Why would a crew of potters, families and friends work into
the night throwing wood into a kiln for 10 to 13 hours? These
potters own conventional kilns, which use gas, electricity or oil
and have automatic temperature controls.
However, some of us who like to imitate America’s early
potters like the effects that only wood fires and salt glazing
can produce. That’s what a crew will be doing here, Nov.
26-28 Thanksgiving weekend weather permitting.
I’ve fired with wood 20 times since we started in 1983
and plan to welcome the new century with this 21st firing. The
kiln’s 25 cubic foot capacity will accommodate only about 45
pots. A few friends will bring their pots to this firing so we
can experiment with various kinds of clay, new ways of stacking
the ware in the firing chamber and the effects of a glaze made
with wood ash.
Many early potters fired without shelves, stacking
"raw" pots on pots, leveling and balancing the stacks
using moist clay wads. We stack that way, too, but I prefer to
prefire mine to a low temperature. It takes a steady hand and
lots of patience to prevent breaking or chipping the dry raw
ones. I once fired a kiln full "raw" just to prove I
could do it, and it turned out fine. If wet or windy weather
doesn’t interfere, we’ll be firing both raw and bisque
fired pots this time.
Wyn, owner of W.A. Painter Pottery Works in Overland Park,
Kan., has helped us fire five times. He will test-fire small
commemorative jugs, which he stamps with customers’ personal
messages. He fires hundreds of these wheel-thrown jugs in his
electric kiln and has recently sculpted a few pigs, similar to
the rare collectible ones made in Anna, Ill., long ago.
He’ll test one or more of the pigs in the salt glazing.
Of course, we all sign and date our replicas to avoid
misleading a customer.
Debra and Grieg Thompson, both potters, will bring pots to
fire; they’re building a kiln near Harrisburg and will help
with the hard work in this firing to get first hand experience.
Nikki Simmons from Russellville will bring raw pots and help
stoke the fires though she has not even seen a wood firing. The
rest of us have learned a lot by trial and error, but the
learning never ceases and no two firings are the same. When the
firing chamber’s temperature reaches 2,291 degrees, Nikki
will take her a turn at scattering course stock salt over the
We observe three firing cones through a peephole in the brick
door. When the first temperature cone bends, we prepare to add
salt. When the third cone bends, we put two pounds of salt in one
end of a long angle iron, extend it into the very hot fire box
and shake the salt out. Several saltings in each fire box
requires a total of about 25 pounds of salt. The salt releases
sodium vapor which combines with the silica of the clay to create
the unique glaze.
To check the glaze buildup, we remove a loose door brick and
"fish" out the first "draw ring." We drop the
yellow-hot ring in water and examine its glaze. Several clay rigs
are withdrawn, and when one shows the glaze buildup which we
desire, we’ll stop salting but slowly stoke the fire boxes
for a while more to allow the heat to penetrate evenly throughout
the entire firing chamber. Then we close all of the kiln openings
and retire for much needed rest.
If you’re interested in this process, drop by Friday when
we’re stacking the kiln, Saturday when we’re stoking
the fires or Sunday afternoon to view the results. However, no
pots will be for sale. Of course, wet or windy weather will upset
the schedule, so please call 442-2809 for instructions before
driving the 10 miles to the farm.