(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

the camper.

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’m learning!

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.