Make your own ceramic cabinet knobs

After our kitchen cabinets were installed up at the new house I found that they were kind of boring and just a tad too brown. They’re ordinary stock kitchen cabinets that we bought at a local home center, dark oak with a squarish boxy look. They urgently needed something to brighten them up and to combat the utter boredom of brown *yawn*. I searched high and low for the perfect cabinet pulls but I found each more uninteresting than the other. Until I came across a website that had picture after beautiful picture of  handpainted Majolica knobs from Italy. The minute I laid eyes on them I knew those were the knobs I wanted! Until I saw the price. Italian majolica knobs are pricey, typically costing from 20 dollars to 35 dollars each depending on the size. Since I wasn’t about to shell out that much money for knobs (I needed 36 of them!) I began to look for a less expensive alternative.    I had a little bit of experience with ceramics because I had taken a couple of ceramic classes many years ago.  I knew that if I could find the unpainted bisque knobs somewhere, I could surely paint and glaze them myself and save a bundle of money. For those who are not familiar with “ceramic talk”  bisque is the name for white unpainted and unglazed ceramic that has been fired in a kiln once, as opposed to raw unfired soft air dried clay which is called called greenware. After greenware is fired (but before it’s painted) it’s called bisque. I found  bisque knobs for sale in different styles on Ebay. But the shipping wasn’t cheap. After much searching I came across a company called Lawless Hardware who not only had just about every kind of ready made knob imaginable but they also had unpainted bisque knobs for 35 cents (!!!!!) each! I did a double take. 35 cents? That was my kind of bargain. The shipping was only 10 dollars for the whole lot. I quickly ordered 3 dozen of the 1.5 inch mushroom shaped knobs. I remembered that I had an old box of ceramic paints in my storage room so I dug it out along with some old paintbrushes and I was set to go. Before I explain how I made my own ceramic knobs, let me tell you what you will need to make your own. You will need the unpainted and unglazed bisque knobs of course. These will come with the threaded insert and the screw in a separate little bag. This is because you can’t put the knobs into the kiln with the threaded insert in them. The metal will melt at such high temperatures, so you have to glue in the metal insert in after the knob is finished.

Unglazed ceramic bisque knobs. The metal parts are included but not inserted. They come in a separate little bag. The threaded insert will be glued into the knob after it’s done.

You will also need to send your knobs to a kiln. You can usually locate someone who will rent kiln space. This means that someone who owns a kiln can fire your knobs for you for a small fee. Alot of kiln owners do this and that’s how I had mine fired. Any ceramic shop or yellow pages can direct you to a kiln. You will need ceramic paints. Not acrylic paints which won’t hold up under heavy use. I’m referring to the ceramic paints that are made especially for firing in a kiln and once they’re fired they will never come off no matter what. Duncan Ceramics makes every color imaginable of ceramic underglazes (that’s what these paints are called) I recommend buying just the three primary colors if you don’t want to spend alot or be stuck with unused paint afterwards. You can always mix primary colors and come up with fabulous new shades this way. And lastly, you will need a jar of ceramic glaze. This is what will go on top of the paint and will give the knobs a shiny and waterproof finish once they’re fired. Oh, and you need paintbrushes.

The first step is to draw your design on the knob with a pencil. Don’t worry, pencil marks completely dissapear in the kiln and no trace of them will be left on your knob so scribble away. You can absolutely skip this step if you are a good painter and don’t need to pencil in the design first. On my knobs, I wanted geometric and flower shapes so that’s what I drew.

Draw your design on with a pencil. Don’t be afraid to scribble or smudge. Pencil marks dissapear completely in the kiln. You’ll never know they were there.

Next you will paint the design. Remember, ceramic underglaze normally needs three flowing coats in order to get good solid color. If you apply less than three coats, your finished results will looks uneven and you will be able to see the brushstrokes. This is not always a bad thing however. Alot of people go for this look and in fact, that’s the beauty of true Majolica. More about how to make majolica further down. Be sure and let each coat dry thoroughly before applying the next coat. It usually only takes about ten minutes or so to dry.

Paint your design with a fine tipped paintbrush. A very fine paintbrush helps avoid painting outside the lines. Remember that the pencil marks won’t show up after firing so if you want to outline your design you must do it with paint. These little bottles in the picture are the underglazes. They can be thinned with a bit of water before applying if they’re too thick.

