(repost from a yahoo group… edited somewhat. Tuesday night.)
I’m so tired I feel like I am sleepwalking, but I wanted to chime in
before I crawl in a hot bathtub and then my warm bed.
Yesterday was one of those rushed, frantic, trying-to-get-myself-
packed,-my-bisque-unloaded,-my-kids-schooled days, but by 2:00 I had
everything I needed… except the camper key. I searched long enough
to miss my entire printmaking class, and finally just threw my
sleeping bag in the van, kissed the kids and headed for Ypsi without
I spent a few hours in the ceramics studio glazing my pots, gathering
up gloves and burners, and getting organized.
My kiln buddy Nancy was firing a large six-segment sculpture and had
never done this before. I have done it, uh, let me count.. once,
before, so I was the expert. ;0) She made make cone packs
and we mixed a big batch of wadding. My prof uses EPK and silica, and
others suggested epk and alumina, so I used all three, with a bucket
of sawdust and fine shavings from hubby’s lathe.
We ended up loading in the dark, in the snow/rain mix. So far both of
my salt firings have happened in really crappy weather… I can only
imagine what a sunny summer firing would be like.
We loaded Nancy’s sculpture in the back of the kiln, smaller segments
below to avoid double-stilting, and the really big ones on top,
wadded with a fat coil underneath.
The front shelves I filled with a couple of teapots, some cups with
various slip and terra sigs on them as tests, a couple of ewers and
some this-and-that. I carefully loaded a cream and sugar and a couple
of matching cups glazed in ^6 reduction chocolate, and after the last
door brick was in, turned around to see their tray waiting to be
loaded. Oh well. it will make the next salt firing in April, I guess.
There were a million things I thought I knew how to do, but ended up
second-guessing myself. Diana (my prof) stopped by at about 9:30
after her class, and answered some of my questions, but she was
shivering so hard her teeth were chattering so I told her I was fine
and knew what I was doing (ok, not so much.) We told her she should
go home to bed and she pointed out that the moving van had come that
very afternoon and moved every stick of furniture — bed included —
to her new house in the town of Saline, but that she was going to
spend one last night in her little house on the edge of campus, in a
sleeping bag on her wood floor.
I have a key to her house and have spent a monday overnight there for
a year and a half now, on the night my mom keeps the kids, so that I
can put in a full studio day Tuesday. She said I was welcome to her
floor, so camper or no, I had a place to sleep! No furniture,
but any place with heat and a bathroom seemed like a better choice
than sleeping in my van.
We finished bricking up around 1:00 am. In a perfect world we would
have timed it better, but Nancy is a high school art teacher and
works all day, and I have my own daytime obligations, so it is what
it is. We were chilled to the bone and I suspect Nancy had no idea
what she was getting into when she decided to salt fire. (I know I didn’t, last year.) She kept asking, “What time do you think we’ll be done?” and I could only shrug helpessly.
I hooked up the propane burners to a couple of two hundred pound
propane tanks, lit them and turned them low and yellow “flamey” —
just enough that they wouldn’t go out. I felt weird leaving them
unattended but I would be back before it was light out to start things up for real.
I keyed into Diana’s house and found a rug she had laid out for me
next to a baseboard heater . I’m 46, creaky, and spoiled by my foam mattress and piles of soft pillows, so I was grateful but pretty stiff in the morning.
And I kept waking up and thinking: what if a burner went out? What if
it heated up too fast and blew up the wadding? Pots flying, shards
everywhere? and at one point I realized — OMG — we used the
softbrick to brick up the door INSIDE the arch and the hard brick
outside! Yaaaahhh ! What were we thinking? I even remember looking at
the nice salt marks on the hardbricks as we stacked… I guess I can
only claim tiredness as my excuse. It was too late to change it by
then. When I confessed later to Diana she just shrugged and said it
would be OK.
I suppose I didn’t need to confess this on line but there it is…
I was back at the kiln bright and early with a bad cup of McDonalds
coffee, turned up the burners and watched the sunrise from my van.
Long johns and several layers of clothes were definitely in order, as
the rain/snow had stopped but the wind was gusty, cold and wild.
Nancy came later in the morning (I didn’t call to wake her… how many grad students does it take to watch a kiln fire?) and we sat in our cars which were parked on the grass, aimed at the kiln. Every 20 minutes or so one of us would go check the pyrometer, signal “rising” or “falling” or “holding” to
the other, and I would occasionally go turn up burners or dork around
with the knife blade damper.
