Puffs Fall Firing, 2017

Firing a wood kiln is Hot work!  So when the summer heat rolled around, we put Puff the Desert Dragon Wood Kiln to bed.  We had planned for a firing in November during the summer months, so I made a bunch of pots late this summer with Puff in mind - fun vases and cups with lots of slip, and dents and bumps for the ash to bend around.
 

As the November firing date drew near I realized I would not be around for the planned weekend (Oh no!).  I didn't want to miss out, and I was chomping at the bit to fire Puff again.  So I recruited Tracy, another pottery friend who was also ready to fire again, and we decided we'd do it - just the 2 of us.

We had plenty of pots to fill her up, though we did Not have plenty of time.  We both work day jobs, and needed to fit this firing into a weekend.  So it was a busy weekend!  We still needed to glaze as well, so Thursday evening - Saturday evening we both worked HARD to get our pieces glazed and loaded into the kiln.

We started the firing Sunday morning at about 4:30 am, and fired her pretty aggressively (lots of stoking) until about 7 pm on Sunday.  We were both BEAT at this point, but excited!  We opened her up a few days later, and were rewarded for all our hard work!

 

The kiln just after a stoke, near peak temperature.  Check out that little fireball at the top!

The kiln just after a stoke, near peak temperature.  Check out that little fireball at the top!

Puff, freshly opened.

Puff, freshly opened.

Some of Tracy's beautiful results.

Some of Tracy's beautiful results.

Some of my Beautiful results.

Some of my Beautiful results.

Building Puff, the Desert Dragon Wood Kiln

I've blogged here a few times in the past about the type of glaze firing I use to finish my work.  I primarily fire in reduction, to cone 10, using propane gas at the Desert Dragon Pottery studio in North Phoenix.  And in just the past year I've started to do some firing in oxidation in the electric kiln at my own home, to cone 6.  Quick review: We measure the heat work in the kiln with cones, cone 10 is roughly (but not exactly) equivalent to 2350 degrees F.  When firing in reduction, we are trying to starve the atmosphere inside the kiln of oxygen, so the fire will have a dynamic interaction with the materials in the clay and glazes.   When firing in oxidation, you leave the oxygen alone and let it do it's thing.  This does not require fire, so it can be done in an electric kiln.  Actual fire is required for firing in reduction. 

Reduction firing is not new to me, but firing with wood is something I have not tried.  Like many many potters before me, I was intrigued by the idea.  Pots that are wood fired have this warm, flashy, sort of delicious looking surface, you can really get a sense of how the flames licked the pot.  They have a very unique look that's difficult to replicate with other firing methods.  I'd Briefly considered the idea of trying to build a wood kiln at the studio, but with a full time job and plenty of other firing methods available it just didn't make any sense to pursue.

Then I saw the magical facebook post!  Plans were brewing for building a small wood fire kiln at the Desert Dragon Pottery studio in North Phoenix, my home away from home studio!  It's funny sometimes - you start considering something, and the opportunity for that something falls right in your lap.  It's a clear sign that you had better dive in.

Leading the kiln building activities was John Manley, a ceramics artist from Nevada who spends at least a few weeks a year living and making work at the Dragon, and participating in some of our many craft fairs around the Valley of the Sun in the spring and the fall.  The kiln is his design, and he bravely the led kiln building, and has led our first couple of firings as well - which was a no small commitment!  We are so lucky John decided to share his time and knowledge for this project!  For the week of the build, John brought along with him a friend and fellow ceramics artist Tom Bivins.  Tom not only helped with the build but also generously shared his knowledge of kiln design, building, and firing with those of us participating. Tom lives in Idaho, and I've never taken one of his workshops or classes but I'm sure they are fantastic, because he's really good at explaining and describing ideas and techniques.

The kiln is very small by wood kiln standards, but a great size for our purposes at the Desert Dragon.  A bonus of the small size is that we can fire it fairly quickly, normally a wood kiln can take days to fire.  Ours is meant to be fired in well under 24 hours, though it will take some experimentation to figure out what kind of results we'll get from a 10-12 hour firing vs. an 16-18 hour firing.  Wood kilns tend towards reduction on their own.  We built the kiln in a way that allows us some control over the air flow, so we can affect the timing and amount of reduction in the kiln. 

Here's some pictures from the build, I will let them tell the rest of the story.

We built a simple wood frame to help us construct the brick arch.

We built a simple wood frame to help us construct the brick arch.

Shane hammers in the final bricks of the arch (left) and Tracy (bottom right) works on pulling the frame out of the arch, while John inspects the work. 

Shane hammers in the final bricks of the arch (left) and Tracy (bottom right) works on pulling the frame out of the arch, while John inspects the work. 

