Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Slab-Built Pottery Mug

Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Slab-Built Pottery Mug

Creating your own pottery mug can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience. Slab-building is a popular technique that allows you to shape and design unique pieces of pottery by using flat sheets of clay. Whether you are a beginner or have some experience with pottery, this step-by-step guide will provide you with expert tips on how to make a slab-built pottery mug.

Step 1: Prep Work

Before you start working with clay, it’s important to prepare your workspace and gather all the necessary materials. Make sure you have enough clay for your project and have it properly wedged to remove any air bubbles. Prepare a clean surface and have a rolling pin, a ruler, a straight edge, and some newspaper or cloth ready.

Step 2: Rolling Out the Clay

Next, take a portion of your wedged clay and start rolling it out on the clean surface. Use the rolling pin to flatten the clay into a consistent thickness, which will be the foundation for your mug. Use the ruler or straight edge to check the thickness and make adjustments as necessary. Remember, a thicker slab will result in a sturdier mug, but may take longer to dry.

Step 3: Shaping the Mug

Once you have rolled out the clay, it’s time to shape the mug. Use a template or create your own design by gently pressing a cup or bowl onto the clay slab to create an outline. Use a knife or clay tools to carefully cut along the outline, creating the shape of the mug. Smooth out the edges with your fingers or a sponge to ensure a clean finish.

Step 4: Assembling the Mug

To assemble the mug, position the cut-out clay shape on top of a long strip of clay. Press the edges of the shape and the strip together firmly, using your fingers to seal the seams. Smooth out any visible seams using water and a clay tool or your fingers. You can also add a handle or any additional decorations at this stage if desired.

Step 5: Drying and Finishing

After assembling the mug, allow it to dry slowly and evenly. You can place it on a piece of newspaper or cloth to absorb excess moisture. Avoid drying it too quickly, as this can cause the clay to crack. Once the mug is completely dry, you can refine the shape and smooth out any rough areas with sandpaper or a sponge. Then, fire the mug in a kiln according to the specific instructions for your clay type.

With these step-by-step instructions and expert tips, you can now confidently create your own slab-built pottery mug. Be patient with the process and enjoy the creative journey as you transform a simple slab of clay into a functional and beautiful piece of pottery.

Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Slab-Built Pottery Mug

Creating a slab-built pottery mug involves using clay slabs to construct the various parts of the mug, such as the walls, bottom, and handle. It is a fun and creative process that allows you to design and personalize your own unique mug. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you get started:

  1. Gather your materials: You will need clay, a rolling pin, a slab roller or a rolling pin guide (to ensure consistent slab thickness), a pottery wheel (optional), wooden templates or a ruler, a clay knife or a sharp tool for cutting, a sponge, and a pottery rib for smoothing.
  2. Prepare the clay: Knead and wedge the clay to remove any air bubbles and make it pliable and smooth.
  3. Create the bottom: Roll out a slab of clay to your desired thickness using a rolling pin or a slab roller. Use a wooden template or a ruler to cut out a circle for the bottom of your mug. Smooth the edges with a pottery rib.
  4. Construct the walls: Roll out more clay slabs to your desired thickness. Using a template or ruler, cut out a rectangle or square shape for the walls of your mug. Wrap the slab around a cylindrical object (like a can or bottle) to create the curved shape of the mug. Join the edges together using slip (a mixture of clay and water) or scoring (scratching the surfaces with a tool) and apply slip to create a strong bond.
  5. Attach the bottom: Score and apply slip to the bottom of the walls and gently press it onto the bottom slab. Smooth the join with a pottery rib.
  6. Add the handle: Roll out a long, thin slab of clay and shape it into a handle. Attach the handle to the mug by scoring and applying slip to both the handle and the mug. Smooth the join with a pottery rib.
  7. Decorate and design: Use various tools, stamps, or textures to decorate your mug. You can create patterns, add textures, or carve designs into the surface of the clay.
  8. Dry and trim: Allow your mug to dry slowly to avoid cracking. Once it is leather-hard, use a clay knife or a sharp tool to trim any excess clay, refine the shape, and smooth the edges.
  9. Bisque firing: Place your mug in a kiln and fire it at a low temperature (around 1800°F) to remove any remaining moisture from the clay and strengthen it for glazing.
  10. Glaze and final firing: Apply glaze to your mug using a brush or dipping it into glaze. Fire your mug once again in the kiln at a higher temperature (around 2200°F) to melt the glaze and create a smooth, glass-like surface.
  11. Enjoy your handmade mug: Once the final firing is complete and your mug has cooled, it is ready to be used and enjoyed!

