Monday, May 4, 2015

Wood Fired Kiln Revisited... Becky's first Firing. The Road of Life has "bumps", "potholes", and other unpleasant things!

I have had a collection of large earthenware pots taking up rather a lot of room in my shed. Some were made more than two years ago, before various things in "life" took me away from making big things and using the wood fired kiln. It has been sad seeing the pots gathering dust. All of them are too large to fire in the electric kiln, so were waiting for a time when I felt able again to fire them in my wood fired kiln. I woke up one day last week with the thought in my head that it was time to do something about the big pots.
Probably a recent visit from friends from England stirred up some thoughts about the wood fired kiln again. Friend Rob enjoys cooking when he is here, and he wanted to cook some bread over an open fire to go with some soup that he had made. I made few changes to the firebox of the wood fired kiln, and we cooked over a fire I built there.

The bread cooked almost instantly and had a tang of wood smoke about it that complimented the soup beautifully. It was enjoyable being around the kiln again, and seeing a faint drift of smoke rising from its chimney.

A few days later I had my "now is the time" thought, and I loaded the kiln with the large pots, and some other smaller ones to fill in the spaces. I took a whole day loading. The large pots had to be treated with great care, and I worried quite a bit about overloading kiln shelves.

At 10am the following day I lit a small fire in the fire box, and gently heated the kiln to about 80 degrees Celsius (176 F). There was an alarming amount of steam from low in the chimney stack, and smoke seemed more interested in oozing out of cracks in the brick work, rather than bothering to ascend through the chimney. After nearly two hours, a blob of blue smoke burped out of the chimney top, and hung there. After that the kiln seemed happier.

I let the fire go out. I wanted to just let the warmth percolate slowly through the kiln structure, and also gently warm the pots. The kiln had held its heat quite well through the afternoon and the pyrometer was reading about 50 degrees Celsius (122 F) at 4pm when I relit the fire.

I kept a small fire going until about 8.30 in the evening, and allowed the kiln to climb to about 100 degrees Celsius (212 F). Then I let the fire go out, and allowed it to rest for the night. I attempted to rest too!

I was out of bed just after 5am the next morning, and had the kiln lit by 5.50am. If I am honest, I admit to being rather grumpy and tired when I got up, and I had to put down a rising feeling of mutiny. It was dark and somewhat chilly at that hour, but tending a small fire is the ideal antidote for cold and a mug of coffee and some toast was good for the morale. After half an hour or so, I was feeling almost human again, and began to enjoy the challenge of carefully building the fire and the temperature in the kiln.

Because some of the pots were very big and had not been fired before, I took things fairly slowly, 4 hours to 300 degrees (572 F), but we were at 600 Celsius (1112 F) by 12.30, and got to a peak of 1000 degrees (1832 F) by 3 in the afternoon.

Mostly I was holding the kiln back. I was always aware of the tremendous power available, and had to exercise it with great restraint. When the kiln is firing well, there is a constant chatter of noise from the firebox, and subtle signs of life from all over the kiln. I take in these signals subconsciously as I attend to the stoking,
it is like caring for a semi-wild animal. Happy, and warning, signs and sounds. You look for give away twitch of the tail, the flattening of an ear, and hope for steady, gentle purring! The kiln is very interesting to fire, the firebox and the way I have arranged the flow of flame from the firebox into the kiln is quite unconventional. When above a red heat, it is possible to see the flame in the kiln moving round the main chamber of the kiln in a circular pattern, rather like a tropical cyclone.

This was only a bisque firing, so I stopped feeding the firebox when 1000 degrees (1832 F) was showing in the chamber, and I am now looking forward to unpacking the kiln, and glazing the pots, then firing them again to a much higher temperature.

As the wood fired kiln has been cooling more work has been going through the electric kilns. I fired these two bowls recently. The bluey-green one is 13.5 inches in diameter and the dark brown one is 13 inches.

Annoying reflections made this bowl almost impossible to photograph, but close up photos reveal some of its secrets.

A very happy event, around Easter time, was the firing of some of the first things that my pupil, Becky, has made. Opening the kiln, and seeing newly fired work that you have made is always a special moment, especially for the very first time.

Becky and I also made some egg cups. I threw the cup part, and she helped with heads and tails, and decorating. I think that the heads that she made were better than the ones I did, they were full of character and life!

The Road of Life has "bumps", "potholes", and other unpleasant things!