The completed arch from the back, and starting on the chimney.  The chimney, along with little slots at the back of the arch, will help to suck through the air from the front of the kiln out the back.  The arched shape will help the heat and flames circulate evenly through the kiln.

The completed arch from the back, and starting on the chimney.  The chimney, along with little slots at the back of the arch, will help to suck through the air from the front of the kiln out the back.  The arched shape will help the heat and flames circulate evenly through the kiln.

Kiln shots!  Me (top left, bottom right), Tom (top left), Tracy and Rose (bottom right), and John hammering some bricks into the top of the arch (bottom right). 

Kiln shots!  Me (top left, bottom right), Tom (top left), Tracy and Rose (bottom right), and John hammering some bricks into the top of the arch (bottom right). 

Building the flue.  These slots in the chimney, with kiln shelves we can slide back and forth to cover the opening a little or a lot, gives us a way to choke off the oxygen flowing through from the front the kiln.   We can use this to increase or decrease the amount of reduction in the kiln atmosphere.

Building the flue.  These slots in the chimney, with kiln shelves we can slide back and forth to cover the opening a little or a lot, gives us a way to choke off the oxygen flowing through from the front the kiln.   We can use this to increase or decrease the amount of reduction in the kiln atmosphere.

Tracy signing the kiln :)  We covered the kiln arch with castable, and while it was still wet we placed all these large river rocks over it.  

Tracy signing the kiln :)  We covered the kiln arch with castable, and while it was still wet we placed all these large river rocks over it.  

Not only do the rocks look cool, they help stabilize and insulate the kiln,  We used simple cement blocks, and a couple really nice stumps that were hanging out on the Dragons property, to help keep the rocks corralled into place..

Not only do the rocks look cool, they help stabilize and insulate the kiln,  We used simple cement blocks, and a couple really nice stumps that were hanging out on the Dragons property, to help keep the rocks corralled into place..

This is where we completed the official kiln building week.  We still needed to add a few more feet to the chimney before our first firing.  The fire will be in the very front, on top of a simple grate, and the pots will be loaded on the bricked surface behind it.

This is where we completed the official kiln building week.  We still needed to add a few more feet to the chimney before our first firing.  The fire will be in the very front, on top of a simple grate, and the pots will be loaded on the bricked surface behind it.

A shot of each of the first 2 firings.  On the left, Chris and Doug stoke the kiln during our very first firing, while Mark and Mishy keep an eye on things.  On the right, the second firing from just yesterday.  As I write this post, the kiln is cooling - we hope to open it tonight or tomorrow. The door is bricked up with 2 layers of brick, and we fill the gaps with mud as well as we can.  It takes a little bit of attention to keep the mud from cracking and opening up gaps, so we babysit it a little with water and new mud as the firing progresses.  We also have to continuously rake the hot ashes out of the bottom, so we don't block the airflow coming through from the front (there is some hot ash built up on the bottom right that we need to remove). Our stoke hole is very simple, a hole in the door with a half kiln shelf propped up over it as a stoke hole door, and a chair and some bricks to give us a place to prop the kiln shelf/door when we stoke.   We'd like to improve this in the future, but it works just fine for now.

A shot of each of the first 2 firings.  On the left, Chris and Doug stoke the kiln during our very first firing, while Mark and Mishy keep an eye on things.  On the right, the second firing from just yesterday.  As I write this post, the kiln is cooling - we hope to open it tonight or tomorrow.
The door is bricked up with 2 layers of brick, and we fill the gaps with mud as well as we can.  It takes a little bit of attention to keep the mud from cracking and opening up gaps, so we babysit it a little with water and new mud as the firing progresses.  We also have to continuously rake the hot ashes out of the bottom, so we don't block the airflow coming through from the front (there is some hot ash built up on the bottom right that we need to remove).
Our stoke hole is very simple, a hole in the door with a half kiln shelf propped up over it as a stoke hole door, and a chair and some bricks to give us a place to prop the kiln shelf/door when we stoke.   We'd like to improve this in the future, but it works just fine for now.

Some of the pots from our first firing, most of these have no glaze on the exterior, or only on the top inch or 2 of of the exterior (though there is some red and white slip, and some red iron oxide stain used for decoration).  The color and texture of the finished pieces is strongly influenced by the type of clay used.  We are all so excited to see what the second firing has produced!

Some of the pots from our first firing, most of these have no glaze on the exterior, or only on the top inch or 2 of of the exterior (though there is some red and white slip, and some red iron oxide stain used for decoration).  The color and texture of the finished pieces is strongly influenced by the type of clay used.  We are all so excited to see what the second firing has produced!

