A few details about our kiln opening event.Read More
We have begun to unload our second firing . . . . and although we haven't even seen the firing in its entirety (oh, how we've had to learn patience!), it could be said that the 'kiln gods' have smiled on us. With just days to go before our biggest and best show of the year, we are overjoyed to find beauty after beauty emerging from within the still-warm brick walls. We are feeling oh so very grateful!
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.
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.
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 . . .
Over the past few weeks, when asked what stage we were at with the kiln project, the answer was consistently "the chimney." We knew it would be sizable, but it turned out we used over 2000 bricks! In fact, nearly every last hard brick to our name went to the cause. (We did manage to save a bunch of nice bricks to cut into posts for stacking up our shelves.)
What we did know was that the chimney had to clear the building for good draw and for safety's sake (at peak temperature, the chimney will spew an amazing flame several feet in the air, and our shed is built of, you guessed it, wood) so we positioned the scaffolding around the base, and rigged up a pulley + milk crate system to get the bricks from Becca on the ground to Nathan on the chimney. And then we hauled and hauled and hauled, and leveled and laid, and leveled and laid . . . here are few photos of our autumn chimney building!
We got a little help from Becca's family early on. (Dad was a very eager hauler!) Lego, not so much helpful per se, unless you consider cute-ness to be a morale booster.
Bricks waiting for their trip up. Becca did most of the hauling, while Nathan did most of the brick laying. These bricks weigh about 8 pounds apiece! I guess we're feeling pretty strong after this part of the project . . . phew. For a good portion of the chimney, we used a double-thick stack, with each of those courses using 32 bricks. And with each course we gained 2.5 inches of height. Yup. Once we switched to a single course, things went much faster, only 14 bricks/course.
The chimney building tools atop the staging. The bricks of the kiln are mostly dry-stacked (i.e. no mortar) because of the incredible expansion the kiln will undergo during the firing. The one exception is the chimney bricks, where a thin coating of fire clay and fine grog was 'painted' on to help them set. We also built this little jig (below) to help ensure the correct placement of bricks from course to course. A lot of leveling needed to be done in every direction, but this jig helped Nathan ensure the inner dimensions stayed the same. (By the way, the inner dimension is nearly 27" square!)
The last pallet lays empty . . . celebrate! Oh, and some of you are probably wondering why there is an arched area in the back of the chimney. (below) When we configured the active dampers, we decided to span the area with a piece of steel and refractory castable. (We believe this area, with it's distance from the firebox and the cool air intake, will be cool enough for the steel to survive.) But just in case something goes wrong with this span over time, we wanted to be able to rebuild this area without taking down the entire chimney. So essentially, we hope to never have to use it, but just in case we do, the idea is that the arch supports the weight of the chimney while we scamper about with repairs. (It's not much fun to think about our kiln aging, moving, cracking, what have you, but it's good to try to plan ahead!)
Ta-da! (OK, there's still a bit of work to do in the little arch, but hey, we think it's looking pretty good!) Now, on to insulation . . .
Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
Three years ago, Nathan and I were beginning to realize that our lives were changing in a very special way . . . our individual stories were beginning to intertwine to become the story of two potters- a pair of potters. It was a very sweet and memorable time in our lives, also a time of great change, involving a few freshly thrown bowls on boards in the back of a pickup. The story goes that there was a freeze that night, as the wet pots sat in the bed of the truck, and the next day they were nearly ruined. My spirits, having been dampened by the loss of those bowls, were lifted dramatically when Nathan proposed later that day on sun drenched rocks at a river's edge.
The joy of those days overshadowed the fact that our working lives had officially been turned on their heads. For the next two years, we drove back and forth between our places in two states, making unfired pottery in Vermont, and packing it carefully for the three hour journey to New Hampshire, along with tools, a cooler of food, and bug spray or snow shovels, depending on the season. We would truck back in the other direction with finished work, and dream of one day having a studio with a kiln- in the same place.
In fact, we still dream of this luxury . . . we dismantled the NH kiln, and our new wood kiln is not yet finished, but with summer shows and wedding registry deadlines approaching, I finally had the good sense to take my good friend Tiffany Hilton up on her offer to fire her gas kiln. Driving to Massachusetts with a truck full of glazes and pottery and an air compressor (for spraying my glazes on site!) may sound crazy . . . but it's simply become what we do, how we keep on keeping on amidst all the change!
Tiffany and her husband Tim built this sweet little building as a kiln shed for her gas kiln. Her adjacent showroom is inspiring, and filled with her beautifully made pieces.
The firing at Tiffany's turned out to be beautiful, and almost better than that, I got to spend two lovely days enjoying the camraderie of a fellow potter and friend, both remembering fondly and looking forward to, the rhythm of the (settled) potter's life.
Sometimes progress must be measured in more than just forward steps. Kiln building over the last couple of weeks has demanded that we measure progress in backward, sideways, and diagonal steps, too. It all gets us down the path, just maybe not as quickly as we thought. As it turns out, carpentry with curves is fairly tricky stuff, but we've finally got it all figured out. (We think!) Here are some photos from our recent escapades under the big shed in the field. Nathan removing arch forms from the flues between our main chamber and the soda chamber.
