-range or high-fire stoneware)
- Slurry or water
- Food-safe glaze
Create the Floor of the Mug
For a uniformly cylindrical mug, it is best to start with a circular floor. The easiest way to achieve this is to use a jar or glass as a circle template. The mug wall will be attached to the top of the floor, so make the circle big enough to accommodate both the wall thickness and the desired interior diameter of the mug.
Roll out your clay slab to an even thickness of about 1/4 inch. Place the jar in the middle of the slab. Then, using your potter's needle, either cut directly around the jar or slightly impress the jar into the clay and cut along the line of the impression. Gently peel away the excess clay.
Your mug will be less likely to have problems with form and with cracking if you roll out the floor slab on a cloth-covered board. By doing so, you'll avoid stretching the wet clay, and the cloth will help to wick water away from the mug as it is drying.
Create and Attach the Mug's Wall
Now it's time to make the mug wall. First, use a piece of string to measure the circumference of the mug floor, which you'll use to determine how long your wall slab needs to be. Next, decide how tall you want your mug to be.
Roll out a clay slab to the same thickness as your mug floor, and use a ruler or carpenter's square to measure a rectangle in the slab. The rectangle's length should be slightly longer than the circumference of the mug floor (you can trim the wall for a precise fit when you attach it if necessary), and its width should equal the desired mug height. Cut out the rectangle, and gently pull away the excess clay.
If the clay is soft, allow the wall slab to stiffen a bit before doing anything else. You don't want it leather hard, but you do need it to be able to support its own weight.
Once the wall slab is stiff enough, score and slip around the top edge of the floor and around one long side and both short sides of the wall. Attach the wall to the floor. And then attach the sides to each other to create the cylindrical shape of the mug's body. Weld (press) all of the joints together, both on the exterior and the interior of the mug.
Create the Mug's Handle
For a strap handle, roll out a clay slab that is the same thickness as the mug floor and wall. Measure and cut out a slab that is the desired length and width of your handle, taking into account that it will slightly shrink when dried and fired.
Attach the Handle to the Mug
Score and slip the handle and the mug at the points where they will be attached. Weld them firmly together. Mug handles take a great deal of stress, so make sure your joints are strong.
Now your mug form is complete, and you can do any necessary touchup work. Consider rounding the rim, so it's more comfortable against the user's lips. Then, leave your mug to dry.
Finish Your Slab-Built Mug
After your mug is completely bone dry, it is time to convert it from clay to ceramic with bisque firing. Once bisqued, glaze the mug with food-safe glaze. The interior glaze should be glossy, and the glaze along the rim should be thick enough to create a smooth texture. Then, let the mug dry according to the glaze instructions before use.