The last firing of the wood kiln, I mixed up a glaze of 65 mystery wood ash and 35 Amakusa porcelain stone. I expected a dark green or yellow glassy ash glaze that didn’t run much. I even had the test tiles from around 5 years ago that showed what I’d get.
Well, I ended up getting a rust red sintered crust on every pot I put that glaze on, and it was a lot of pots. Even in areas that got up to cone 13, that glaze did not melt. It was very confusing since I had the test tiles showing a green glossy glaze.
With the new tiny kiln, I was able to fire twice today, 2 sets of test tiles. One set using the mystery wood ash from the crusty rust refractory debacle, and the other set using my normal mixed wood ash. Each set was fired for 90 minutes to cone 9 (yep, just 90 minutes to cone 9!) and all the recipes were exactly the same save for the type of ash.
I think it is safe to say that these ashes are not interchangeable. The mystery ash was from a neighbor’s wood stove, and I have no idea what it was. At any rate, it seems to have been reduced to almost pure silica. Sure enough, the glazes with the regular mixed wood ash turned out as expected. The atmosphere in the tiny test kiln is interesting. The 80/40 test tile came out reduced while the others were oxidized, only 2-3cm apart in either direction.
So, in short, mystery solved, and it didn’t require waiting for a big kiln firing. All in all, this tiny kiln is turning out to be very useful indeed, and easy to fire.
My weed burner came in the mail this afternoon and I wasted no time getting everything ready for the first real test of the tiny test kiln.
I prepared 3 sets of glaze tile pairs and set them in the kiln, along with one Orton cone (#6). I fired it up at 4pm. At 5pm cone 6 was flat. Easy peasy! Next time, all the way to cone 10, when I have some more free time for testing.
Spend a good bit of time sorting and splitting wood for the next couple of firings today. Before the kiln was built, Craig Edwards mentioned on a couple of occasions that having the wood split and sorted makes for a much easier time firing. I understood the need for splitting, but sorting kind of stumped me. I couldn’t understand why sorting for length would help, thinking that one could estimate the volume of wood going in each stoke, more shorter pieces or less longer pieces, right?
This seems to work in theory, but when you start adding in factors like stoking under the grates vs over the grates, or doing the wooden door technique, or side stoking through a smaller hole that tilts down, then the size and length of the faggots gets pretty important pretty fast. Having to sort through a stack for the right size during the firing makes for a stressful time. Having the right size stacked in the right place so that it doesn’t need to be moved a lot really cuts down on the labor.
So, this time I culled out all of the longest wood and split it first, stacking it near the front of the kiln. Shorter fat pieces near the front as well, with thinner pieces toward the middle and rear for side stoking the front and rear chambers. Also a special section of extra long pieces for doing a wooden door type stoke to get over stalls, if they happen. Here are some pictures of the stacks, plus a little potter porn.
Well, usually at least. This last couple of days was an exception. I started dabbling in some nifty new technology (to me). This involved casting some new tools, so when the old ones wear out I’ll have some ready to go. This tool is called a Gyubera, or cow’s tongue rib, that is sort of indispensable when making a lot of Karatsu forms.
The problem with them is that it is awfully hard to find them in the right shape for what you need. There are a lot of cheap ones on the market which are, well, cheap. The one thing they have going for them is that they have a lot of extra wood on them so you can do a lot of fine tuning with a rasp and sandpaper. The good ones are good, but cost a small fortune. I paid about $80 for my large one that I use for teabowls. Smaller one was about $50. Am I the only one that thinks that is ridiculous? Well, they were handmade one by one, by a barber. As strange as that sounds, there was this one barber that made really nice gyubera. He is now retired, and though someone took over his business, the new guy needs practice.
However, the big problem with all the aforementioned gyubera is that they are made of wood and prone to cracking and rot. It’s kind of a ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ situation. If you keep them damp, they rot. If you let them dry out, get wet, dry, wet, repeatedly, they crack. I found a partial solution to this by soaking them in Minwax wood hardener, and applying a layer of epoxy. But the epoxy bubbles up with time and they wood hardener wasn’t enough to prevent cracking over the long run, although it did extend the life of the tool considerably.
Not wanting to have to buy more, because of the cost and the fact that the new guy still needs practice. I thought I’d just make some myself, but it didn’t solve the wood material problems. So, these last couple of days I spent making plaster molds of the original gyubera, and using dental grade acrylic resin to cast new ones. I got the resin from a friend who used to be in the business. It is a funny pink color because it is supposed to look like gums. Aesthetically speaking, not my favorite for clay tools, but on the bright side it is unlikely I’ll ever get my tools confused with someone else’s tools.
After a couple of tries, I got a pretty good working two piece mold of two gyubera side by side. Got it ready for the resin pour and got the resin poured without too much fuss. Once it was poured and set for about 20 minutes, it was ready to heat cure in a 50C hot water bath for 25 minutes. Strangely, all of this went fairly smoothly. The problem came with trying to get that mold apart later. I tried and tried but it was not happening, and I ended up breaking the mold. Still, the casts were covered in plaster, because the liquid of the resin had penetrated through the release agent into the plaster. Oops, guess I should have used the special acrylic resin release agent instead of the casting slip release agent. Live and learn.
The cleaned up casts will make usable tools, but they are pocked with bubbles and other spaces where the resin didn’t flow properly. I’ll have to try again, improve the craftsmanship.
Here are some of the first pots to get cleaned up after the firing last week. I’ll post more over the next few days as I get things cleaned up.
Overall the firing went well, much better than the first two certainly. I’m finally starting to get a grip on how the kiln climbs, and learning not to worry about it too much. We fired both chambers this time and it took roughly 30 hours. Cone 10 flat in front, cone 9 touching in the rear, and cone 13 almost touching in the second chamber. The second chamber is a pleasure to fire, very relaxing after stoking the front. I think I can still get more aggressive with the front, taking the temp up even more, probably somewhere around cone 12 would be good for the rice straw ash glazes.
The intention was to drop cone 6 in the rear and call it quits, but it ended up getting hotter than expected, and the ware in front ended up a little too shiny. However, the middle and rear of the setting came out just about perfectly. Temp from top to bottom was quite even. We stopped stoking the second chamber when cone 11 dropped and clammed everything up after letting some of the excess heat out. Still, when I peeked in the next morning, that second chamber was still glowing, and cone 13 was mostly down. Guess that 1250kg of insulating castable does its job well.
Most of the failures this time around were caused by bad glazing, not the firing. Rice straw ash glazes were universally too thick, and an ash glaze I whipped up hoping to be a nice runny green ended up being a crusty reddish brown. Oops.
On and off I’ve had requests for pictures of the kiln, so here are some selected photos of it from beginning to completion. Building this kiln was the subject of the first Workshop In Taku, in 2010. The second in the series, Workshop in Taku 2012: The Simple Teabowl, will happen from May 12 – 18, 2012. Full details here:
The series starts not with ‘the kiln’, but ‘the hole’.
Kiln design and expert workshop guidance by Craig Edwards of Minnesota.