Sunday, September 12, 2010

Getting all Fired Up!

Several weeks ago (I've been a delinquent blogger) I had the honor of participating in the kiln firing of Sid Luck at Luck's Ware in Seagrove. Sid Luck is a fifth generation potter, firing with a traditional "groundhog" kiln and making more traditional forms and ware. Charles Zug in his publication, Turners and Burners, compares the "groundhog" kiln to the German-style Cassel kilns and kilns which were made in Newcastle England (chapter on Burning, page 224 for a diagram). The sides of the kiln are surrounded by soil, with the top arch, chimney, and front opening above ground.
Sid Luck's "groundhog" style kiln
Sid Luck's kiln has been modified on the interior distinguishing it from a more traditional "groundhog" kiln. Sid, like Vernon Owen at Jugtown Pottery, installed a series of levels on the interior of the kiln, making deep (about 4' back, 2-3' up) steps that rise toward the back of the kiln. Traditionally, "groundhog" kilns were basically an open rectangle, but as Sid told me, this design was uneven and not as efficient. Sid said, "you could fire earthenware in the back of the kiln and stoneware in the front." I suppose for potters historically, maybe that worked for them since some made both stoneware and earthenware, but I imagine that is also why so many archaeological kilns sites have wasters!
On Monday the bisque ware was prepared, wadding was made, last-minute glazing was done, and the kiln was cleaned out. One thing I noted was how little the kiln holds with the modification of the interior. Below is an image of the back of the kiln while Sid was cleaning the ceiling and as it was being loaded. I would estimate that there were less than 200 pieces in the kiln.

I had the opportunity to help salt the kiln when it came time. I think this largely had to do with the fact that I was one of the few people there who brought a long-sleeve shirt! Either way, it was great. Sid uses a leaf blower in order to distribute the salt through the front opening of the kiln. Potters are very inventive creatures, and Sid's design for the salting leaf blower was attaching an old metal drain pipe to the end, with a small opening on top into which we put a funnel. The leaf blower was turned on, salt loaded into the funnel, and with the door partially opened, the leaf blower made for a serious dousing of salt. Several cupfuls of salt were put into the top ports of the kiln as well.
Brenda helping Sid salt the kiln
Sid Luck and his son, Matt, salting the kiln on the left and another of Sid and Brenda salting the kiln
I have seen another potter administering salt with a leaf blower before. And while at Berea I tried several different methods including small "burritos" of salt in a brown bag tossed in, and a piece of angle-iron on a pole to dump the salt in. I have contemplated whether a leaf blower is actually administering the salt any better than just pouring the salt into the top ports of the kiln, or into the side ports.
The firing went well. Sid kindled a fire overnight, and began the bigger fire at about 5:00 Tuesday morning. The salting began around 6:00 p.m., and the firing was basically done by 7:00. I did not get to see it, but Sid told me that at the end of the firing, many potters (including him) do what is called "blasting off" where they take large chunks of wood (he uses roots of heart pine) and toss them in at the end for one final push of heat and ash.
Several shots of the interior of the kiln while the front door was open for loading wood
I arrived to the opening on the following Saturday a little late to see the door opened and the initial pieces drawn out. That was no matter, the pieces which I saw coming out looked good. I was more fascinated by the concept of the kiln opening, and the throng of people who waited to snatch up a piece they liked as it came out. I believe Sid sold everything out of the kiln before it ever made it into the shop! Some day, maybe I will have that much luck selling my ware!

Kiln opening at Luck's Ware
I am currently registered to participate in a wood-firing in October with a kiln similar to a "groundhog" kiln, without the interior modifications. I will keep you posted!
A lone little pig made by another potter who participated in the firing which became adhered to the floor of the kiln!


Linda Starr said...

Bet those community firings are so much fun.

Dennis Allen said...

Nice post. Thanks to Dan for sending me your way.

FetishGhost said...

Beautiful Blog... Dan pointed the way over.