Hell is sometimes depicted in art and literature as a place that looks like heaven for potters that have wood fired kilns, especially of the anagama type. Surrounded by cheerful grinning devils, hapless scantily clad naughty folk stoke for days, and days, and days, and days..... There is usually a most impressive fire going, with a hazy orange red flame, showing a reduction atmosphere, and the surrounding industrial landscape is of the "good old days" when there was a major potting industry, and no clean air act!!
Of course there is nothing hellish about a kiln with a fire that burns well and brightly, it is a cheery sight, and the wood pops and chuckles in a most agreeable and companionable manner.
Artists would have done a more convincing job of hell, if the fires had been the sort that you try to start on a chilly day, when the sky is leaking, and the wood is damp, and the matches break when struck, or give a feeble flame that dies with a "pop" in the slightest of breeze.
The depiction of hell would be even more convincing, if the feeble flame had actually finally taken, and singed the paper apologetically, caused the small dry stuff to flicker, and then settled back to a dismal smoky charring of the bigger stuff.
Convincing, even more so... if the fire had reluctantly commenced as above (goaded and cajoled by the angry verbal expostulations of the potter), but the chimney had failed to draw. In fact, if the whole system had gone into reverse, with the chimney acting as an air intake, gulping a sad column of air downwards, squeezing it into the chamber, then over the bagwall to the fire in the firebox, and then.... propelling all the smoke out of every stoke hole, air intake, and small gap in the firebox into the face of the potter!
Clearly, those masters of the paint brush who depicted a cheery blazing hell were not potters!
Those who have read the previous post, will know that I have been reconstructing my wood fired kiln. I pulled the internal firebox out of the kiln, constructed a solid chamber floor, then began the process of making an external firebox.
True to my character, I did not settle for a simple solution... I half made a number of constructions, and kept thinking, "...there is another way of doing this!" It was a bit dispiriting. Some of the chopping and changing was due to the realities of dealing with recycled materials, almost always of the "wrong" size, shape, or quality to what was hoped for at the time. I found that one make of heavy fire brick, that I had actually bought new a few years ago, had a nasty tendency to break in half, almost without me even touching them. In fact I am sure that some did break when I merely looked at them! I could have done a stage act... the man who breaks bricks, by mind power alone! Also, my motley collection of firebricks seemed to be in about 100 individual sizes. So, some morning commenced with me tearing down the work of the previous day, and other mornings resulted in progress.
Something nagged at me the whole time though.
|My rough drawing of a Bourry Box down draft fire box. Hobs would support the ends of the firewood, but are not shown in this drawing as it would need one from another angle.... sorry about that!|
An "ideal" firebox would probably be of the down draft type, known as a Bourry box. This variety of firebox, normally has no grate, but the wood is held aloft on hobs. Combustion occurs below the wood with this system, and the incandescent embers, below the wood, play an important part in the process.
One problem with a Bourry box, is that they are said to work best with timber that is cut to the right length so that it can be supported by the hobs.
A firebox that can take almost any length of wood, has a conventional grate, more like what you would have at home, if you still had an open fire. A simple firebox like that can work OK, but the ones I have made for past kilns, have always required frequent stoking, and lots of bending or kneeling.
I have been musing about grates that are more like a flight of stairs, with air allowed in between each tread. The wood is introduced at the top of the flight of stairs, and slowly makes its way down them as it burns. Throughout its life, there is a good supply of air.
On past wood firings, I would often build a miniature version of a grate like this in the mouth of my firebox in the early stages of a firing, and always took note of how well it worked.
As I fooled around with the firebox, I did some reading online, and found, to my joy, that there are potters using a system like this. I see that some have built "train kilns" that look a bit like steam locomotives. The fire box in "train kilns" is where the cab would be on a steam locomotive, and these had a semi self feeding ladder style grate.
So my firebox gained a ladder grate.
|The ladder grate and firebox under construction.|
I built the thing rather tall, and too close to the kiln for easy loading. In fact it "got away from me" a bit as I built! I roofed it with a rather tired fiber lined kiln door, that is about 3 feet square.
|When firing the air passages can be blocked with a small brick or opened as needed.|
I decided on a firing to just above 600 Celsius, and an empty kiln.
The usual preparations were made, pyrometer probe inserted through the kiln chamber roof, and the firebox made ready with newspaper, scrap cardboard, and some small wood.
I lit a match.... well, darn it, several! Nothing wanted to light. I was starting to feel rattled when, finally a match lit and stayed alight long enough to transfer a feeble flicker of flame to some paper, and....
I had constructed a firebox that worked in reverse. It was really terrible, not so much of a whiff of smoke could be persuaded to work through the kiln to the chimney. Everything poured out the back of the firebox.
I was unable to use the firebox side stoking position, for, to open this made the situation worse, but I was able to insert material through the flue-ways from the back of the box, and keep the fire going. With eyes streaming tears as I lowered myself to a crouching position to avoid the worst of the smoke, I asked myself, "why keep on stoking"? ... but I did!
By removing 3 spy hole bricks from near the top of the kiln door, I managed to encourage some of the smoke to get into the kiln chamber. The pyrometer very slowly crept towards 75 degrees, but would go no further.
After three quarters of an hour of adjusting dampers, plugging and unplugging air intakes, coughing, streaming, and stoking, I sat on a garden seat, and watched the whole miserable thing puff away. I took some photos of the smoky box, and the smokeless chimney, and, as I continued to watch, there was a sudden gathering of yellowish vapour at the top of the chimney stack. For a second or so, it was feeble, then it gathered in volume and the smoke turned into an impressive stable plume. I took another photo, then rushed back to the kiln. The temperature was now at 125 C and the pointer of the analogue dial was climbing visibly. Around the firebox, the air was clean and clear of smoke!
My spirits lifted.
The kiln started to work at 5 past midday, and was at 800 Celsius by 3.15 in the afternoon. I terminated the test at this point, when friends arrived.
The step grate really worked. I found that I could stoke with logs of up to 6 inches in diameter, and it responded rapidly when smaller wood was added. The side stoking port worked well, and was pleasant to use, especially when compared to the internal firebox that this kin had in the past, where stoking was done kneeling, and every few seconds with small wood!
The air intakes were... interesting! Opening too many could cause a partial reverse circulation of air in the firebox, and some smoke out the wrong end. It was also possible to get strong reduction in the firebox, but no visible reduction in the kiln. Reduction in the kiln could, however, be achieved by careful use of the chimney dampers.
Anyway, a mad week really. I don't know why I do these things.