Remember, practice makes perfect, so don’t be discouraged if your first few attempts are not exactly as you imagined. Have fun experimenting with different shapes, decorations, and glazes to create your own unique pottery mug!

Prepare the Clay

Before you can begin creating your slab-built pottery mug, you need to prepare the clay. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Gather the materials: Start by gathering all the necessary materials for preparing the clay. This includes a bag of clay, a wedging table or canvas, water, and a bucket for soaking the clay.
  2. Soak the clay: Place the clay in a bucket filled with water and let it soak for a few hours or overnight. This will help soften the clay and make it easier to work with.
  3. Remove excess water: Once the clay has soaked, remove it from the bucket and drain any excess water. You want the clay to be damp but not overly wet.
  4. Wedging the clay: Place the clay on a wedging table or canvas and begin kneading and pressing it to remove any air bubbles and ensure it is evenly mixed. This process is known as wedging and helps improve the plasticity of the clay.
  5. Check the consistency: As you wedge the clay, check its consistency. It should be soft and pliable, not too dry or too wet. If it feels too dry, you can add a small amount of water. If it feels too wet, you can let it sit out for a while to dry slightly.
  6. Divide the clay: Divide the wedged clay into smaller portions that are manageable for working with. You can use a wire tool or knife to cut the clay into sections.

Once the clay is prepared, you are ready to begin the slab-building process and create your pottery mug. Remember to work on a clean surface and keep your tools and hands moist to prevent the clay from drying out too quickly.

Roll Out the Slabs

Once your clay has had enough time to become workable, it’s time to start rolling out the slabs for your pottery mug. Here’s how:

  1. Prepare your work surface by dusting it with cornstarch or using a canvas cloth to prevent sticking.
  2. Take a portion of your clay and knead it to remove any air bubbles and improve its consistency.
  3. Shape the clay into a ball and place it onto the work surface.
  4. Using a rolling pin, start rolling out the clay into a flat slab. Aim for a thickness of around 1/4 inch (0.6 cm), but adjust it according to your desired mug size.
  5. Rotate the slab periodically and continue rolling until you achieve your desired thickness.
  6. Use a ruler or template to cut out the shape of your mug. You can use a mug or cup as a reference or create your own unique design.
  7. Transfer the slab to a flat board or clay bat to maintain its shape and prevent warping.
  8. Repeat the process to create additional slabs for the sides and bottom of your mug.

Remember to take breaks and keep your clay moist if needed. Rolling out slabs can be physically demanding, so pace yourself accordingly.

Shape the Mug Walls

Once you have rolled out your slab of clay and trimmed it to size, it’s time to shape the walls of your mug.

  1. Start by gently lifting the slab of clay and placing it onto a supportive surface, such as a foam mat or canvas.
  2. Using your hands, carefully begin to mold the slab of clay into the desired shape for your mug. You can shape it into a cylinder, or you can play around with different forms like a tapered shape or a bulbous shape.
  3. As you shape the clay, be sure to smooth out any cracks or imperfections that may appear. You can do this by running your fingers along the surface of the clay, or by using a rib tool to gently scrape away any excess clay.
  4. Once you are happy with the general shape of your mug, use a template or a mug form to help guide you in shaping the walls. This will ensure that your mug has even thickness and a consistent shape.
  5. If you want to create handles for your mug, now is the time to attach them. Roll out a small slab of clay and shape it into a handle. Score both the handle and the mug where they will be attached, and use slip (a mixture of clay and water) to secure them together. Smooth out any rough edges or seams.
  6. Finally, give your mug a final once-over, smoothing out any remaining imperfections. Pay attention to the rim of the mug, making sure it is smooth and even.

Once you are satisfied with the shape of your mug, set it aside to dry and firm up. This process can take anywhere from a few days to a week, depending on the thickness of your clay and the humidity of your environment.

After it has dried completely, you can move on to the next step in the pottery-making process, such as trimming the foot or adding decorative elements.

Attach the Handle

Attaching the handle to your pottery mug is the final step in the slab-building process. Follow these step-by-step instructions to ensure a secure and aesthetically pleasing handle.

