11 December 2011

Back to Anagama in Cumbria

  Back to Cumbria before I forget too many details.

After 60 hours I had the feeling to stop. Already 20 hours more than the previous firing with cone 10 down at the front after 30 Hours. So we are certain we have achieved much higher and more consistent heat  than before. I would have liked to have seen the results from this point of the firing but we are on a roll. There's still half a ton of wood left (good and dry to start the next firing I argued) but pyromania takes hold and we keep going.

 The wind picks up. Not so good for pizza on the flue, the top won't cook despite the covering kiln shelf.  Two seconds at the open fire mouth sorts that, five seconds and it's carbonised. The wind is in the trees blowing crazily. Little oblongs of light between the bricks at the top of the chimney become bigger, squarer, lower down too. The chimney is listing away from the kiln. Loud harsh cracks from a tree as it starts, in slow motion to snap. It's not offering itself to the firing but seems to want to get away from it. It's the only thing to pull our attention away from the kiln.
The wood is running low, the rain sets in, the chimney looks dangerous. The kiln is as happy as Larry, I have the impression it would continue for another 6 tons and reach higher temperature.   We call time, I'm really a bit scared that the chimney might go, like a giant red hot Jenga.  As we load up the fire box to finish off, the tree finally snaps and twists as it falls across the drive.
72 hours.

4 December 2011

Why I'm a potter not a sculptor

Arriving in America for the time is rather surreal, very familiar and completely new. And having to get imediately to work the morning after just felt wrong. No sightseeing? No shopping? No gawping. We stayed at Alexander Inn on South 12th and Spruce street (highly recommended) only 10 minutes walk away from the convention centre via Reading Terminal Market and you couldn't want for a better more concentrated experience of a new country than its oldest indoor food market. Fruit and veg (piles of asparagus) meat & fish, herbs and spices, cheese, real maple syrup, Italian coffee, Amish fruit juice, Chinese cornbread, French patisserie, shrimp gumbo, chocolate brownies, cookies, cup cakes - sorry I should be talking pots - set up, sold a few, packed up, came home.
Now what was I saying about the food?
(I love food, food goes on plates, potters make plates, food tends to fall off sculptures)

3 December 2011

First impressions of USA

Tall hotel, and trees growing straight
 First impression at the airport, woman buying $1.99 bottle of water with a credit card. Definitely not in Scotland, buying water?
Big bridge, we have a bridge but not like this

BIG truck, we have trucks too but this one is much bigger

Cal Mac ferry? opposite Ikea car park, we don't have Ikea on Skye

Getting to Philadelphia

A week of packing and cataloging, the worst part of making one-off pieces, pricing in dollars and hoping the exchange rate doesn't veer wildly in the wrong direction. Three home made crates (thank you Rick) polystyrene 'prawn crackers' everywhere, more paperwork for insurance, wishing I had missed this opportunity after all. Manhandling it all into the back of the car which is really half a centimetre too small, in a gale. Drive off to Edinburgh to deliver for shipping - via a garage in Fort William after one of the brakes seizes, everything out and into a hire van, on my way again and half way into the city the sat nav dies (I'd forgotten all of this in the fun of actually getting to Philly).
Anyway enough of the journey getting there. The work arrived safely, Craft Scotland were brilliant at organising the shipping for us.
The week before departure I spent in Cumbria on a 72 hour anagama firing (another blog soon). No time to get home but I managed to wash off most of the wood smoke before arriving at the airport. Met up with lovely ceramist Lorna Fraser and then we really were on our way. It was a long time coming.

28 November 2011

Philadelphia Museum of Art craft show.
Where to begin? and how long have we got?
Not a kiln blog this one but the culmination of 6 months of making and firing. I found out in March that I had been selected as one of 25 makers to represent Scotland as the guest country at PMA Craft show in November. Serious stuff when put like that but no matter how insignificant I feel at times this was an opportunity I wasn't going to turn down.
So I worked my socks off in a very unsystematic, head in the sand kind of way. Trying new things with new clay and new techniques, 'throwing' old stuff into the mix and hoping to goodness  that there would be something decent at the end of it. I fired the wood kiln 6 or 7 times in 6 months (too much for one middle aged woman)  in all weathers (mostly wet this year), rakuing whenever panic loomed. With only half my mind focused on it, the raku work grew, thrived and blossomed. The hands know what they are doing. 

