first firing

Two years, eleven months, and sixteen days after breaking ground on our two-chamber climbing kiln, we lit the first fire.  Stacked with over 700 pieces of mostly raw and unfired pottery on 121 kiln shelves, we were ready to see how our creation actually worked!

The first couple of days of the firing were fairly quiet.  We burned hemlock and a hard wood mix fairly slowly, starting in the four-foot long opening at the bottom of the kiln, and gaining just 25 degrees per hour, or 150 degrees per shift.  Nathan and I split up the days by taking six hours on and six hours off, so one of us was always at the kiln, taking good notes and taking it all in.  (The other was trying to get a bit of sleep! 12-6, 6-12, 12-6, 6-12, you get the idea.)

The kiln was really responsive and fairly easy to control at this stage . . . we were learning each other, and enjoying ourselves.  Friends brought dinner, and good company, even homegrown strawberries and fresh milk for coffee.  (Thank you Becky, Chelsea, Dave, Sarah, Bob, and Sarah!)

We were really pleased with our firebox design, which is a sort of stepped down staircase filled with air channels for efficient burn.  The four-foot lengths are stoked first through the opening in the bottom of the kiln, and eventually through the doors on top, alternating, and stoking wood every 5-10 minutes.  The slab of wood sits on the 'stairs' and burns all along its length.  Below is a photo of the inside of the firebox taken before we loaded the kiln.

We burned a lot of wood.  One of the biggest learning experiences during the firing was that our chimney is SUPER powered.  (As in, a very big opening.)  It drew a lot of the heat across the bottom of the kiln and out the stack, causing us to consume more wood than we hope to in the future.  (We'll close up the flues a bit more with bricks, so it doesn't pull quite as hard!)  We estimate that we burned about 5 cord of scrap hemlock and pine slabs, and 1 cord of hardwoods.  Thank goodness for our wonderful friends who stopped by nearly every day to help us move wood up to the kiln front for us; we were so glad we had TONS of wood on hand and at the ready.  (Thank you Grace, Matt, Chelsea, Dave, and Charlotte!)

Side stoking (putting wood into the sides of the chambers in addition to, and then instead of the front) began in earnest in the wee hours of the fourth day.  At that point, the pyrometer (basically a high-temp thermometer) we had salvaged had ceased to give us a reading (it only went to 1,999!) so we were firing solely using cones and blowholes (pictured above) as indicators of heat and internal atmosphere.

By hour 90 or so (the morning of the fourth day), we had reached cone 12 in the front of the kiln, and needed to stop stoking there, and move onto solely the side stoking ports in the back of the first chamber, and in the soda chamber.  The narrow gauge dry wood ignited on contact.

Thankfully, we had great help at this point.  Our friends Kaitlyn, Sarah, and Matt (all potters!) showed up with food and most importantly, fresh energy.  At this stage, we were both running on very little sleep, but nonetheless feeling energized and excited by all that was going on. (Thank you, adrenaline.)  If the rest of the firing were a slow jog, these last few hours were a flat-out sprint.  We moved quickly to get the soda chamber infused with soda (soda ash mixed with some whiting and borax, made into a paste, and stoked into the kiln on boards), and to raise the temperature evenly throughout.

We checked cones and pulled draw rings, and were pretty happy with what we saw.  We would have liked it hotter in some places, and cooler in others, but that's wood-firing!  (Especially the FIRST wood-firing.)  By eleven-fifteen that morning, after 94 hours of firing, we were ready to shut it down.  All the plugs went back in, the damper was closed, and we did a wee bit of collapsing celebrating.  It's safe to say that regardless of the results, this first firing was a huge success in many ways.  We are grateful for the experience . . . and hoping and waiting for at least a few (?!?) nice pots.

We did it!


P.S. Cooling takes an entire week.  Stay tuned.  We can hardly wait.






first loading

The week+ it took us to load our new kiln for the first time put our kiln shed to the test: rain, rain, rain. Thankfully, we had 1500 square feet (!) of covered space to keep our greenware (unfired pots) dry. Between the raindrops and thunderstorms, we ferried ware boards of pottery to the kiln, on foot and eventually by very-slow-moving subaru.  (Turns out, 300 feet is a looong walk when there are 700 pots!)

What a joy to be inside the kiln for the first time, getting a feel for the space, assessing the layout of our new shelves. This first kiln loading was a long one for a number of reasons, not the least of which was determining the best use and layout of the kiln shelves we had, and painting every one with kiln wash (alumina + kaolin mixture) to protect them from dripping, melting ash. (A huge thank-you here to our kiln shelf shareholders for helping us purchase all these beautiful new and new-to-us shelves!) We were also cutting posts (pieces of brick) on the wet saw as we went, and pausing here and there to take it all in . . . I had forgotten how much excitement and promise and well, let's face it, tediousness towards the end, comes with loading a kiln. It had been over four years since either of us had last loaded a wood-kiln, and it felt beyond great to be back in the swing.

