The last few weeks here have been very full indeed. While the kiln is slowly cooling, we finally have some time to tell you about it! Since moving in to our new studio in early May, we've had about eight weeks to fill the two large chambers (about 350 cubic feet) that make up our wood-fired kiln. Thankfully, the work in our new space flowed beautifully, and the storage racks we built there and in the kiln shed enabled us to throw as fast as we could keep up with the drying pots.
Scenes from Becca's studio . . . peony-scented pottery making. :) Lots of mugs and cups were in the works here . . .
And bowl/baskets and plates galore!
Over on Nathan's side of the studio . . .
There is sometimes (okay, rarely, but it's fun) an audience above to watch things get made from above. (Eventually, the showroom of finished work will be upstairs, so if you're shopping for pots, you might see them being made below!)
The glazes get stirred and the raw pottery lined or dipped into glaze.
Almost all of our pottery gets glazed without being fired first - we skip the bisque firing - so it's raw or 'green.' Although this took some getting used to, this simplifies the process for us in many ways, and the piece is completed in one breath, so to speak. We do, however, have to fire the kiln much more slowly as a result, ensuring that we don't 'shock' and crack the pots.
Once glazed, the pieces dry on the racks . . . and then get carried out to the kiln shed, board by board. (When it's not raining - which has been rare these days!)
We closed in the west wall of the kiln shed last fall to accommodate nearly 100 boards of pottery and keep it dry and easily accessible for loading the kiln. This was our first time using this system, and it worked out really well. In fact, as it turns out, a full kiln load is MORE than a full wall's worth - 100 ware boards of pottery were set and ready to go.
After about two months of studio work, we had around 900 pieces. Included in this firing were also pieces from potter friends and neighbors - put some pots in, take a stoking shift!
From the kiln shed, we can see the new studio. We still can't quite believe that we built this between firings . . . it sure is nice to look out at our accomplishment.
The view in the other direction is also great . . . pottery headed into the first chamber! We begin by stacking the front, closest to the firebox where the wood burns. This area will get the most natural fly ash and bear the brunt of the heat. It's almost seven feet tall here, so a lot of pottery goes into this area.
A little farther back, in the middle of the big chamber, we loaded a lot of glazed pieces (there's not as much natural ash to do the glazing here), including Nathan's bowls which are designed to be stacked rim to rim to maximize height. The little wads of clay between them - and on the bottom of every piece in the kiln, are to prevent the pieces from fusing together or to the shelf they sit on.
Lego knew the best place to stay cool was inside the "cave" of the kiln on the cool bricks (cool for now, anyway!) . . . but pretty soon, there wasn't a whole lot of room left for him. And it does get a little dicey when he throws his 90 pounds around the fragile pots. :)
The loading took us about four days of very long hours. We often worked well into the evening with lights to keep us going . . .
Nathan got the very last pieces in with some crazy yoga moves . . . it's a really full load!
As for how things were looking elsewhere in the shed, we had prepped a lot of wood. We hoped it would be more than we needed, and it was. We had a good mix of hard and soft woods - the hardwood being small log lengths we hauled out of our woods, left over from a recent logging project. The softwoods, mostly in the form of slab offcuts, come to us from a neighbor and a local mill in the next valley over. We cut them into four foot lengths, and stack them under the shed. (This was our first firing with wood under the shed - boy were we glad! It's been SO rainy here . . .)
Once we had finished loading all the pottery in, we bricked up the doors- with their handy numbers as place markers - and made fire!
Minutes after starting the firing, we were treated to this in the field near the kiln, which we took as a good omen . . .
The firing proceeded smoothly, and we stoked wood into the front of the kiln 'round the clock for the next four days. We were grateful to have lots of friends take shifts this time - Nathan still did about twelve hours a day, while Becca did six on the kiln plus a 'second shift' in the kitchen feeding hungry stokers!
By the fourth day, we were ready to begin side stoking - where the wood goes in between the pots in the back of the first chamber and the soda/second chamber. This brings up the temperature more evenly overall and provides a little more ash on the pottery farther from the main firebox.
As we near the end (gauged for us by the melt of cones and the pyrometer reading), we begin to pull small rings of clay from the view ports. Once cooled in water, they give us an idea of whether the surface of the clay is smooth and glassy. If the rings are rough, we need to keep raising the temperature. Fortunately, they were lovely and we finished stoking just before the 96 hour mark.
Matt and Nathan 'mudded' the air ports in the front. This prevents cold air from leaking into the kiln while it cools slowly over a week's time. Yes, we wait a whole week - it's hard, but we don't want to crack the pieces by opening it when it's too hot! When you're waiting on about 1000 pieces, it's worth the wait. :)
We hadn't been finished for long - maybe an hour or so - when we were treated to another rainbow, this time with an end in each of our fields. A magical way to culminate months of work . . .