The wood firing was a struggle. I loved doing it but wasn't yet loving the results. One or two pieces from each firing would shine and keep me motivated until the next firing. And I had to keep making, not give up, keep optimistic with all those warnings from wood firers ringing in my ears - ' you learn to love brown'   'don't expect the public to to love it'  'you'll smash more on the spoil heap than you'll keep', blah blah blah but how true.
And then from the ashes of the final firing, 2 days before taking the work to Edinburgh for shipping, a piece which rings all my bells and ticks all my boxes and sent a shiver up my spine......

(haven't even got on the plane yet, we'll get there eventually)


1 November 2011

Halloween night shift

10pm to 2 am shift on Halloween - owls hooting, something skreetching and a little devil showing its horns. 
A few bricks got knocked off the outer layer of arch bricks but they're wedged back on and now we really do have to plan a rebuild. 
 After 3 hours soaking at 900 we changed shift and aimed for 1100 by 2 am. Then soaked in reduction for half an hour to encourage some orange in the shino glaze.  Top vents covered, damper in and a singed hairline at the next stoke as the kiln blew back out of the firebox. Next stoke open the damper first. 
Gavin stayed for our shift and was still going when the rest of his team arrived at 2. The man is an instiable firer. Will he still be there when I go down for breakfast now at 10.30? 

31 October 2011

Skye Wood Fire: Anagama in Cumbria

Anagama in Cumbria

November in Cumbria is not the best time for a firing but it's still better than Skye has been this year.
Ten of us arrived at Higham Hall yesterday, 6 tons of wood waiting for us under tarpaulins and a sad looking kiln. Last years winter frost has caused a bit of heave and the arch is looking distinctly flat. Should hold up and Gavins big pots are strong enough to withstand a collapse so they're at the front!  
This is a much tighter pack than last year. Lots more pots, new shelves and props. About 4 hours to pack (photos later) and brick up the door. Gas on low overnight to dry it out after 14 months of Cumbrian weather. 120 C at 6am this morning. Small wood fire in the ash pit and up to 240 C by 10 am. That's me off shift until 22.00 but we're aing for 800C by 18.00.

19 September 2011

Firing 21

Firing 21
5am first sign of dawn. Cloudy but dry with south westerly breezes. Discovered I am very low on gas for the initial warm up. Stupid oversight, hope the local shop has a bottle in store as I have a lot of raku firing to do too - not today though. (When I started rakuing 15 years ago a 19kg bottle of propane cost £11 today it cost £38). Awake again at 7 and the gas has lasted, kiln at about 100 C. Turn gas up and back in to make tea only to find Non Potting Partner has already made it (all previous complaints withdrawn).
Start to feed wood in around 8 o'clock and continue with both until 9.30. Turn the gas off expecting quiet to descend only to hear the rumble of the forest being felled (mustn't complain it's community owned now and I'm thinking of all that scrap wood to be gleaned) and then NPP starts up the mower to cut the lawn.
A few spots of rain, a crunchy James Grieve apple fresh from the tree and into the rhythm of stoking, concentrating now to avoid losing temperature. The last few firings have followed a very close pattern, apart from the previous one fired in a south westerly gale and an hour faster.

More tests in this kiln. Trying to find a white shino type glaze which gives results with this firing cycle. I have a rather drab white which matures but is dull, and a lovelier snowy white one maturing at cone 10 which I struggle to achieve. There are also tests with the new Scarva black body which has been firing very black but very dry and needs a little sheen or sparkle to liven it up a bit. Plus, of course more pieces for Philadelphia.

