18 November 2010

Wood firing in Bohemia

chimney end of kiln
tall chimney
I haven’t fired my kiln for a while because I spent 2 months of the summer in the lovely Czech Republic, southern Bohemia to be more precise. However it wasn’t an entirely wood fire free time. Just as we were leaving home the postie delivered the latest issue of the Log Book (www.thelogbook.net) with an article about wood fire kilns in the Czech Republic. Talk about good timing. 
Side view of chimney showing damper and 2nd ware chamber
With a little research I learned that one of the potters mentioned, Martin Hadrava, was only an hours’ drive away from where we were staying in ČR.  So with some help from a Czech friend I got in contact with him and he was very welcoming and invited me to visit the next kiln firing. This was to be the inaugural firing of a new ‘smokeless’ kiln designed by Masakazu Kusakabe (see the book Japanese Wood Fired Ceramics by Masakazu Kusakabe and Marc Lancet) who would be there to oversee the firing. All very exciting as I saw him demonstrating a small version of this kiln at Aberystwyth in 2009. This is the largest version of the kiln which Kusakabe has designed. I don’t have the dimensions but you’ll see the scale of it from the photos.
Door to ware chamber, side stoke hole and fire box
Martin is based in a village called Klikov, near Suchdol nad Lužnici in the east of Southern Bohemia. The village is a traditional pottery village and I saw at least 5 kiln chimneys as we drove around looking for the new kiln. (Martin still uses one of the old wood fired ‘Kessel’ kilns, after a German design from about 1850, which he renovated, see more at www.klikov.net and www.hadrava.net ). We followed smart new signs across fields to a pottery which turned out to be closed, but we got directions and eventually found some open ground just outside the village with a couple of sheds and a big chimney. No point looking for smoke, all that indicated the presence of a kiln firing in process was a heat haze at the chimney top. Amazing considering that when we arrived the kiln was already at 1260℃. 
fire box mouth
There was quite a crowd, some directly involved in the firing process, some like me just wanting to observe. My two non potting friends who came with me were quickly drawn into the underlying excitement and anticipation of the process. I don’t think they had understood before how elemental it can be, a glimpse into the fire box was enough! I was there to see the draw rings pulled but didn’t get close enough to hear the discussions . The decision was made to continue firing. And at this point I had to leave, reluctantly, but decided to return for the unpacking a few days later.

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