Firing the Wood Kiln

It’s here! It’s here! It’s finally here!

And well… it went! The infamous wood firing that I have incessantly written about for the last few weeks finally took place on October 30th at Burti Ceramics Studio in Fleetville, Pennsylvania, and from what I understand it was an awfully successful firing. This assertion, however, remains unconfirmed (much to my chagrin) for the kiln door has yet to be opened, revealing the many gifts the kiln gods have allegedly afforded us. So I wait in agony, anxiously reliving the day through photographs.

20151030_13265512195786_10206670833907259_4001140658230185694_nI arrived on site the morning of the firing to see the stacks of wood we had spent hours moving, splitting, and restacking uncovered and being used to stoke the already roaring fire within the chambers of the kiln. It took a little time to get reacquainted with how the whole system operated, but once I got it comfortably under my belt, I was thrown right in (but thankfully not into the stoking chamber)!

20151030_130028For a while, I got to play Kiln Master, and I was in charge of telling my cohorts when to stoke the kiln. During every wood firing, a pyrometer (or fancy thermometer) is placed inside a small peep hole in the kiln wall, and through a small series of wires, the interior temperature of the kiln is then projected on a small screen strategically placed to face the Kiln Master. I was responsible for recording the highest temperature the kiln would reach after each stoke. When the temperature fell twenty degrees below the peak temperature, I would announce it was time to stoke again. It was also important that I recorded the time at which we stoked to see if, as a result of certain combinations of wood, we were getting a long burn with consistent heat.

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I did also get to do some stoking myself. The chamber for burning wood within the kiln has two doors – one at the front and one at the rear – and must be fed from both sides each time stoking is necessary. To minimize the heat that escapes from the chamber, the doors are never opened at the same time. It was crucial we communicated clearly with the other team stoking across from us, indicating when we were finished and our door was closed so they could proceed. The stoking happens in all of about thirty seconds, not only to minimize heat loss, but to also minimize the amount of heat to which the individuals stoking are exposed. Nan Burti, the artist at whose facility the firing took place, did in fact burn her nose on one of the face shields protecting her from the spitting flames. Twenty four hundred degrees is no joke, after all, but as dangerous as they can be the flames make for quite the awesome sight, especially in the wee hours of the night.

Stirring the ash pit where the embers collect after falling from the stoking chamber was also important for an even heat distribution. Kicking up all those red hot coals also made for quite the scene, sending more flames out from the peep holes. 20151030_134400 20151030_121808 12194685_10205294639662119_89736129397182098_oThere is an interesting dichotomy that I feel when I participate in these firings; they are both humbling and empowering. We actively choose, and are able, to harness the natural force of tremendous heat that could singe off a limb in mere seconds, and create irreplaceable, one of a kind pieces of art. I love being a part of such a well orchestrated team where each individual role plays a part in something larger than itself. I am consistently moved and inspired by the people who are involved, and I feel so fortunate to be included in not only the experience, but the community as well. 12191622_10206670835107289_8099039493085638380_nAfter all was said and done, our ideal temperature of twenty four hundred degrees was reached about two hours ahead of schedule, a huge victory! Still, in the grand scheme of things, a twenty two hour firing is not much less labor than a twenty four hour firing. So I applaud all of our spectacular team members: those responsible for planning beginning, middle, and end; those who put in hours moving, splitting, and stacking wood weeks in advance; those who loaded the kiln and sealed the door; those who put in late hours, stoking all through the night and into the wee hours of the morning; all of whom are also spectacular artists. We nurtured the kiln and the work within it,  maximizing our opportunity for reduction, and hopefully, as a result, a great deal of the pieces within the toasty kiln walls  have been touched by the grace of the kiln gods. Here’s to unloading great treasures within the next few days.

Thanks for the read!

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