'How long does it take to make a mug?'
is every potter's least favorite question, mostly because handmade pottery is a time-intensive practice and each item goes through about a dozen steps before it's complete. It's hard to quantify in terms of minutes, but here's what I do:
Part 1: shaping
The first step in making a mug is preparing the clay for manipulation either on the wheel or by hand. Wedging is a lot like kneading dough, it makes sure moisture is evenly distributed through the clay, gets rid of any air bubbles, and makes the clay smoother and softer so that wheel work or hand building goes well. This takes about 2-3 minutes.
Getting the clay on the wheel, centering, pulling, shaping and smoothing clay is in some ways the fastest part of the process - this can be anywhere from 3-15 minutes, depending on the size and complexity of the piece, and the willingness of the clay that day! Handbuilding generally takes a bit more time, depending on the technique used (pinching, slab work coiling, etc) this could take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour.
This is a passive but important step in the process, but requires a potter's time and attention, checking up on the ware and adjusting the atmosphere (drying more slowly or more quickly, testing for readiness). 3-5 minutes per piece over the course of a few days.
Part 2: Refining
Once the clay has firmed up, it can be trimmed or smoothed. Pieces thrown on the wheel will go back on the wheel, upside down, where excess tray will be trimmed away, revealing a level foot. Handbuilt pieces will be smoothed and perfected with various tools, and either thrown or built pieces may be decorated - carving, adding texture, or painting with colored slip. Depending on the complexity of the piece, this can take a few minutes for a simple footring or hours for an intricately carved or textured piece.
This is a passive step, and like the first drying requires that the potter check but it's much less persnickety - it really just requires patience while the clay dries out completely. Just a minute or two over about a week.
The first firing is what changes the material from malleable clay to a ceramic object. Prepping and loading a the kiln, then firing it to temperature, cooling and unloading is about 2 minutes per item.
When the impurities burn out in the bisque fire, it can raise a bit of texture in the clay. Everything needs to be sanded smooth,
Part 1: Finishing
This sounds easy, but it takes repeated testing to get it right! Glaze recipes can be closely guarded secrets, but there's no reason for that (I'll be publishing mine shortly) because the clay, kiln, application method, and so many other factors combine to make everyone's work unique, so you may as well share!
Glaze can be dipped, poured, painted, sprayed, or applied in some other way someone will invent tomorrow. Each application method will yield different results,
The second fire is what brings a clay to full vitrification - where the ceramic material is properly matured such that it can hold water whether it's been glazed or not. I fire all of my ware to cone 5, a temperature that vitrifies all three of my clay types, and produces smooth, even glazes with vibrant (or muted, as the case may be) colors.
After the kiln cools and I'm holding the piece, more often than not it needs a second sanding to smooth out any bits of texture that might scratch a table. After that, it's FINALLY done!