Introduction: Interactive Ceramic Acorn Totem

The following instructions describe how to create this cute little acorn totem. It can sit on a table and be a display or you can interact with the totem by removing and rearranging the acorns on the pole. I have made variations on this project where I included a squirrel on top and have made larger, garden sized totems based on this theme.


  • clay
  • fork
  • water
  • sponge
  • metal or plastic rib
  • 1/2" round cookie cutter
  • paint brushes
  • glaze
  • disk of wood 1/2" thick X 4.5" diameter
  • disk of wood 3 1/2" thick X 3" diameter with a 1/2 in hole drilled all the way through
  • 1/2 " dowel
  • saw
  • water based paint

Step 1: Create the Clay Acorn Parts

The form of the acorn is made from putting together two "pinch pot" cups.

  • Roll the clay into two sets of balls for each acorn you want on your totem.
  • I'm making 6 acorns and each set of clay balls are between 3/4" and 2", each one being 1/2 " larger than the last.
  • Use your fingers and thumb to pinch the balls into cup shapes.
  • Make one of the cups a little longer, the other a little flatter. Pinch a little stem on the top cup, and a little point on the bottom cup
  • Keep these pieces moist.

Step 2: Assemble the Acorn Parts

Once the cups are made, the acorns can be assembled. Note: After you close off all the holes in the assembled acorn, the air trapped inside will help the acorn keep its shape.

  • Working in pairs, dampen the edge of each cup and use a fork to score the surfaces.
  • Placing the scored surfaces together, press the two cups together, making sure to close any openings between the cups. The air trapped inside will help the acorns hold their shape.
  • Smooth the cups with your fingers and a plastic or metal rib, refining the form of the cap, stem, and base as you do.
  • Keep the assembled acorns moist.

Step 3: Add Acorn Embellishments

The decorations on the top of the acorns give them character, but take patience to apply!

  • Use some of the remaining clay and make many small round clay balls around 1/8" to 1/16".
  • Dampen the top of the acorn with water and a sponge.
  • Starting at the outer rim of the acorn, place the ball and use your thumb to smooth the inner edge of the ball into the acorn cap, pushing toward the top of the acorn.
  • Repeat this process in layers around the cap, each layer getting closer to the center.
  • Don't let the acorns dry out yet!

Step 4: Create the Holes for the Totem Pole

Holes are cut into the finished acorns for the pole of the stand.

  • Using a knife, or a ½" round cutter, cut a hole on one side of the smallest acorn. This is the only piece with one hole. All other pieces have two holes.
  • Using a knife, or a ½" round cutter, cut a hole on both sides of the remaining completed acorns, making sure the holes line up.
  • When you cut the holes, make sure to make them a little larger than the dowel to account for clay shrinking during firing.
  • Smooth any rough edges with your fingers and a rib.
  • Let the clay dry slowly.

Step 5: Bisque Fire, Glaze, and Glaze Fire the Acorns

Glazing and firing the acorns depends on the type of clay and equipment you have access to.

  • For most clays, you will need to bisque fire the dry green ware acorns.
  • Depending on what kind of kiln and facilities you have, paint the acorns with the appropriate glaze for your clay and kiln.
    • I used high fire clay and glazes. For the caps, I brushed a matt finish iron oxide and wiped it from the high areas, leaving it in the cracks. For the lower half of the acorn, I used a shiny brown/red color.

Step 6: Assemble and Paint the Stand

The stand is assembled from pre-cut wood and a dowel. The base disk of wood I use is 1/2" thick X 4" diameter, the anchor piece is 3 1/2" thick X 3" diameter with a 1/2 in hole drilled all the way through, and the dowel I use is 1/2" thick.

  • Center the smaller disk on top of the larger disk and glue in place.
  • After the glue dries, insert the dowel into the hole on the top wood disk.
  • Paint and decorate the stand as desired and let the paint dry.

Step 7: Assemble the Interactive Ceramic Acorn Totem

Assemble the totem in any order. You can rearrange any way you want.

  • Add the ceramic acorns on to the painted stand in any order you want, leaving the smallest acorn, with only one hole as the topper.
  • Cut the dowel to make sure it fits all the acorns.
  • This sculpture can be interacted with by taking off the pieces and changing the order in which they are stacked on the stand.
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