1000 C at 12.40
1100 C at  2pm
1200 C at  6.30pm

9 August 2011

Firings 16 & 17

I'm writing this in the middle of the 3rd firing since the rebuild.
The first, no. 17 zoomed up to 900 in 7 hours (weather not a factor, overcast and light breeze) then stalled around 1100 for about 4 hours. After 13 hours I managed to coax it up to 1200. Where it stuck for another 2 hours reaching 1240 tops but acheiving cone 9 down.
The results included some lovely carbon trapping in a soda ash glaze I was testing.
For firing 18 I attempted to follow the previous cycle to get the carbon trapping effects again. The weather was breezy from the south west so not too different.
I reduced for an hour at 900 but not a heavy reduction, as the breeze was blowing directly into the firebox. The kiln stalled again between 1120 and 1170 for about 5 hours. Reaching 1218 tops but with cone 9 only just starting to go after16 hours, by which time I was completely gone, so clammed up and headed for a hot bath.
I then had to wait 2 whole weeks on an annoying holiday before I could unpack this kiln. That's the trouble with non potting partners they don't really understand what's the priority. Actually I did prize open the lid for a quick peek just to reassure myself it wasn't a disaster, that would have really spoiled the holiday.

I should mention here the benefits of non-potting partners - coffee, breakfast, lunch, dinner, cups of tea, that magnificent cold, cold beer at 6 o'clock with the kiln at 1200 Centigrade after 13 hours of continuous firing, all brought to me with barely a hint required.

17 July 2011

Rebuilding the kiln

The broken shelf which curtailed firing 16 gave me a chance to assess the. Condition of the kiln after 15 full firings. I removed the broken pieces of the shelf but couldn't get a whole new one back in it's place. The brickwork has shifted quite a lot with all the expansion and contraction of the firings.

 I had to unbuild most of the kiln anyway so I took the chance and went right down to the base. I had been concerned that the bed of sand on which the whole kiln sits may have eroded away.  But no, that is as good as new. What I should have been worried about was the chimney.
You can see the gap of about 2cm down the left hand corner of the chamber.
The internal chimney wall was listing away from the chamber and in danger of collapsing into the flue. As this wall is free standing it seems inevitable that this will happen and I'm lucky that the floor shelf went first.
These are fire bars at the rear of the fire box,  pretty well fused by ash, embers and the effects of the soda going in that way. All the soft brick back wall of the chamber was also very crusty. Time to reassess the soda?  The soft HTI bricks don't like it. I rebuilt that part using all the spare hard fire brick I had, taking some from the front of the fire mouth.
The chimney wall is strengthened by laying the bricks flat and increasing the size of the pillars on which they stand even though this reduces the flue area, and by tying the top course of brick into the side walls of the kiln. The chimney is also taller than the original design by 2 courses which takes the smoke away more effectively. Two firings later and it doesn't seem to be affecting the firing except perhaps for the better. It seems to climb more smoothly but perhaps that's because I've learnt not to get distracted.
The cooling has slowed down now that the new iron framework holds the fibre more snuggly to the walls. The iron is a little flimsy and will need modifying but it works well enough, especially the door.
All in all the rebuilt kiln is an improved one but I'm not sure I want to rebuild it every 15 or so firings. And of course it's just not big enough.........
I was at Aberystwyth a couple of weeks ago for the International Ceramics Festival. Had a brief chat with Joe- Mr Kiln -Finch.........

5 June 2011

And here's the culprit

The offending shelf
 Thinking back to when I was packing this firing, there was a loud crack when I was filling the top shelf. As nothing moved then it just didn't occur to me that something had bust. There was no sign of a crack when I painted on the batt wash.
Half baked, smokey pots

I'm getting closer to wanting to build a more substantial kiln. With a proper arched roof and door into the chamber. In fact I've heard of some 2nd hand bricks needing a home....

The pots looked rather beautiful with their dusting of soot and ash and useful to see how the early ash settles on the surfaces.

So now the kiln is packed again and waiting for the weather to come good, the exhibition to end, the trip away to be over, the dog walker to be at home again etc etc

3 June 2011

Perfect day for firing no. 16.......

6 am - sooo good to be alive

9 am -

6am start the firing with gas
9am turn off the gas and abandon firing at only 300 degrees

Putting the first pieces of wood in about 8am I noticed one of the kiln shelves which form the chamber floor has cracked and slipped. You can just see it in this photo. It has to come out. Unfortunately this is the shelf which supports the main prop holding up the shelves of pots. I can't risk continuing.

OH *!***!.*

All I can do now is cut the grass on this perfect summer day.

2 June 2011

firing tomorrow


Summer has returned to Skye.

