Firing the wood kiln

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wood kiln

Twice a year, the pottery studio I work out of rents this wood fire kiln. It’s an incredible opportunity for amateur potters like me to learn about wood firing. These photos are from the June firing. This month, while I am travelling, my newest pieces will be fired without me.

During the rest of the year, I fire my pieces in the studio’s electric kiln. Glazes are a combination of chemicals that when heated during firing turn to glass, the colour of which depends on the recipe of the glaze used. The heat in an electric kiln is always constant, so the colours of the glazes turn out consistent and predictable. If applied correctly, robin’s egg blue is always blue, and autumn leaves is always a deep red-brown.

Firing in a wood kiln adds an element of unpredictability to the process, and with this unpredictability comes opportunity. Instead of rising steadily, the temperature fluctuates as the fire is stoked by hand until it reaches 1200 degrees Celsius. Ash blows around and settles on the pots, producing unique effects that can never be reproduced. Even the weather during the days the kiln is fired can affect the results.

This particular kiln takes about 48 hours to fire. During that time, students, instructors and the kiln owners take shifts to stoke the kiln, adding more wood every five to ten minutes. One of the indicators that more wood is needed is the size of the flame flickering out of this small peak hole:

firing the wood kiln

Once 1200 degrees is reached, the “cones” are checked to see if the kiln is hot enough. The cones are small upright indicators that bend in succession as the kiln heats up. Then the vents are closed so that reduction can occur, a step that is important for some of the glazes.

Finally, we close the kiln and leave for several days to let it cool down. Later, we return to empty it:

emptying the kiln

Here are some of the finished pieces from the June firing:

pots fired in the wood kiln 2

Finally, you can see some of my pots from that firing by clicking here.

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Postscript:

It’s been more than ten years since I took my first pottery class and made my first crooked and heavy pots. During that time, I have thought a lot about how the process of creating pottery and the writing process are similar, and I have written about those similarities. There is nothing like a wood-firing in the writing process, though: there is no moment when the writing is so out of the writer’s control that it can come out in completely different than expected. At least, not in my experience. For the writers out there, do you have any thoughts about how writing can be (or is) “wood-fired”?

Thank you for reading. I love it when people stop by to say hi in the comments. All kind and thoughtful comments are welcome.

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