18th Annual Holiday Studio Open House at the Desert Dragon Pottery

We had our annual open house at the Dragon last weekend, and it did not disappoint!  There was lots of good food and music, and pots all around.

My nephew Dillon practiced a little on the wheel, and my nephew Ross threw for the very first time.  My parents were in town, it was so nice to have them there to participate in the day.  We unloaded the gas kiln, and the pots all turned out gorgeous.  All in all it was a great day!  Here's a few pictures and videos.

My table at the Open House.  I love getting everything I have left at the end of the year, and putting it all together to see.  I kind of get a sense of what's been working (or Not), and may get some new idea's for what I want to work on over the next year.

My table at the Open House.  I love getting everything I have left at the end of the year, and putting it all together to see.  I kind of get a sense of what's been working (or Not), and may get some new idea's for what I want to work on over the next year.

My Nephews - Dillon practicing, and Ross throwing for the first time.  Dillon has thrown a few pots before at my house, he's a very creative guy!  I love how Ross smiles and plops his hands right down with no fear :)

Part 2 of Dillon and Ross at the Desert Dragon Pottery

Film produced by http://filmethnographer.com Visit http://desertdragonpottery.com
 

Here's the pieces I bought from other potters at the open house.  Most years, I come home with a few new things :)

Here's the pieces I bought from other potters at the open house.  Most years, I come home with a few new things :)

Where I make my pots

I've never tried blogging, but I like to make pots and I like to talk about making pots.  I have a few friends that like to hear about me and my adventures in pottery (or they pretend to anyway).  Since this site is about my pots, I'm going to try to make good use of it!

For my first post I'll just give you some idea of where I make my work.  Making pottery takes certain kinds of equipment and materials, equipment that you can't just shove under a bed or throw in the corner of a spare room.  Luckily I met and married a man willing to share piece of his 3 car garage with me!  (He also works on my car,  I'm a very lucky woman <3 <3 )  I invested in a good wheel some years back, I think this was around 2006 or so, and found some shelves I could use for storing and drying.  I made myself a ware board that sits nicely on top of the splash pan for wedging and hand building (there's a picture of it under the post), and my home studio was born.  

For a year or so I carefully packed up my bone dry pots and carted them over to the Desert Dragon Pottery Studio for bisque firing, but that quickly became tiresome.  Bone dry pots do not travel well!  Luckily my Dad came across an old used electric kiln for sale back in Indiana, and he was able to get it back into working condition.  A friend was able to drive it out to Arizona for me (thanks Jamie!), and voila, I had a working electric kiln.  Nothing fancy, no automatic controls and the timer doesn't even work.  But it's nice and large and I still use it to bisque.

At the Desert Dragon Pottery Studio there is a Gas Kiln we use for reduction firing (there's also a picture of that under the post).  Reduction means we reduce the amount of oxygen in the kiln at a certain point so that the fire in the kiln interacts with the materials that make up the pot.  Also at the Dragon is a nicely stocked studio for mixing glazes and glazing pots.  Once bisque fired, I take the majority of my work to the Dragon where I glaze it and it is fired in reduction in the gas kiln to cone 10 (around 2350 degrees fahrenheit).  I help out some at the Dragon as well, mixing glazes, loading, and occasionally firing, the gas kiln.  These activities can be a chore, but they are invaluable because I get to really learn about and participate in every step of this creative process. 

Last winter I bought a smaller electric kiln, with the hopes of dipping my toe into the world of cone 6 oxidation firing.  Why?  Well, reduction firing can be a bit of a roller coaster ride.  It's a bit inconsistent at times, there are some elements involved that are tough to control (fire, oxygen).  The results can be gorgeous, but sometimes....not so much.  I was interested in making some simpler pots with some basic transparent glazes.  Pots that are simple, and yet more about the form than the glaze.  Cone 6 Oxidation firing seems pretty well suited to this.  Plus it's a new challenge to test and find some glazes I like, to really learn to glaze fire in an electric kiln (I'm told it's easy, but nothing in ceramics is easy), and to figure out what kinds of forms work best with this finish.  I will likely be blogging about my adventures in cone 6 Oxidation firing in the future.  But cone 10 reduction is still my first and foremost firing love.

If you want to learn more about the Desert Dragon Pottery Studio, here's the link to their website - it's a fabulous place to take a class! http://desertdragonpottery.com

 

A not-so-recent picture of me at my wheel/ware board table.

A not-so-recent picture of me at my wheel/ware board table.

A recent picture of the Gas Kiln being fired at the Desert Dragon Pottery Studio

A recent picture of the Gas Kiln being fired at the Desert Dragon Pottery Studio