These adorable little salt and pepper shakers are functional and decorative!


You will need: for the shakers
Earthenware clay
Wooden tools and ribs
Stoppers for the underside – note you will need these before you begin, to gauge the size of hole required. They are widely available online or from Scarva ceramic suppliers
Mayco Foundations brush-on glaze in white opaque
Mayco Stroke & Coat in a selection of colours, including black


For the dish
Oval, bisque dish template – See issue 14 for ways to make these. This one is 10cm long and 7cm wide
Plastic sheet, rolling pin, 5mm thick roller guides, thick card
Thick foam block (the type used in upholstery) available from fabric shops

For a nest
As above, plus:
Hand-held extruder with multi-holed dye – widely available from ceramic suppliers
Mayco Elements brush-on glaze ‘Creek bed’ or other colour of choice



Weigh out two 100g amounts of clay and form them into balls. Keep the second ball under plastic until you’re ready to use it.



Holding the first ball in one hand, press down into the centre with the thumb of your other hand until you can feel the pressure in your palm.



Change the position of your hands so that your index finger is inside the clay and your thumb is outside.

Begin to pinch out the shape, keeping your internal finger crooked to avoid the rim flaring out, and pinch the wall in small movements working incrementally around the shape in an upward and inward action.



Once the shape has been pinched to an even thickness of 4-5mm, gently sit it on a board, then cut a V-shape approximately 20mm long out at the rim, as shown.



Overlap the cut edges and pinch them together to seal them. Use a little slip if the clay is dry.



Cut two more Vs either side of the first one and close them up in the same way as the first, to reduce the size of the opening at the top.



Work over the surface of the form with a kidney to even-out the thickness of the clay wall and remove the pinching marks.



Form a small amount of clay into a ball to make the head. The size required can be gauged from the amount in the palm in the image.




Use your little finger to open up the centre of the ball, pressing down as you did for the larger amount until you can feel some pressure in your palm.

Pinch the shape out carefully. It will only take seconds to complete.



Sit the head on top of the first section to check how well it will fit.

If the head is too small for the opening on the body, reduce the size of the opening with a coil of soft clay, as shown.

Blend the coil onto the body inside and out with a wooden tool.



Test the head again to check it will now fit.



Before fixing the head in place, remove it from the body and gently ease some of the clay into a beak. Wetting your fingers slightly may help you to do this more easily.




Score around the opening on the body and the inside edge of the head, then apply a little slip to the surfaces and fix the head in place.

Smooth the clay from the rim of the head, down onto the body with a finger.



Work over the surface of the bird with a kidney to refine the shape and remove any evidence of a join.



Stamp the eyes with a tool of choice, either side of the beak. You will find this gives the bird its character and makes it more lifelike.



At any time, you can refine the shape by paddling it with a wooden spatula if required.



Roll a short length of soft clay into a coil approximately 15-20mm thick.

Holding the coil at one end, slap it down onto an absorbent surface several times to flatten it off.



Cut off the top end of the coil into a fan shape and run your finger over the cut edge to round it off, forming the tail.



Cut the tail to a suitable size to fit your particular bird.

When it’s the right size, gently pinch the newly cut edges to soften them off a little.

Cut the bottom end of the tail off so that it’s the correct length for your bird’s dimensions.



Sit the tail, upright, on the back of the bird and mark the position.

Score and slip the adjoining areas and fix the tail in place, pressing firmly to ensure any air is forced out of the join and that it is secure.



Blend the clay of the tail onto the body with a finger first, then work over the area with a kidney to neaten up.

Finish up by smoothing over the area again with a finger or soft kidney.



Reinforce the area between the body and the tail with a coil of soft clay and blend it into place with a wooden tool until neat.



Using a pin, draw the outline of the wings on the sides of the bird. The amount of detail you include is up to you.



Lightly carve out the wing detail with a suitable tool to define it better and don’t forget to include the tail, with lines to represent feathers.



Using a pin, make a hole in the top of the head for the salt to shake from.



Take the stopper and mark its position on the underside of the bird by impressing it into the clay.

