Friday October 9, 2009 | 3 comments
In earlier posts, I’ve shown pictures of some of my wood-fired teapots, tea bowls, and cups, and explained why I do long firings fueled with wood. However, being a New York City potter, I didn’t have a wood kiln, so I became an itinerant wood-firer, firing in any kiln I could find, helping out with the firing, and sometimes paying for space in the kiln. I was pleased with a lot of the results, but felt incomplete as a potter without my own kiln.
A few years ago, I mentioned to my daughter that I would like to build a kiln and she most graciously offered to let me build it on her property, in Charlton, New York, about a 3-hour drive from New York City. I bought a car, and with a lot of help from a lot of people, spent the next few years building the kiln.
As you can see from the picture, it’s a two-chamber kiln, modeled on 16th and 17th Century Japanese wood-fired kilns. The first chamber is stoked from the front, with room for pots on either side of the grate as well as behind. The second chamber is stoked from the side. Each chamber is rectangular with a sprung arch supported by a welded steel frame. The kiln is named Athena, the goddess of ceramics.
After finishing the kiln, I spent the next few months splitting wood and organizing a group of potters, some of whom had helped me build the kiln, to bring pots to be fired and stack and load the kiln. The picture shows Nick Schneider and me after we loaded the first chamber and before we put up the brick door (which is built and taken down for each firing.)
In a wood firing, stoke every 5-10 minutes for the length of the firing. We fired for four days in July and it was a disaster. We were unable to get either chamber as hot as was required. We stopped firing and closed up the kiln to regroup and try to figure out what went wrong. After doing some research and speaking to a lot of people, we decided that our primary mistake had been to stoke the two chambers simultaneously, rather than, as is done with a two-chamber Japanese climbing kiln, firing the first chamber to completion, closing it off, and then firing the second chamber, which is already pretty hot.
In August, we tried again, and fired the chambers sequentially for 3 days. We opened the kiln with a lot of trepidation, but were very pleased with the results. The picture shows part of the first chamber with a number of my teapots, tea bowls, and cups. The other picture has one of Nick’s vases and a kiln god by my Anne that is a portrait of us.
We are now preparing for the next firing, scheduled for Halloween weekend. I have a lot of new firing techniques I want to try out. I’ll let you know how it goes.