First firing of the kiln

May, 2016

Logs felled, maple syrup season over, we began to look to the firing of the new wood-burning kiln. The kiln, for which I had earned a grant two years earlier, was another study in things taking longer than you had planned. But all that doesn’t matter, now that the behemoth is standing under its timber frame shed, door yawning open waiting for pots to fill it.


The kiln is fired using wood, a labor-intensive fuel because it requires the potter to be a lumberjack as well, or at least a grunt laborer pushing a wheelbarrow. But wood-firing makes sense for us because (a) we currently have no access to electricity or gas, (b) we live in a lumber-producing area where waste slab wood from the local lumber mill is readily available, and (c) I really don’t mind grunting or pushing a wheelbarrow. In my mind, it’s much better than paying the gas company to drop off silos of propane at our front door.

Besides making ecological sense and practical sense, firing with wood makes aesthetic sense. When the wood ash blows through the kiln, it lands on the pots, melting on them and turning into a glaze. The clay, unglazed, can flash colors, sometimes orange, red, and black, sometimes muted flesh tones. Here’s a picture of an unglazed pot from one of the first firings, showing the place on its shoulder where the ash landed.


The kiln is a bourry box, which means it has a separate firebox from the chamber in which the pots are stacked. It allows for a more efficient use of the wood and a more relaxed stoking schedule than a typical wood firing, but at a cost of less glazing from the wood ash. I had wanted a kiln that I could fire by myself without losing too many years of my life, so this modest sized bourry box fit the bill.

I’ll show you a few pictures of the building in progress, just so you can see just how many bricks go into a “modest” sized bourry box…


Here you can see the trepidation on my face.


The two chambers are clearly visible here…on the right, the firebox, in the center, the ware chamber, and on the left, the beginning of the chimney.



Perhaps you, Reader, are not a kiln building aficionado. In that case, I’ll skip to the part where I have a fully functional wood-burning kiln. On a chilly morning that promised fair weather, I struck a match to light a bundle of twigs and birch bark on the floor of the kiln, and, simple as that, began the firing. (Strange, I’m seeing the same look of trepidation on my face as the last picture. It must be a frequent look for me.)


Like many things in life, the act of firing a kiln with wood is a mixture of elation and despair. You sit outside, feeling the glow of the warm bricks, you stoke wood that you’ve cut and stacked yourself, you listen to the crackle of the flame, you put your booted feet up and pick up a book… Then you wonder if the temp is rising fast enough, or too fast, you think maybe you don’t have enough wood, you think you’ll be stoking all night and into the next day, you toy with quitting and leaving the firing, maybe getting an office job…


But, thanks to J.’s endless encouragement and faithful stoking help, we reached the final temperature of 2315 F about 9 pm that night. We moved our chairs out from under the kiln shed and sat, watching the white coals burning down on the floor of the kiln, the cool night air to our backs. The stars were brilliant and firefly larvae were glowing in the twigs of the trees above us. We were tired and we knew we had done well. There was no office job in sight.



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