Mold-made Vs. Handmade. What Are The Differences And Do They Matter?

Mold-made Ceramic Cat Fountains
Handmade Ceramic Cat Fountains

Mold-made fountains are created by pouring low density, wet clay called slip into plaster molds.

Handmade ceramic fountains are made of high density clay, thrown on the potters wheel with handbuilt center pieces.

There Are Two Primary Areas Of Differences Between Mold-made vs Handmade
Ceramic Cat Fountains - Structural & Aesthetic


There are serious structural/qualitative limitations to most mold made pottery. Though it is quite possible for mold-made pottery to be made with dense, high fire clay most commercial products are instead made with low density – low fire clay and glazes. This gives them a porosity high fire doesn’t have and makes them vulnurable both to absorbtion of water and to breakage.

Wheel thrown (handmade) and slip-cast ware differ considerably in their density, for two distinct reasons. Slip-ware is made by pouring a liquid clay (slip) into molds and letting it dry. No force is exerted on the clay. Hand-built is thrown on the wheel where considerable force is applied throughout the throwing process, and even earlier, in the wedging (preparing the clay for the wheel) process. All this increases the clay’s density.

What this means is that a handbuilt piece is stronger and more durable than a slip-cast piece. It also means that a handmade ceramic cat fountain is necessarily more expensive, at least in upfront cost. (It takes so much more time to wheel-throw and hand-build than it does to slip-cast.) Most mold-made cat fountains are manufactured overseas with cheap labor and can be quite inespensive. Mold-made in the US is a different story – a bit more on that further on.

Slip casting is very quick, requiring little time or effort.  That went into making the molds. Many hundreds of slip-cast ware can be made in a day at very little expense. Not so with handmade ceramic cat fountains. Each fountain, its center piece and cord cover are made one at a time. It is difficult to hold those two scenarios in ones mind simultaniously – they hardly compare. Hundreds of slip-cast ware made in a day, perhaps fifty completed handmade fountains in a week…

The other structural difference between mold-made vs handmade  is in the clay itself. Slip is usually a low-fire clay material  – meaning it ‘matures’ at a lower temperature because it is lower in density – it has more air in it. After firing, without glaze it is porous.  This too allows for a lower price tag. Low fire clay with low fire glaze is much less expensive to fire – it requires less fuel to reach maturity temperature. (ThirstyCats uses high-fire glazes on our high-fire stoneware clay.)

Much wheel-thrown clay, (and all of the clay used in ThirstyCats’ fountains) is high-fire clay. It is very dense and matures at about a 400° higher temperature than low fire. After firing and without being glazed it holds water because it has vitrified and is non-porous.

Does this matter? In practical terms, probably not. There is no reason to suspect that a slip-cast ceramic cat fountain will not last, though it is less dense and  a lower quality of ceramics. So what does matter? Aesthetics may, and it may not. But first, how do even know which is which in the issue of mold-made vs handmade?

How To Tell If A Ceramic Piece Is Mold-made or Handmade

 If you look at any given piece of pottery you probably won’t know if it was slip cast (mold-made) unless the mold marks weren’t sanded out, in which case you’ll see a straight line running vertically up one or both sides of a piece, or laterally around the piece. But if you pick it up, being more porous it will feel surprising light and ‘airy’. It will lack ‘mass’.


The way to know then if a ceramic cat fountain is mold-made or handmade is to know what line of ceramic cat fountains any particular brand offers.  If there are only a few or even one style, if they are of the same shape or there are only two or three shapes then they are definitely mold-made. All of the primary commercial brands offer from one to several designs and they are all mold-made.


Wheel Thrown Cat Fountains

Because throwing on the wheel offers so much potential for variety no potter or hand-building pottery studio is going to make the same form over and over. The differences may in some cases be subtle but there will be no subtle differences in mold-made. Every slip-casting shop repeats the same shapes endlessly, whether it be here in the US or abroad. (There are two makers in the US that we know of offering ceramic cat fountains which are mold-made, both of whose fountains are expensive.)

Aesthetics of Mold-made vs Handmade Cat Founains Is For Many The Primary Consideration

Aesthetics is to some an important consideration – to others not. As mentioned, a mold-made cat fountain can be as functional as a handmade ceramic cat fountain. One question is, do you want a cat fountain that is identical to ten thousand other cat fountains and do you like the designs offered, or do you want your cat fountain to be a unique piece of art as well as a utilitarian fountain for your cats? Do you need it to be beautiful as well as functional?


There are more ramifications to this than might at first be apparant. Since a cat’s water source should not be near their food source (so say countless veterinarians), where is the fountain to go? In your living room or dining room or den or bedroom? Would you want one of the mass produced by the tens of thousands in those places?


Another question that will probably occur to you is do you like the attributes being offered by mold-made fountains? Does their method of delivering the water to your cats appeal to your cats (and you)? This is an important consideration considering how limited all mass produced brands are in this regard.


As more and more of the large, foreign made manufacurors learn and ‘borrow’ from ThirstyCats, there are now more ceramic fountains and more styles of ceramic cat fountains being sold than ever before – but of course they don’t come close to the variety we are able to offer. We are always working to create beautiful, original designs but we also attempt to create designs your cats love to drink from. By the reviews our customers have left we appear to be succeeding.


What this means in practical terms is that if you have a timid cat who does not like noise and has long fur we have many designs perfectly suited to your cat and to your home. If you have faucet lovers we have dozens of choices. If you have aggressive cats who like to tip their bowls over or flat-faced cats who like a little action or multiple cats who like to drink together we have cat fountains designed with them in mind. And if you have special requirements, either functional or aesthetic we offer Specialty Fountains wherein we will make the fountain you want, specifically for you. Mold-made fountain makers can’t do this.

ThirstyCat Fountains