  1. Prepare the handle: Roll out a long slab of clay and use a knife or ruler to cut it to the desired width and length for your handle. Smooth the edges with your fingers or a modeling tool.
  2. Create attachment points: Score and slip the areas where you will attach the handle to your mug. This will help the handle adhere to the surface of the mug more securely.
  3. Position the handle: Place one end of the handle on the scored and slipped area of the mug, using your fingers or a modeling tool to press it firmly in place. Make sure the handle is aligned properly and sits comfortably in your hand.
  4. Attach the handle: Apply additional slip to both sides of the handle where it meets the mug. Press the handle firmly onto the mug, ensuring a strong bond. Smooth out any excess slip or visible seams with a modeling tool or your fingers.
  5. Support the handle: Use small coils of clay or other supports to prop up the handle while it dries. This will prevent it from sagging or slumping during the drying process.
  6. Let it dry: Allow the pottery mug with the attached handle to dry slowly and evenly. This will help minimize the risk of cracking or warping. Drying times will vary depending on the thickness of your clay and the ambient humidity.
  7. Bisque fire and glaze: Once completely dry, bisque fire your pottery mug to harden it. Then, choose and apply your desired glaze. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for firing your glazed piece.

Follow these steps carefully, and you’ll have a beautifully handcrafted slab-built pottery mug with a secure and functional handle. Enjoy your unique creation!

Smooth and Finish the Mug

Smooth and Finish the Mug

Once the slab-built mug has been assembled and shaped, it’s time to smooth and finish the surface to give it a polished look and feel. Follow these steps to achieve a well-finished mug:

  1. Smooth the seams: Use a moistened sponge or a rib tool to gently smooth out any visible seams or rough edges where the slabs were joined together. This will create a seamless appearance.
  2. Trim excess clay: If there are any excess clay or uneven edges on the top rim or the bottom of the mug, use a trimming tool to carefully remove them. This will give the mug a clean and finished look.
  3. Add texture: If desired, you can use various tools or objects to create texture on the surface of the mug. Consider using stamps, brushes, or even natural materials like leaves to add unique patterns or designs.
  4. Smooth the surface: Use a damp sponge or your fingers to gently smooth the entire surface of the mug. Pay attention to any areas with visible lines or imperfections, and keep smoothing until the surface feels even and free of blemishes.
  5. Dry slowly: Place the finished mug on a clean and level surface to dry slowly. Cover it loosely with a plastic bag or wrap it in plastic wrap to prevent it from drying too quickly and cracking.
  6. Bisque firing: Once the mug is completely dry, it needs to go through a bisque firing in a kiln. This firing will transform the clay into a durable ceramic material.
  7. Glazing: After the bisque firing, the mug can be decorated with glazes if desired. Choose glazes that are approved for food-safe use and carefully apply them to the mug’s surface using brushes or dipping methods.
  8. Final firing: The glazed mug will need to go through a final firing to fuse the glaze to the clay and create a finished piece. Follow the instructions provided by the glaze manufacturer for the appropriate firing temperature and duration.

Once the mug has completed its final firing, it will be ready to be used or displayed. Enjoy your handcrafted slab-built pottery mug!

Let the Mug Dry

After shaping and assembling all the parts of your mug, it’s important to let it dry gradually. This helps to prevent cracking and warping during the drying process. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Cover the mug: Use a plastic bag or plastic wrap to cover the entire mug. This helps to slow down the drying process and prevent the mug from drying too quickly.
  2. Place the mug on a drying rack: Find a drying rack or a flat surface where you can place the mug upside down. The drying rack allows air to circulate around the mug, ensuring even drying.
  3. Leave the mug to dry: Depending on the humidity and thickness of the clay, the drying process can take several days to a week. It’s important to be patient and allow the mug to dry completely before moving on to the next step.
  4. Check for dryness: To determine if the mug is dry, touch the surface. If it feels cool to the touch and there are no areas of dampness, then it’s ready for the next step. If it still feels slightly damp, continue to let it dry for a few more days.

During the drying process, it’s crucial to monitor the mug regularly to ensure it dries evenly. Avoid exposing it to direct sunlight or heat sources, as this can cause uneven drying and increase the risk of cracking.

