It would be nice to be able to open the kiln door and examine the pots like pies in an oven to see if they are "done", but the kiln is holding an atmosphere, white hot with just a faint yellow tinge, that is almost as bright and as deadly as the sun. Inside may look inviting, but it is not a friendly place, there are no happy aromas of hot pastry, braised beef, and sautéed onions!
Through welding goggles I can carefully peer at cones that are incandescent with heat, and await their bending and fall. I can sometimes glimpse the curve of a pot, the frozen D of a handle, but a glimpse is all. So I consult my graph paper log of the firing, noticing the dotted steps of each temperature reading as hour by hour the temperature rises. I time the fall of the cones, and I try to even the heat from top to bottom of the kiln, pushing in the chimney damper a little to slow the passage of heat through the kiln to the minimum needed to maintain a rise in temperature and an atmosphere in the chamber that is a little starved of oxygen.
Eventually I have to make the call to stop stoking. The top of the chamber gets hotter than lower down, so there is a compromise. If I try to get the lower part of the chamber up to an ideal temperature, than the top can be over fired. If I stop when the top is only just up to temperature, then the lower pots will be under fired. I have made some allowance for the expected temperature difference by selecting glazes that will love high temperatures for the hot part of the kiln, and ones that will tolerate lower temperatures for the cooler areas, but each firing is a living thing, and requires a judgement call.
I have some important pots in the upper part of the kiln, one is a commissioned piece, and there are some related pots as a back up in case the commissioned one turns out badly and we need a "plan B"! When the top shelf gets to cone 11 half down, I have to stop the firing for the sake of those large pots, even though the lowest pots will be under done. I know that I can re fire the pots that haven't quite got there, but it is hard to salvage a badly over fired pot!
The kiln was ready to unload on the third day after the firing, and Peter Watson, the friend who gave me my first lessons in potting and encouraged me along the way, stopped by to see the kiln unloaded.
|Urn. 11 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches (292 x216mm)|
|Urn, detail of the lid.|
We were very pleased to see that the urn was a success and it was well received by its owner when he picked it up yesterday.
There were some under fired pots as predicted that will go back in the kiln, but there were some treasures amongst the ones that got to temperature. In all it was a good firing!
|Bowl with copper red glaze. 6 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches (165 x88mm)|
|Copper red bowl detail.|
|Vase. Ash glaze over Shino. 5 1/2 x 5 1/4 inches (140 x 133mm)|
|Vase. Detail. Note the crystals over the ash glaze.|
|Urn. Ash glaze over Shino. 11 x 6 1/2 inches (280 x 165mm)|
|Urn. Detail of lid.|
|Breakfast bowl. Tenmoku glaze with rutile over glaze. 5 1/2 x 2 3/4 inches (140 x 70mm)|
|Breakfast bowl. Detail. Note the pollen-like sprinkle of golden crystals.|
|Breakfast Bowl. 6 1/4 x 2 3/4 inches (158 x 70mm). Same glaze combination as the previous bowl.|
|Urn. Thrown and altered. Rutile over Tenmoku glaze. 10 1/2 x 10 x 8 inches (267 x 254 x 203mm).|
|Urn. Rutile over Tenmoku glaze. 15 1/4 x 7 1/2 inches (387 x 190mm).|
You may have noticed that there were several more urns! When someone commissions me to make something for them, I usually make several related pots. I think with my hands, and prefer to try to give the pot form in clay from the beginning. Other potters are happy to draw out ideas on paper, or even use 3d software on the computer to solve design problems. Really we need to find our own way to solve these things, paper or technology is good for some, clay for others, we are individuals!
Enough for now! I will be getting back to the wheel again this week. Hope to make coffee mugs, pouring bowls, a large mixing bowl for baking bread, and .... maybe some little tiles.