Other than that I spent about 12 hours sitting behind the wheel
watching the burners, trying to stay warm, and foraging in my van for
food. Due to what my dad would call the “3 P’s” (piss poor planning)
I mostly had food I had packed for the camper. Somehow, though, a
pound of raw venison and a few onions didn’t seem like what I wanted
for lunch. I did find a pack of gum, a protein bar of dubious vintage
and some packaged cocoa mix. So I didn’t starve.
Just after noon when 012 was going down, I pulled an extra coat up to
my chin and dozed of for a bit. I woke wondering whether we really
needed to tend this kiln every minute it was firing. (The big noisy burners don’t seem like something to walk away from).
Just then, a huge gust of wind rocked my van — and rocked the four
foot gavanized chimney pipe that sprouted out of a kind of basket-
weave of bricks on top of the kiln. It swayed once– and again — and
sure enough, down it came, in a rain of bricks. I sprinted over there
with Nancy on my heels, stood on tiptoes over the burner port and
teetered it back into place on the second try. Nancy handed me bricks
and I stacked it back into place, breathing way more hot stuff than I
liked in the process.
It’s been a useful chimney for all this time,
and D. is great at making things happen on a very limited budget, but now I sat eyeing it warily every time the wind picked up.
I finally went to scrounge behind the sculpture building and found a
roll of concrete reinforcing mesh, and cut enough to wrap the
chimney — brick base and all – and wired it into place from atop a
barstool. It looks like hell, but it never budged after that.
Fellow mfa students Joanne and Patrick showed late in the afternoon to kiln sit, so Nancy and I could go to our seminar class.
I had a real dilemma when I got to Ford hall: there was a gallery
reception going on, with students, profs and assorted well dressed
people gathered around a table full of appetizers in the hallway. I
was suddenly aware that I’d slept on a floor, hadn’t showered or
found a hairbrush, smelled like a kiln yard, had a red frozen nose,
was wearing no makeup and a pair of overalls with chunks of wadding
wiped on them, and had a coiffure styled by a red flannel yooper hat
with fuzzy earflaps. On the other hand, dinner had been a bag of
slivered almonds and some cold coffee… so I sidled up to the line
and got my cheese and veggie dip, trying to look inconspicuous.
Every time there was a break in seminar, I was calling the
kilnsitters like a nervous new mommy. I came back and whispered the
news to Nancy — “1200C!” “Cone seven bending!”… I fidgeted until
class was over and we bolted back to the kiln site just in time to
Patrick and I did the salting. We started with the 6 pounds of the
same kind of chunky kosher salt we had used last spring, dumped in
across from the burner ports with angle irons… then tried rock salt
(It pops like popcorn!), and in several saltings went
through ten pounds of that. We finally ran out of draw rings (we were
crowded and put in too few) and salted one more time before we shut
it down. (This was only the third successful salt firing for this kiln we built in summer of ’06, so no residual salt yet. I’ll have graduated by that point) ;0)
It’s kind of a dilemma. We’re using glaze developed for ^6 gas
reduction, but a clay body that’s ok up to ^10 (and a little
underfired at 6, imo.) And salt changes everything. So it’s kind of a
crapshoot, especially for newbies. We’ll see on Thursday when we
unload… I’ll take pix, good or bad.
So: what I love about salt firing:
The pots. Loading, if I can get somebody else to make the little
balls. The way it looks when it’s all glowy through the cracks.
Peeking in at hot lemon-yellow pots. The crackle of rock salt. The
quiet when the burners are shut down and the kiln clammed up. But
mostly the pots.
What I hate: Dry, rough hands, gloves or no. (wadding? bricks?)
Chapped lips (after the salting.) The roar of those burners you have
to yell over to be heard. The burn in your nose, chest and throat
from fumes. Propane! (which smells like a cross between burning metal
and cabbage farts). Watching the big smoke cloud roll out the chimney
and through a tree (sorry, tree) and over the dorms (sorry, students)
and into the sky (sorry, planet).
I wonder if it would be different if I were firing my own kiln, in my
own place, with some familiarity and skill. Maybe less nerve-
wracking… of course, then I would have to buy my own gas, and nobody
would stop by to bring me coffee!
After we cleaned up the kiln site we stood around reflecting about
the firing. I wondered what I would have to charge per pot if I were
to figure my time by the hour. We laughed that nothing in the kiln
was worth the cost of the propane we used to fire it… but the truth
is, my tuition is going for an education, and every new firing is the
learning experience of a lifetime. I’m getting my money’s worth.
I’ll post pix after we unload, probably thursday. Overall it was a
good firing, though writing about it now is kind of like asking a
woman how she likes being a mother when she’s still in labor… when
I am rested, clean and warm again I will forget the hard part, and by
the time I unload my pots I’ll be ready to do it again.