I had this post ready to publish a few weeks ago, but we hit a major snag. It was so major, that I was not able to write about it whilst it was going on, and I will only write a summary of it now...

From around November of last year Laura had health problems, her symptoms were similar to, but not quite the same as, gallbladder disease. Slowly her health declined, and we had many trips to doctors, and much frustration and worry.

Near midnight on 17th April, Laura experienced severe pain and had to go to hospital. She received emergency surgery on Saturday 18th for a perforated small intestine, a part called the jejunum, not far below the stomach. She was seriously ill, had peritonitis, and was in a very bad way. Happily, she is now at home recovering after some time in hospital.

A doctor that I spoke to today said that what Laura had was very rare and that in 40 years of General Practice he has never come across a case of this. Happily there is no malignancy. Laura's surgery was major, and her full recovery will take months rather than weeks, but it is good to be celebrating a return to health, and daily gains in strength.

We have been greatly blessed by caring friends and family, and have been carried gently through this difficult time with gifts of food and help with travel when needed.

All this has had a major impact on our business. I have not been able to do pottery for the last 3 weeks, and our gallery has mostly been closed. I am sorry if anyone has been inconvenienced by this.


Michèle Hastings said...

My thoughts are with you and Laura. Wishing for a smooth recovery. The pots will be waiting for you when you are ready to get back at it.

gz said...

Glad everything is headed in the right direction now.
Thinking of you both xx

Armelle Léon said...

Wish Laura a good recovery, it is fine to see you firing your wood fired kiln, hope the next one will be ok. Best wishes to you both

Peter said...

Hi Michèle,
Good to hear from you. Laura progressing well now, and I can start to imagine making some pots again!

Hi Gwynneth,
Thank you for your kind thoughts. Laura getting better every day.

Bonjour Armelle,
Laura is enjoying some healing fresh air and sunshine. Hoping the next firing of the wood fired kiln will be quite soon... maybe next month when we are feeling stronger here!

Linda Starr said...

oh my, hope Laura is doing well, how scary, your kiln firing skills are amazing and Becky has that happy look on her face at the kiln opening, yippee

Peter said...

Hi Linda,
Good to hear from you! Laura improving every day, but it was a very alarming thing to happen. It is lovely to see someone discovering the joy of working with clay. Makes me happy too!

Anonymous said...

Our love and thoughts are with you both. Love and faith are great healers. We will pop in when next down. Graham and Amanda

Anonymous said...

PS ....could you please reserve the pot at the rear of your big pot photo for us as it looks intriguing! Ta - Graham

Peter said...

Hi Graham and Amanda,
Thank you for your kind thoughts, it was really nice to have your comment pop onto the blog a couple of minutes ago and to know that you are thinking of us.

Laura is making progress, and we walked to the beginning of the Lagoon causeway today and back (I guess that is about half a Km or so in all). It was good to extend the boundaries of Laura's world, and to be able to enjoy some sunshine together. Laura is getting a bit frustrated with not being able to work, and is starting to dust around the pots in the gallery when she thinks I am not looking... which is a sign that she is on the mend at last!

I'll keep in touch regarding the pot in the photo. The ones that were getting ready for the kiln had a bisque firing, but will still need their glaze firing. P

angela walford said...

you both take care Peter xx tough days indeed, stay warm!

Peter said...

Hi Angela,
Lovely to hear from you, thank you for your kind thoughts. Staying warm is always a challenge here at this time of year, but Nigella Stopit the Post Office Cat does her best to act as a hot water bottle!

srgb said...

Hi Peter
You are often in my thoughts but more so since I read of Laura's mis fortune, I do wish you both well and cannot imagine the difficulties these misfortunes bring, best wishes to Laura go well Peter.
Bob S

Peter said...

Good Evening Bob,
Nice to hear from you, I've passed your best wishes on to Laura. It certainly has been rather up and down here, but the trend is steadily up now! We had an enjoyable short walk today out in the sun, and are appreciating life itself and the little things we see around us.
Best Wishes, P & L

Melissa Rohrer said...

Somehow I missed your post and am catching up.
Sorry for the difficult times. That must have been scary.

Peter said...

Hi Melissa,
Good to hear from you. I am not surprised about missing the post, I have been posting so infrequently lately that the blog sails under the radar a bit these days! Life goes on, which is the main thing... but I'll be pleased when we are through this bumpy time!