filling up and burning out

What a week it has been!  We began working last Tuesday with our friend Dave, another friend Dan, his skid steer, and a very large pile of granite rip-rap from the quarry up the road.  Our goal was to fill up the hemlock retaining walls we'd built around the kiln to hold the arch in place while our kiln expands and moves during firings and over time.  The work was heavy (isn't it always?!), but with three granite-chunk-placers and one very adept machine operator, the job went quickly.  By lunch time, we'd moved what felt like a small mountain in and around the kiln, and brought grade up on the surrounding ground as well.  (A huge shout-out to Dave, by the way, who when told we were going to be moving large rocks for several hours, said "Sounds like fun.  What time?"  Dave, you are truly awesome.)

The most exciting part of all this was that we were ready to burn out the wooden form on the kiln's interior!  OK, almost . . . we did build little brick culverts around the passive dampers in the flue, raised the retaining walls between the soda chamber and the chimney, and they filled them by hand.  By Friday, we were ready for burn-out.

Before we lit the first match, there was still a bit to do . . . stuff the kiln with newspaper, and brick up the doors.  We crawled in and around the plywood forms, stapling large clusters of crumpled paper to the arches and the lathe, and leaving little pieces of kindling every which way to wick up the flame for a complete burn.  We weren't entirely sure how the burning would go, and wondered if we'd be pulling charred chunks of wood out later.  Um, yeah, let's just say it didn't quite happen like that.


After bricking up the doors- hoorah for 3" thick reclaimed-from-our-NH-kiln bricks!- we were ready to light it up.  Or, as the case may be, I was ready to shed a few tears.  Tears of joy, apprehension, excitement, exhaustion, and so many other feelings swelled up and poured out after nearly three years of working towards this one goal.  We were about to have a finished wood kiln of our very own, built nearly entirely by our own two hands, all because we fell in love and had a dream.  (Cue the violin music . . . )

The fire started easily enough, dry newspaper catching quickly, and before long, light gray smoke was seeping out of every crack, but most especially out of the chimney, indicating good draw.  Yippee!  Soon, however, that light smoke turned to thick, black smoke chugging away with great force . . . and I was on the phone to the fire chief, the neighbors, anyone I could think of who would no-doubt be thinking that our house- or something very, very large- was burning down.  We even had some random passers-by pull down the lane to ensure everything was OK.  While Nathan tended to the kiln, I assured everyone that it was contained and safe, apologized for the smoke, and reassured folks it would never be quite this smokey again.  Which is true- as compared with our future firings, this was a far colder - only 500 degrees- and therefore dirtier fire with more combustible material smoldering burning than we will ever stoke into our kiln at one time.

When I returned to the kiln site, the form in the first chamber was GONE.  (Apparently, there would be no charred remains to be taking out with the saws-all!)  The second chamber collapsed soon after and disappeared quickly.  We sat in the front by the stoking doors, mesmerized by the flame as we watched it bring light to the shape of our new kiln.

During a typical firing, we will see mostly the front stack of shelves, posts, and pottery, so to be able to see the entire kiln filled with fire- straight back to the flues- was an unexpectedly delightful experience.

The next fire we build will start more slowly, but burn oh-so-much hotter . . . we hope to be reaching 2400 degrees two weeks from now, if all goes well!  Stay tuned.