All of these pots were made with clay from the property, discovered right under where we built the kiln. It has a lot of iron, but still takes some heat, and won’t bloat at higher temps. Probably due in part to the fact that it is very open with a lot of sand and other even larger inclusions. Even vitrified, it still sweats because of the openness. With use, the sweating stops, as all the pores fill with minerals from the water and tea tannins, etc…
Lately I’ve been spending all my potting time making large stuff for the next firing. It takes forever to dry, and I need extra time to bisque it all. Yup, all of it. No more cracked pieces because I glazed them raw and effed up.
So I was at a big drinking party the other night. My neighborhood mens group gets together bi-monthly to catch up and eat good stuff. A good custom overall. Anyway, the guy who hosted the party turned out to be a sake enthusiast as well, and while everyone else was drinking shochu (a hideous drink fit only for odd, uncivilized folk… just kidding….), he broke out a bottle of the local brewery’s best, and two very nice guinomi, one wide and shallow and one deep and tall. The hira-sakazuki (low, flat one) was a beautiful blackish red uber reduced surface, and made from really nice clay that contained quite a bit of iron, was fairly fine, and which was trimmed to perfection. The taller guinomi was Bizen Karatsu style, otherwise called yakishime. Neither were signed so I have no idea who made them.
The gorgeous hira-sakazuki inspired me to get back on the wheel and start making smaller work for the next firing. I started with hira-sakazuki and finished with Karatsu style tea bowls. It was nice to be back in the saddle, and the clay, which came out of the ground near my house, was beautiful to work with now that it has aged a few months since I processed and pugged it.
I ended up spending more time than I wanted on each of these, forcing myself to slow down the wheel and throw slowly, with as little motion as possible. I wanted these simple shapes to remain simple and not look too refined. One of the buzzwords for Karatsu ware is ‘Soboku’ 素朴, which roughly translates as ‘rustic’. Too much handling and you lose that quality. Spent all of that time processing local clay, it would be a shame to waste it by over-handling it. All of these pots will get a thin to medium coat of 90%spar and 10%ash. Maybe a couple of the sake cups will get a thin coat of iron and ash.
This post is a photo record with comments, in order to organize and retain my thoughts and observations about the 8th firing of the wood kiln. I always think I’ll remember until the next firing, but never do. So, if you get into this, beware there are a LOT of pictures, some of which may seem redundant. There are examples of most of the pots from the firing, minus teabowls and some others which are not photographed yet.
The 8th firing was a charm overall, with many good pots, some bad, and some that will get refired. Kiln was fired in oxidation primarily. We stoked once every 30 minutes for 2 1/2 days, then once every 20 minutes the last half day.
– Front was nicely melted, nice even gradient to the rear of first chamber, E-Karatsu was about ideal. Cone 12 at hottest front down to cone 6 at coolest rear.
– Front chamber behaves like anagama. No significant temp gradient from front to back of each setting. Next firing, will pack kiln by eliminating the space between settings, leaving horizontal space for flame travel. One long setting from front to back of first chamber.
– Ame yu better at low temps. Load rear to mid chamber.
– Ao yu needs more heat, mid to front chamber.
– Large platters go midway to back of front chamber. Too much ash up front.
– Firebox wares are very nice in a three day firing. Great place for Shino, under cover to avoid ash in pots.
– Rear chamber fires fast when preheated for 3 days. Jumped from 1044C to 1344C in four stokes, a little over an hour. Care must be taken to spend more time soaking at high temp, because rear chamber high temp wares not quite mature (surface changes only), clay not melted well. Spend 3 or 4 hours firing off rear chamber, slowly, to get inside the pots.
– Rear chamber fires very evenly front to back, and top to bottom. Pick a temp to fire at and load accordingly. Don’t expect a significant gradient.
As I may have mentioned before, buying the pugger/mixer was probably the best decision I made last year. It has made my life easier in so many ways. However, it has made things more difficult in one way: it is hard to keep track of all the claybodies that go into the kiln. Especially after they are made into something and drying on the shelves, it is very difficult to tell them apart.
When I fired with the gas kiln, stuff didn’t pile up all that much, because I fired frequently. Now with the wood kiln getting fired 3 times per year, things tend to stack up, and labeling is essential to avoid hideous mishaps. I try to keep types of clay consistent from wareboard to wareboard and label each board, but packing pots in the kiln to bisque them means losing the labels and taking extensive notes, because bisqued clay looks even more similar than green.
The other day, I was wishing I had a way to label the pots better, then it came to me: a labeling app on my smart phone with which to label photos in my gallery. I downloaded a free app (there are lots of different ones), and viola!, pictures taken of my bisque load shelf levels are now accurately labeled and instantly backed up to my home network, so I know I won’t lose them.
Now if significant time passes between firings, or just unloading a bisque, I can refer to my pictures to figure out what everything is.
Here are the first of a bunch of water jars and flower vases that are going into the kiln this early fall. I really needed some practice coiling, paddling, and collaring in necks on the kickwheel and 船徳利 funadokkuri (boat flasks) are the perfect shape for it. Traditionally these were used as flasks for oil, etc. on boats. They needed to be hard to tip over, hence the wide flat bottom. Now they are mostly used for flower arrangements.
All of the water jars will have wooden lids made for them. I’ve done one or two in the past with surprising positive response from viewers/customers. The lids are fun to make, since they are a non traditional item, you can play around a bit with them. I’ll post some lids later on, if the pots make it through the firing.
Well, time to sit down with the last firing and figure out what went wrong, and what went right.
Firing and packing: Great. With this firing I figured out, FINALLY, the proper exit flue volume to use. And with it, the proper packing procedure. The kiln climbed steadily, without effort, for 45 hours and the flame in the front chamber reached front to back really nicely. It turned out to be a fairly even gradient from front to back, from cone 13 in front, to a good melted 8 in back. No sidestoking necessary.
I am going to go back to using a pyrometer for the next firing, because this firing got very reduced. I think the stoke intervals were too close, and a pyrometer may help me get a better idea of temp climb timing, and when each cycle goes into oxidation.
At one point, when we switched to stoking the 2nd chamber, the temp just started dropping. You could tell from the sound and color of the kiln. I jabbed a pyro into a peep hole and it told me right away that I was stoking to frequently. After the flame had receded into the chimney and peepholes, and the roar had died away was when the temp really started climbing in the chamber. I had been stoking when the flames receded and the kiln quieted down, but once I started waiting rather for the temp to start dropping after the rise, the kiln got back on track. This rise took longer than I imagined, sometimes up to 10 minutes. Had been stoking waaayyyyyy too much.
This firing was a watershed moment for me, regarding packing, air, and stoking. I think next time will finally be the load that makes us all smile.
Glazes: Glazed ware in the second chamber turned out really nice. Reduction was still too heavy, but we got nice surfaces. Still, I won’t aim for that in the future. Madara glazes were too yellow for my taste. The first chamber glazes were so reduced that whatever their intended color, everything turned out a semi matte green, from the excessive iron pulled from the body saturating the glaze and crystallizing. I think the stoking interval will fix this problem.
Clay body: Oops. Here is where the shit hit the fan. Too much iron, especially considering the temp and amount of reduction that happened. The clay I used for the large pieces has too much iron for that type of firing environment, which is why they almost all collapsed. Having worked with a gas kiln for so long, it is hard to get out of the mindset of adding iron rich clay to other whiter bodies in order to get a desired color. The white clays in this area have enough iron for good color in a wood kiln. I keep forgetting that, but perhaps the shock of this latest meltdown, and the subsequent pain of shelf grinding will serve to jog my memory whenever I’m mixing clay for the wood kiln.