If you make a mistake you can always go back and scrape the paint off or rub it off with a damp clean paintbrush. Ceramic paint is easy to “correct” before firing. It just washes off with water. You can in fact, stick the knob under the running tap and wash off the paint completely and start over. I decided to make all my knobs different. I wanted alot of color and pattern on my kitchen cabinets so I painted each one with a different pattern and a different color. However, to keep them looking like a unified set, I painted the bases of all the knobs the same shade of yellow which matched the tile and granite countertops in my kitchen. I also limited the number of colors that I used to about 5 or 6 shades. I used these colors repeatedly in different combinations and patterns on all the knobs. So even if they were all different, they were still all in the same color “family”.

This is what your painted knobs will look like before they are fired in the kiln. The colors will likely be pale and pastel toned. The little jars behind the knobs are the type of ceramic paints I used. (there are a gabillion kinds) the wider fatter jar is the ceramic glaze overcoat that will go on last.

Once you have finished painting your knobs and are satisfied with the design, let them air dry for a day or so. Remember, unfired ceramic paint will often look like it’s a completely different color than what the finished result will be. The true color of the paint comes out in the firing, so don’t be dissapointed if the knobs look pale or pastel colored after they dry.

Let your painted knobs dry completely for a day or so

The final step in the painting process is to apply the glaze overcoat. This is just a clear glaze that goes on over the paint and this is what will make your ceramic piece shiny as well as water proof. Now, there are two ways to do this and each person has their preferred method. You can send your knobs off to the kiln after they are painted and BEFORE applying the glaze overcoat. Some people do it this way because kiln firing “sets” the paint on the knobs and will render it permanent so there is no danger of smearing or smudging the paint with the paintbrush when they are applying the glaze overcoat. However, I don’t do it this way.  I prefer to apply the ceramic glaze overcoat on top of the unfired paint because I am usually too impatient to send ceramic pieces to the kiln twice (which can take days) and also because firing them twice is an added cost. So, if you are very careful you can apply the glaze overcoat right on top of the unfired painted knobs. You will need to apply two coats of transparent glaze. It’s important to DAB on the first coat carefully so you don’t smear the design underneath. If you rub the knobs too hard with the paintbrush you might smudge the underglaze. Apply the glaze overcoat generously using a dabbing motion and then let it dry completely before applying the second coat. Your knobs will begin to turn a pale chalky bluish-white as they dry.  Apply  a second generous coat  of glaze brushing softly and evening out any “thin” areas. Make sure you have covered every centimeter of the knob with glaze. It’s not necessary to glaze the underside where the hole is, that won’t show anyway.

This is what your knobs will look like after you apply the glaze. They will turn a chalky bluish white. Be careful not to accidentally nick or scrape them with your fingernail or paintbrush (believe me, they are easy to scrape at this point) but if you do, just apply more glaze over the scrape.

Let them dry for at least 24 hours and then take them to the kiln to be fired. The actual firing takes about 8 hours or so, and then another similar “cooling” period before they can be taken out of the kiln. So this part can take a couple of days depending on the kiln owner and how many pieces he has to fire at any given time. Be patient, it’s worth it.  When you get your knobs back, they will be shiny and colorful and will look like this.

After they are fired, the true color of the knobs will come through and you can finally admire your artwork

Side view. Even though the tops are all different, I painted all the bases yellow so they would look unified.

The next step is to glue in the threaded insert so that you can screw the knobs into the cabinets. The threaded insert is the little metal part that goes inside the knob, in the little hole on the underside. It has a hexagonal shape. Don’t try to crazy glue it in. Crazy glue doesn’t work well on metal and it isn’t strong enough to hold the insert in place when you thread the screw into it. I used an inexpensive trasparent epoxy glue. The kind that comes with two tubes and you have to mix the two components together. Use the transparent epoxy glue rather than the gray colored epoxy. You can get this at any hardware store. Epoxy glue dries within 90 seconds, so mix a little bit at a time and work on 3 or 4 knobs at a time. Just dip the backside of the threaded insert in the epoxy glue and quickly insert it into the hole. Press the metal insert down with a toothpick for a few seconds just to apply a bit of pressure and then let it set for a few hours before screwing them into your cabinets.

Once you have the metal insert glued into the hole underneath the knob, you are set to go! Now you just install the knob as you would any other cabinet knob. Just screw them in!

Close up of one of my ceramic knobs

Here’s a different design

And another….

