Hand building an olla


Trying something new. I’m using low-fire clay bodies that mature at cone 04-1. RedArt Terra Cotta, RedArt with sand, and Terra Cotta (which has grog). I will fire them at our bisque temperature, cone 06 (~1000C), where I hope they will remain porous. They’ll be prettier than my first pots, plus I won’t be under-firing.


I bought a banding wheel from Seattle Pottery Supply and am hand-building at home. We’ll see if that’s worth it when I have accumulated a bunch of pots and try bringing them into the studio!


Starting with a slab rolled out with my pastry rolling pin between two wooden-handled spoons (for even thickness). Cut columns of clay and squeeze them into rough ‘coils’ 1/2″ thick.


Set coils on the outside of lower layer for increasing, on the inside for decreasing. This is the RedArt with Sand. Doesn’t it look like it’s made out of chocolate?? It feels that way too. Buttery. I’m thinking – where is the sand?


Mend the coil to the lower layer and vice versa. Scrape sides often with a metal tool for strength.


I think it would be useful to still reach a hand inside the olla, so I’ve been building them with necks large enough for my wee hand.


Once the pot is no longer tacky to the touch, I paddle the olla with a wooden spatula to even out the shape.


I decided to decorate these pots. Even though they will be buried in the ground, the plain utilitarian look of my first set of ollas was a bit disappointing!



My first olla took 5h to make. Since then they’ve been getting smaller. This one took 2h and the next (below) took 1h. It is both smaller and thinner! It also has a longer neck, similar to the commercial ollas I’ve seen used at Path to Freedom. I am impatiently waiting for these to dry so I can try firing and planting them.

UPDATE: I will be teaching a hand-building class in Seattle March 2013!

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4 Responses to Hand building an olla

  1. E-MC says:

    How are the first set of ollas working???-e

  2. Tobi says:

    I love the decorations – even though they'll be buried, you'll know they're there. It's like wearing purple underwear 🙂

  3. Kerry says:

    I happened upon your blog looking for info on ollas. Any chance you will offer another olla making class?

    • jkmcintyre says:

      Hi Kerry,
      I think I would just do a small informal class at my house. Or maybe my friend’s house -she has a small pottery studio. Did you read my post on how the class turned out? Tragic, really.

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