All said and done, 720 pieces of pottery, large and small, fit onto 121 kiln shelves.  And then we bricked up the door . . .

sweet sweet days

I know I've probably said this before, but I think it might be safe to say that we are never more content than during an uninterrupted stretch of days working on our farm.  This was one of those sweet days in a series of days where the sun shone on our laboring bodies, and after the hours of work were done, we still lingered at the kiln shed in the fading light and calm air, soaking up the joy and satisfaction of our day's progress- of nearly completed kiln adobe and stone retaining walls- under a beautiful night sky.

kiln shed love

A quick photo comparison of the past couple of months (January 2012 to March 2012) . . . we spent a good portion of January outside in the odd non-winter weather working on the kiln shed, and we LOVE how things have changed out there.  Aside from now being 10 feet longer, the shed lost its unsightly, windblown tarp of a back wall (that was up for well over a year), and has graduated to an actual back wall of lovely local ship-lap siding.  (This works oh-so-much better at keeping out the snow, now that winter has finally decided to arrive!)  But the best part of all is the 'sky-lights' we installed between our roofing panels.  It's amazing how much light that brings into the back of the building . . . and we're looking forward to even more light in the form of windows along the west wall, and the eventual disappearance of rusty-metal tin roofing-turned-siding that is keeping the snow out!

It sometimes it seems these little improvements are even sweeter because they didn't happen right away . . . good things made even better by the simple fact of waiting and dreaming . . .

(A few more photos of the back wall here.  And I'm sure there will be more soon, as spring arrives and we begin staining the outside of those lovely boards, adding more windows . . . so much to look forward to!)

winter scenes

It is mid-winter on the farm, and I've managed to capture a few photos of the ever-elusive snow cover.  What a strange season it has been!  We have more ice than anything else, although a few warm days have allowed us to finish work on the ever-expanding kiln shed.  (It is wonderful!)  With the 'outside work' behind us for the next few weeks, we find ourselves mostly drawn to the studio these days, our pup slumbering by the wood stove while we work independently- and collaborate!- on new pieces for our new kiln.

(Got to get this camera of mine to the studio . . . soon!)

I hope this finds you warm and enjoying the beauty of the season.

a new year

Happy 2012! I love the energy I feel at this time of year- everything feels fresh and new, and I have renewed interest for productivity on all fronts, especially after some really nice time off for the holidays!  In our world, those bursts of inspiration to WORK (and burn off xmas cookies!) have come at home on the farm, and in the studio . . . I right dove into testing new slips and clays (I actually dislike doing this most of the time, but thanks to the change in the calendar, there are about 12 new combinations that will hopefully lead to enhanced surfaces on the painted pots!), and the studio is full of butter keepers and soup bowls slipped and glazed for the wood kiln.

On the home front, we've been gathering slab wood from our neighbor's new saw mill (serendipity at it's best- more on this later!), cutting it to dry for future firings, and building onto our kiln shed! Thanks to the non-winter weather we've had lately, we managed to get the kiln shed addition nearly complete! If the pictures don't do it justice, let me tell you that adding ten feet onto the building makes it feel exponentially large and spacious. (Holy smokes, we are the proud owners of a fifty-foot long kiln shed! And yes, this makes it's square footage larger than our house. What does that say about our priorities?!) There's something about closing in the back wall makes it clear just how large and lovely a space we really have. We love the ship lap boards that our friend at the local saw-mill made for us, and the fact that we have all these great shelves, in the form of the 'nailers' for the siding, throughout the building. Next week, Becca will finish refurbishing some old windows for those holes, and we hope to finish the sliding door and a vent for the heat that will eventually come from that there chimney! Oh, and finishing the roofing, we'll need to do that. It's been sort of funny to shovel snow out of the area that's closed in on the sides, but we've been awaiting the arrival of some semi-transparent roof panels that will allow light to filter through into the back of the shed. It is SO nice to see all of these dreams coming into form . . .

On the kiln front, we've finished the insulating layer!!! Last weekend, we had some hours (and some cold hands) to lay the last soft brick onto the arch of the first chamber, leaving only the adobe/skin coat layer to officially complete the kiln! We are holding off for some warmer weather for this, since we've got all these pots to make in the meantime. There's also a little bit of earth buttressing and site work to do before we'll feel secure burning out the wooden form that still stands inside the kiln.

We hope your start to the new year has been happy.  We leave you with this image of our puppy, who seems to find joy in climbing into recently occupied chairs.  Or maybe it's that he finds comfort, and we find joy in watching him do it.

giving thanks

It was nearly two years ago this Thanksgiving week that our family and friends gathered on our farm to help us raise our kiln shed. We are so grateful to them for their support on that day (we finished raising 42 rafters just before the sun set!) and on the many days (ahem, years) that have followed. We couldn't have done it without you!

An extra special thanks to our friend Bob, who is one of the most hardworking and loyal people we know, and who did the fancy math and co-ordinated this big project and countless others.  As Bob likes to say, our shed is "good enough for this place." ;)

Hoping you enjoyed a Happy Thanksgiving, too . . .