Let me say something here about Majolica. Mine are not majolica knobs only because I am not a natural artist. I always have to erase/rub off/ remove  and start again several times before I get it just right. To make true majolica knobs, you must apply the ceramic glaze overcoat FIRST. After that dries,  you  then paint your design on top of it with the underglaze colors. In other words, you do it backwards. You glaze the bisque knobs first and then you paint your design on top of the chalky white surface of the unfired glazed knob using the underglaze colors. Then you send it off to the kiln that way.  Since I knew that I would have to erase and correct both my pencil drawings and my painting, I didn’t want to have to work on top of the overcoat because for me it would have been a waste of time as the geometric designs were tricky to both draw and paint. I would have wasted alot of glaze overcoat as well as undercoat colors.

You can buy bisque knobs on ebay in different shapes, or if you want just a plain mushroom shaped bisque knob like mine you can order them online from Lawless.  I noticed that they’ve gone up to 65 cents each now but they’re still a bargain nevertheless. Here’s a link:


13 thoughts on “Make your own ceramic cabinet knobs

  1. Thank you for the effort that you put in this post. Your knobs are very beutiful. I also intend to buy the same knobs and paint them according to my taste. Luckiliy I have a kiln and all the necessary engobes and glazes at hand. Irena from Slovenia

  2. Those are absolutely beautiful! We just redid our kitchen and are looking to add fun bits of color through the use of ceramic knobs, but, you’re right, they’re expensive! Yours turned out wonderfully, and I think we may do the same.

    Do you happen to have a general idea as to how much they cost you in the end? I’m sure it was cheaper than the Italian ones, but I’d like to get an idea before I pull the trigger.

    Thanks for an awesome post!!

    • Hi Christy, Thank you! In addition to what I paid for the knobs themselves plus the shipping (shipping was $10 dollars) I also paid 20 dollars for the one kiln firing that they required. I already had paints and glaze left over from other projects so I didn’t have to buy any, but if I’d had to buy the paints and glaze I’d probably have spent an additional 15 or 20 dollars. So I guess we’re talking somewhere around 60 dollars total for 36 knobs, which is pretty good for hand painted knobs….only two of the italian ones would have cost that much.

      • Thanks for the quick response! That’s quite a steal for such awesome-looking knobs!

        So I may have purchased the wrong paint, but I got a little carried away at Joann’s. I just now noticed that you recommend underglaze as opposed to acrylic ceramic paint. Is it just the durability that made you choose the underglaze over the acrylic paint? WIll the acrylic paint hold up during firing?

  3. Unfortunately acrylic paint can’t go into the kiln because the temperature is too high and it would just disintegrate. If you do decide to use acrylic you can just paint your design and after it dries you can spray the knobs with a clear protective coating. Alot of people use acrylics to paint on bisque and it works quite well for some things. But as far as knobs, I guess the choice of paints really depends on what the knobs will be used for. If you were going to put them on dresser drawers or on a night table drawer then I’d say acrylic paint would be fine because they aren’t going to get really dirty and you won’t have to wipe them off much. But in the kitchen acrylic paint won’t last as long because kitchen knobs have to be cleaned more frequently than other knobs. It would eventually start to peel off from constant handling as well as from wiping. That’s why I prefer to use ceramic paint because once it’s fired it becomes part of the knob and it will never come off. Hope that helps!

  4. Hello housetropical. You did a fantastic job on your knobs. I am thinking about trying this out because I have many bits of furniture to freshen up. I am in Ireland, so I’ll have to research all the costs first. I was just wondering if you know whether or not I could stamp a design on the knobs with a permanent ink. I know a water-based ink would disintegrate, but I’m thinking an archival or solvent ink might work with a cute stamp and remove the step of drawing my own pattern. Thanks in advance for any help you can give.

    • Hi Linda, thanks for the kind words! As far as the permanent ink, do you mean stamping them with ink prior to kiln firing them? I don’t think a permanent ink such as India ink would hold up to kiln firing. I know that India ink is sometimes used on pottery after it’s been fired in order to obtain different special effects but as far as I know, it will dissapear if fired in a kiln. Why don’t you use a ceramic underglaze instead? You can certainly use it for stamping and it can be thinned down with a bit of water to whatever consistency you desire. It comes in almost every color imaginable and the cost is quite reasonable as well, only about 3 dollars or so for a small bottle that goes a very long way. This will render your designs permanent. Another good option are ceramic decals which are even easier and just as permanent. Just wet them, apply them to the glazed knob and off to the kiln. They are quite inexpensive and you can find almost any design imaginable, Ebay has a large selection. Good luck!

      • Hi housetropical. Thanks for the quick reply. I was referring to inkpads used for stamping with rubber stamps in crafting, scrapbooking, etc. The permanent inks won’t run when painted over, even with water-based products, but maybe they would still disappear under intense heat. I like your ideas and I will see what I can access here within my budget. Thanks so much for your help!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s