The day of the unloading began with a few preparatory tasks, namely cleaning up and numbering the door bricks for an easy stack-up next time. Not so long ago, I might have rushed to take down the doors, pulled out everything, and then been faced with a giant mess to clean up . . . but three years of kiln building and a very methodical partner have had a good influence . . . namely in the form of patience! We even vowed to clean and grind kiln shelves and posts as we went; four shelves of pots to unload, four to grind. Nonetheless, there was a definite sense of excitement as we took out the bricks and got our first good glances.
Holding our breath . . . our first reactions were mixed . . . initially the pottery looked OK, if a bit on the pale side. (We do tend to prefer lighter tones from the wood kiln as opposed to dark browns, so this was at least visually unobjectionable.) What we quickly realized, though, was that most of what we found in the middle of the kiln was dry. Under-fired. Too crusty, and perhaps not even water-tight. Ugh.
The good side of all this was that not too much was ruined! In fact, in the first couple hundred pots that we pulled out, only three ended up in the wheelbarrow. The bad news was that only three ended up on the table of work to actually sell. The vast majority of the work we found in the first chamber was destined to be re-fired. (All you potters out there, we think 'too cool' in this case was about cone 8 or so.)
At least we're a few hundred pieces closer to our next firing!
We continued on like this for almost an entire day, filling up the tables with pieces to be re-fired. We took a quick trip to the river for a bit of helpful perspective, no doubt feeling a little down, but heartened somewhat by the fact that we didn't find any major disasters, and that the flashing and ash colors looked pretty nice, for the most part, knowing it just needs more heat!
Why didn't we keep firing if it was so cool? The cones in front of the kiln showed cone 12, and the stack just behind was not far behind. We didn't want to risk over-firing the front, but in retrospect, we should have kept firing and sacrificed a few pieces in front for the good of the rest of the kiln. We also hoped our side-stoking efforts would even things out, but we just didn't stay hot-enough for long enough. The biggest thing we struggled with during the firing was the un-eveness of temperatures from front to back, top to bottom. Our chimney is HUGE, which means it pulled much of the heat across the floor and out the stack, even with the dampers at 10%! Also, our burn was very, very efficient with all the built-in air channels, so much of the chamber was oxidized as we missed out on a lot of the reduction cycles that contribute to richer colors.
At nearly 6pm on the first day, Nathan decided it was time to take down the door to the soda chamber. We were hoping we would see something to lift our spirits. (I can't believe we hadn't opened it yet!) And we found beauty . . . ahhh. We each took a deep breath of relief to find gorgeous flashing slips, melted glaze, and lovely effects from the soda. Most of what we could see looked really nice- we felt saved by the soda chamber!
With that good news, we called it a night. Back at work the next morning- already 92 degrees at 8am- we finished unloading the rest of the first chamber, and found a few gems in the rough. Some places were hot enough to melt the ash on the surfaces (that is, if the pieces hadn't cracked)- the very front stack had some nice ones, and the areas around the flues at the back of the chamber were lovely, too.
We started in earnest unloading the soda chamber in the extreme heat. We found lots of beauties- finally some ware boards of pottery ended up on the 'to sell and photograph' table! The melt was good, and while the chamber wasn't without issues of its own, we had a much better success rate overall.
The nice pottery we found made clean-up a little easier. The kiln itself fared pretty well, just a few bricks out of place in the main firebox. The castable fired to a very pretty pure white and held up beautifully while the bricks took on a toasty glow. Overall, the shelves cleaned up fairly easily, thanks to some grinding bricks and a diamond cup attachment for the angle grinder. There were some big nasties in the soda chamber, especially the soda that accumulated on the false floor (i.e. removable!!) that Nathan put in pre-firing. (Can you believe that gnarly situation?!? And no, he did not intend to match the color with his shirt.)
We are hoping and
scrambling planning to fire again in a month, before our biggest show of the year. We have a new road map, changes planned, and a lot to do . . . and are already excited to try this again!
Next up: A proper photo shoot of the newest work, and hopefully a select few posted to our online shop soon.
Early signs of fall are all here, with just enough of a nip in the air to remind us that time is of the essence if we're going to (hopefully!) get this kiln built by winter. We've buckled down, completing the hard brick arch on the big chamber, the soda chamber, the soda chamber walls, and moving onto the collection flue (i.e. tapered arch that connects the kiln to the chimney) and the chimney foundation.
Nathan holding Lego's paws in silhouette on the kiln . . . oh, and a dear friend recently asked us if we'd be eating a lot of clams- what else could explain the countless buckets of clam strips that appear in seemingly every photo we take?!? The truth is that a local seafood shack offers up these sturdy little buckets for re purposing, and they hold our shims, brick pieces, castable, brick packing mix, you name it.
It is the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one. After seven great years potting in New Hampshire, I have taken a giant and definitive step in the direction of Vermont . . . Nathan and I dismantled the Eaton kiln! Over five days, we unstacked some 3000+ bricks (at least 1000 of them at 8 lbs apiece, I might add!) from the structure of a large gas kiln, moved them into a rental truck, and drove them 120+ miles over the Connecticut river and into central Vermont. We figure this means we each moved 4 tons of material at least 3 times . . . yup, that's a whopping 12 tons of heavy stuff passing through our hands. No wonder we were tired! Although we didn't dawdle in putting the recycled brick to use . . . just two days later, we were using it to begin the floor of our new kiln!
In a lot of ways, I think kilns are the center of a potter's life. A kiln has a way of determining the way a potter pursues his or her work, the style, the workload; essentially, a kiln can dictate life's rhythm. I am so grateful for the life that was shaped by this kiln; in so many ways, it brought me to where I am today. (I might not have met Nathan if it weren't for the pots fired in this kiln!) I think about the hundreds- perhaps thousands!- of pieces I made over seven years, the wonderfully supportive friends I got to know through my work. I think about how my forms and pieces changed and grew since 2003, and what I learned as a result of having to figure it all out on my own. But before I completely gloss over the past, I must say that I will not miss the late nights and very early mornings lighting the burners, or the lost sleep over high winds and the nightmares about fires and the kiln roof being blown off. (Yes, as it turns out, there is such a thing as a kiln nightmare!) And I am almost certain I will not miss driving unfired pottery over two mountain passes between VT and NH to continue firing this kiln while we live and work in another state. It is surely the end of my New Hampshire potter era . . . now onto the new one!
I would like to thank all of the great friends and customers who supported me and my work during this chapter of my life. My gratitude is immense.