Impress a second, larger circle around the first one, using something suitably sized, or simply score an outline with a pin.



Cut out the hole for the stopper using a hole-cutting tool. Bear clay shrinkage in mind and make the hole slightly larger than the stopper.

Neaten around the hole with a wooden tool.



Check that the stopper will fit with a little room to spare.



Very carefully scribe a line around the opening, about 2mm deep (DO NOT CUT RIGHT THROUGH THE CLAY) then, holding your knife in the position shown, cut the ring out to leave an indented space around the stopper opening.



Neaten the area up with a wooden tool to complete the first shaker.



Make the second shaker in exactly the same way but make three holes in the head for pepper, to distinguish it from the salt version.



Allow the finished shakers to dry slowly before bisque firing.




Prepare a small block of clay – it must accommodate the bisque template, so estimate accordingly.

Working on the sheet of plastic, reduce the bulk of the clay by beating it with the side of your rolling pin. Work in measured, even strokes from one side of the clay to the other, to avoid making deep grooves in the surface.

Roll out the clay between your roller guides, testing it for size against the template.

You will find that periodically turning the slab will make rolling much easier and give you more control to achieve the approximate shape that you require.

Once the slab is rolled out evenly, smooth over the surface with a rib to compact the clay.



Place the bisque former on the slab and lightly mark the outline with a pin.



Cut the shape out, with approximately 2cm spare all the way around the marked outline, then soften off the edges of the shape with your fingers.



Place the slab on the foam block and position the bisque template at the centre.



Press the former down into the clay firmly so that the sides of the dish rise up.



Lift the dish off the foam block and place it on a board. You should be able to lift it with the template still in place.

Once on the board, remove the template.



Using a thick card disc that will fit twice inside the dish, press it firmly into the base to mark two positions for the birds to sit on.



Neaten and even up the rim by shaving it with a surform, then work over the area with a rib to round it off.



The dish is now finished in this form – check that the birds will sit comfortably inside before allowing it to dry slowly ready for bisque firing. To make it into a nest, continue with the following steps.




Prepare a mini extruder with a multi-holed dye, then roll a coil of clay thin enough to fit inside.



Position the coil in the barrel of the extruder and press it through to create a mass of tiny strings.



Begin to attach the strings to the surface of the dish, laying them over the surface in a random arrangement. You shouldn’t need water or slip to fix them in place if the clay is soft enough.



Continue to add the strings to the surface until it is entirely covered.

If you choose to cover the interior base of the dish, re-define the base positions with the card disc when you have finished with the coils.



Check that the shakers have plenty of room to sit in the nest. If okay, allow it to dry out slowly before bisque firing.




Apply three coats of your chosen Elements glaze colour to the nest or dish, allowing each coat to dry between applications.

Work the glaze into the detail of the nest thoroughly, using a soft mop brush.

NOTE: You can cover the entire surface with these glazes because they are low-fire, which allows them to be propped on stilts or pins without slumping.



Holding your finger over the holes in the shaker’s head, fill the interior with glaze then pour it out again carefully.

Quickly blow through the holes in the head to clear them of glaze. If you can’t unblock them by blowing, use a pin to clear them instead.



Paint the entire outer surfaces of each shaker with the Foundations white glaze.

Because handling is difficult when glazing in this way, try suspending the shakers on a length of dowel to allow you to access all areas.



Using the Stroke & Coat colours, decide which you want to use to cover the upper body of the birds. You can mix colours or tone them down with a little black if you feel they are too bright.



Cover the upper body of each bird with your chosen colour, using a soft mop-type brush.



Cover the breasts of the birds in another colour, again toned down if required.



Paint feature details in a bright colour to selected areas of each shaker.



Outline certain features in fine black lines and paint in the eyes. You will need a really fine brush to do this.



Allow the glazed shakers and dish/nest to dry out thoroughly before firing to the manufacturer’s recommended temperature.


Once fired, fill the shakers with salt and pepper and fit the stoppers in the underside. Sit the birds in their nest to complete the set.



This project first appeared in issue 37 

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