Wood firing: The cat’s away, but I’m wood firing this weekend with Patrick Green (fellow MFA student, pal, part time roomie and Dave McBeth’s former student. Patrick’s name is easy to remember, because if you cover up the “A” on the kiln posts they all say “P. Green”.) We had planned to fire on the 10th, but one helper bailed, the weather looked dicey, and then Diana came to town and offered an opinion that nothing on my shelves looked good enough for the wood, so we cancelled.
This time, though, we’re firing, come hell or high water. We’re looking at a short stretch until the end of the semester, when Patrick heads back to Tennessee and I start making pots for sale in my own Ohio studio to pay next year’s tuition. I have a batch of new pots at EMU, and either they are better than the last batch, or I have adjusted my level of giveashit about what my profs will say ;0) so they’re now in the train kiln waiting for flame.
P. and I are working out a process for parceling out shifts and work-slots for organizing future firings, and I would be grateful for any suggestions clayarters might offer. We’re keeping track of how long each task takes, with plans to make a “firing sign up sheet” to be used in the future by a rotating “firemaster”. We don’t want to get stuck with cleanup once everybody has done the fun part and gone home, or end up holding the bag when people don’t show up to stoke a shift. We don’t want to get stuck doing all the loading, and then be blamed when somebody’s pot doesn’t get good ash or flash. So we’re keeping track of time, and how many people might work together most efficiently on each project, and hope to come up with some kind of kiln-space-per-hours-worked formula.
Between putting the kiln shelves out on the glaze table to pre-plan how many pots go in what spot, making the wadding, getting the kiln site ready, and loading/stacking, P. and I worked about five hours tuesday night and wednesday just getting ready to fire. There’s still a lot of wood to cut.
We’re planning to start a small bright fire friday afternoon, stoke it slow-and-easy, one person shifts overnight, then really hit it early saturday morning to finish up by saturday afternoon. It’s mostly my pots and Patrick’s in the kiln, with a few pieces here and there from classmates who have offered to come stoke a shift.
We really are learning as we go, and know we’re operating on theories, but what a lot of theories we’ve developed! It’s like fishing… so many variables that we’ll never run out of things to try, and talk about, and speculate over. We’re using some pine this time to get a lower melting ash. (Patrick’s dad makes cub scout pine box derby kits, and he brought back bags of scrap.) We’re burning some wood with bark along with the usual hardwood strips because Jack Troy’s book suggests that provides better color. We’re burning some green wood because Tony C. thinks it helps push the heat down to the cool end and even out the firing. P. sprayed some pots with soda ash to see what it does, and I messed around with terra sigs. We’ll never know what, if anything, worked, but it will give us something to talk about later over hard ciders at the Side Track tavern.
I love how many decisions there are to make. I have made choices about my clay body. I have chosen to make pots that require lots of choices, and then proceed to the decoration choices, glaze choices, and now the firing choices. If I set this little ewer between Patrick’s big jars in the firebox end, where will the flame lick? Will the ash settle? Will a long slow firing give us warmer temps at the cool end by the next day? The farther we get into the process and the decision making, the more I find my brain completely engaged.
I’m not all that thrilled with the notion of being alone on the edge of campus after midnight, stoking, just as a safety issue. Patrick joked that I should bring a big stick, and I told him that I have a nice little stick made by Messrs. Smith and Wesson (I used to do documentary work in a tent, alone, in Pacific Northwest logging camps) but I am pretty sure campus regulations wouldn’t approve.
So I have pulled the pop-up camper out to the driveway and am airing it out and filling it with sleeping bags and mulberry limbs. I’ll haul it to the EMU parking lot near the kiln on Friday and then go to bed in it. It seems like the best of both worlds. One person can stoke alone, while another sleeps nearby, within shouting distance. If the flame attracts bar-closing drunks to come and visit and they’re not friendly (or they’re too friendly), I won’t need a stick if I can whistle for Patrick. He’s really a polite, friendly southern gentleman (just ask “Miss Diana”) but at 300 pounds he makes a pretty imposing backup.
I am off to cut mulberry branches. I’ll keep you posted. If I had wireless on my laptop I could send updates from kilnside but you’ll just have to wait ;0)
Kelly in Ohio, where it’s cold still but the grass is greening, the forsythia hinting at buds, and one purple crocus has stuck it’s head up in the lawn, still looking for the elderly lady who planted it 20 years ago…