Once the mug is completely dry, it’s ready to be bisque-fired in a kiln. This initial firing will remove any remaining moisture and make the mug ready for glazing.

Bisque Firing

After you have completed your slab-built pottery mug, the next step is bisque firing. Bisque firing is the process of heating the pottery to a high temperature to harden it and remove any remaining moisture. This firing is typically done in a kiln.

Here are the steps to bisque firing:

  1. Make sure your pottery is completely dry before placing it in the kiln. Any remaining moisture can cause the piece to crack or explode during firing.
  2. Place your pottery on kiln shelves, making sure there is enough space between each piece for airflow.
  3. Set the kiln to the recommended bisque firing temperature, which is usually around 1800°F (982°C).
  4. Allow the kiln to slowly ramp up to the desired temperature. Rapid temperature changes can cause the pottery to crack.
  5. Once the kiln has reached the desired temperature, maintain it for a period of time to allow the pottery to fully harden.
  6. After the firing is complete, allow the kiln to cool down slowly. Rapid cooling can also cause the pottery to crack.
  7. Once the kiln has cooled to a safe temperature, you can remove your bisque-fired pottery.

Bisque firing is an essential step in pottery making as it prepares the clay for glazing. The bisque-fired pottery will have a porous surface, making it easier for the glaze to adhere to the clay during the next firing.

Make sure to handle your bisque-fired pottery with care, as it is still fragile at this stage. It can be sanded or smoothed before glazing to remove any rough edges.

Glazing and Final Firing

Once your slab-built pottery mug is completely dry and you’re satisfied with its shape and structure, it’s time to move on to the glazing process.

1. Prepare your glaze:

  • Choose a glaze that is suitable for the type of clay you used.
  • Make sure the glaze is properly mixed and strained to remove any impurities.
  • Read the instructions provided by the manufacturer for proper application and firing temperature.

2. Apply the glaze:

  • Use a soft brush or sponge to evenly apply the glaze to the surface of the mug.
  • Be careful to avoid drips or pooling of glaze, as this can affect the final result.
  • Consider using multiple layers of glaze to achieve the desired effect.

3. Let the glaze dry:

  • Allow the glaze to dry completely before proceeding to the final firing.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for drying time.

4. Safety precautions:

  • Wear appropriate protective equipment, such as gloves and a mask, when working with glazes and firing kilns.
  • Ensure proper ventilation in your workspace to minimize exposure to harmful fumes.

5. Final firing:

  • Place your glazed mug on a kiln shelf or kiln furniture.
  • Follow the firing schedule recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Slowly increase the temperature to the recommended firing temperature, typically between 1830°F and 2200°F (1000°C and 1200°C).
  • Allow the kiln to cool down slowly after reaching the desired temperature to avoid thermal shock.

Once the final firing is complete and the kiln has cooled down, carefully remove your slab-built pottery mug from the kiln. You can now enjoy your beautifully glazed and finished creation!


What is slab-built pottery?

Slab-built pottery is a technique in ceramics where clay is rolled into thin sheets, and these sheets are then cut into shapes and assembled together to create a three-dimensional form.

Can I use any type of clay for slab-building?

Yes, you can use any type of clay for slab-building, but it’s best to use a clay that is suitable for the firing method you plan to use. Different types of clays have different characteristics and firing temperatures.

What tools do I need for making a slab-built pottery mug?

You will need a rolling pin, a ruler, a knife or a clay cutter, a scoring tool, a brush for slip, and some form of a mold or template to shape the clay into a mug.

How do I attach the handle to the mug?

To attach the handle to the mug, score the area where you want to attach the handle, apply slip to both the scored area and the handle, and then press the handle firmly onto the scored area. Make sure to smooth out any excess slip or clay.

Can I add decorative elements to my slab-built pottery mug?

Yes, you can add decorative elements to your slab-built pottery mug. You can use stamps, textured rollers, or even carve designs into the clay before assembling the mug. Just make sure to plan and place the decorative elements in a way that they will not interfere with the functionality of the mug.

What are some tips for beginners in slab-building pottery?

Some tips for beginners in slab-building pottery are to start with simple shapes, practice rolling even slabs of clay, and to be patient and take your time. It’s also helpful to have a plan or a design in mind before starting and to experiment with different techniques and finishes to find what works best for you.

Hand building a slab mug with texture tutorial

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