We used a high heat castable to cap off the flue arches. Here's our casting in progress!
We love this photo- doesn't it look like some kind of temple?! We finished the flues between the chambers, and repeated them at the back of the soda chamber, where the kiln will begin to taper into the chimney. The openings are just a touch wider at the outsides to try to discourage "center pull" of the flame and create a more even firing.
We used a chain to determine the strongest possible arch- a catenary- for most of our wooden forms. This one is for the soda chamber, the nearly complete form shown in place below.
With the help of our shed lights, we worked late into the evening one night to complete the final skeleton shape of our main chamber! Pretty exciting to see it after all of the drawings and all of the dreams. Next step: lath.
Family traveled from Maine, New York, and San Francisco to strap lath on this kiln of ours, with our crew ranging in age from 26 to 87!
Entertaining the puppy is among the most important of the jobs! (Thanks, Ma.)
Mmm, Happy Spring. More photos coming soon!
Our summer shows and fairs are less than six months away, and there is still plenty to be done to finish our kiln . . . hence the mid-winter kiln building efforts! Laying bricks in below freezing temperatures in the Vermont winter was out of the question, so we've been working away on other tasks, taking any step we can towards our goal of a July Fourth weekend firing! Here's what we've been up to . . . and just a little reminder, we'll be part of the Vermont Studio Tour on Memorial Day Weekend 2011, so you're more than welcome to come check out our progess in person. Winter on the farm has been very snowy and pretty cold, but absolutely beautiful! Below is a photo of our kiln shed at night. Along with our master electrician and friend, Dick Ratico, we wired our building for these super efficient LED bulbs. We can proudly say that lighting the entire 1200 square foot building uses the wattage equivalent of our bathroom vanity! (Which reminds me we should change the bulbs on it, too!) Special thanks to Efficiency Vermont for the amazing rebate offer that allowed us to be ever-greener potters.
Every kiln needs a bunch of opening and holes for various things- in the case of wood kiln, they're for checking out the cones to gauge heat, pulling out draw rings to gauge ash melt, even stoking wood into the sides. Most kilns use bricks; we decided to cast round ports and plugs in part because we like the visual, but we also like the idea of grabbing a cool-ish handle rather than a hot brick. Here are a few of them drying next to the woodstove in our basement!
In January and February, Nathan worked with Bob Barrett, very talented local welder, to design a steel frame that will hold the swinging doors for the two primary stoking arches as well as brace the front of the kiln as it expands during the firing. This frame was made almost entirely from material we salvaged from Becca's NH kiln. The doors are a real thing of beauty . . . the double hinge will allow us to swivel the hot face away when we're stoking a 2300 degree kiln.
Last but not least, as the weather warmed slightly last week, we managed to uncover our bundles of scrap slab wood and cut them to four-foot lengths for the upcoming firing(s)! It was gorgeous weather, and we estimate we have about 10-11 cords of hemlock, pine, and assorted hardwoods on hand to last us for (hopefully) a couple firings.
Nathan and I both love to wood-fire our pottery. When we met, we'd each "logged" many hundreds of hours stoking hot kilns, and were both dreaming of some day having our own. And so we embarked on this wood-kiln-building journey, which looks now as if it will span a fairly large portion of the first three years of our lives together!
We had the land, and we had the dream, and slowly but surely, things began coming together with serendipity- it made us feel like we were on the right track! Just two weeks after we got engaged, five pallets of brand-new super-duty firebrick and a whole mess of free insulating bricks came our way for very few dollars. A year later, our families and friends gathered to help us raise the 30' x 40' shed over our kiln site on a warm November day. A year has passed since then, and we've amassed thousands of bricks, countless other materials and tools, and water and power at the kiln site. We've built a well-drained foundation, and are well under way building the floor and firebox of the kiln.
These are big accomplishments, and yet the amount of work still to be done can, at times, overwhelm me. (Especially with the impending winter and next years' show applications going out!) I have been tested by the physical and mental strength this project requires of me, by the countless details to be foreseen- like sub-floor air channels and buried steel bracing- and daunted by the number of tasks to be completed that I know very little to nothing about at present. (Fortunately, Nathan knows a lot!!) In the meantime, I take comfort in photos and memories of wood-firings past for re-assurance, guidance, and encouragement. I think about my favorite wood-fired mugs, or the juicy stoneware bowls that got covered in a heavy coat of wood-ash, and melted to create a gorgeous glazed surface. It is motivating!
Also motivating are the reasons Nathan and I believe in wood fired pottery. We get excited thinking about how the wood burned in the kiln will provide our pottery with a natural glaze: we leave much of the decorating to the fire and flame! We love that it is an ancient process, that for thousands of years, humans have been lighting a fire inside an arch of bricks to harden water jars and bowls that will sustain and enhance human life. And most of all, we can feel good about fueling our kiln with a local, renewable, and plentiful resource; we'll be getting bundled slab wood from the local saw mills. It's already scrap product, off-cuts from locally-milled and harvested lumber. There's a lot to be done, and a lot to look forward to! ~Becca
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.