Firing tomorrow, Friday, pots out on Sunday, exhibition opens on Monday!

And I haven't mentioned the complete rebuild of the kiln. 

9 March 2011

Firing 14 - refiring most of firing 13

Another 5am start, pitch dark but starry. Gas burner on.
7am   100oC   gas up, weather is still, overcast and damp
9am   310oC   gas still on, damp wood, damp kiln, did not do a warm through yesterday, kiln steaming - low fat pots?
10am  480oC  gas off, hard work to keep this fire going. Am I tired? not really enjoying this
11am  616oC  south west breeze. Now the fire is more beguiling, it becomes a reason in itself to continue. The kiln has ceased steaming
noon   730oC
1pm    878oC   using large slab wood, strong s.w. breeze
1.30   1004oC  reducing for a good half hour
2pm   1024oC 
3pm   1088oC   first soda in. Cold s.w. wind blowing into fire mouth,
3.30pm              closed the big doors for shelter
4pm   1088oC    then at 4.05 up to 1126oC
5pm    1145oC
5.30    1165oC   Andrew stopped by, just to check that the flames were intentional
6pm    1166oC  
6.30    1200oC   cone 7 bending
7pm    1203oC   cone 8 bending, 7 down
7.30    1211oC
7.45    1187oC   cone 9 beginning, cone 8 down
8pm    1215oC
8.15    1220oC   cone 9 down, last big stoke, start clamming up the kiln, a few slivers of wood added during this.
9.15    1078oC

I didn't make a note of when I put the fire mouth door on, probably around 1000oC to assist the reduction. It made a big difference to the comfort of my knees which would be scalded without the door. It was along hard firing this one, the longest so far at 15 hours, damp wood, cold south westerly wind all having an effect. The rain held off. I thought that the wind in this direction would speed it up as it blows directly at the fire mouth, my perception is the opposite. Will have to try it again with drier wood.

happy kiln = happy potter,
  This was a much better firing, even though I could hardly walk the next day - 15 hours on concrete in the wrong shoes.
will post some results next.
I think this blog is getting repetitive, not enough crises with this kiln. By the look of the interior it will need a rebuild before the chimney wall slumps.
Meanwhile I have been planning an anagama firing at Higham Hall in Cumbria for November.

5 March 2011

Firing 13 - lucky for some

But not for me!
Work to go in 

7am, 90oC after 2 hours, turn up the gas, cup of tea, breathe deep
Gorgeous day, Nice, easy and steady climb to 1200 then 15minutes of lost concentration and I never got it back above 1180. I knew the cones were telling me to keep going but after 13 hours the lure of fish and chips at the pub was too great (and there was a bit of applied pressure from R pushing me in that direction).

Lesson learned - instead of only another 2 hours to get to temperature I now have a whole 13 hour firing to do and on my own as R will be away. I think I'll go to 15 hours just to be sure. Have to say I'm hacked off. Not getting enough results to feed the passion. And to continue the misery, the kiln is showing distinct signs of ware, but that's another blog

Orton 7 8 9 & 10, obviously underfired, 9 should be well down
 However, I look at the photo of the sunrise and find there the consolation. 

16 February 2011

Meanwhile - vote for me,

 if you've not much else to do!

click on this link below
craft & design selected AWARDS

And I'll be a very happy potter,

Firing 13 in the planning

The frustration of not firing for a couple of months is getting to me. I find that I start to lose sight of what I am aiming for in my work. This time I am planning to fill the kiln with about 50% sell-able wares and fewer but more focused test pieces.

 We took delivery of the new iron framework (Caledonian Sheet Metal works in Inverness).  The kiln now has a detachable firemouth door and vertical supports at the corners. This should minimise some of the movement from firing and unbuilding for packing.  I suspect that a complete rebuild will be in order next year, at which point I might as well increase the size, it just isn't big enough.

 The door is a sandwich of fibre/kiln shelf/fibre, tin foil and weldmesh on the outer face. Two pieces of vermiculite board on the side which I dismantle for packing. We'll see how well that survives over time.
Isn't it smart? But......

Daylight between chimney hood and roof as the filler has burned out, letting the rain in of course.

20 January 2011

www = wet wet wet

Wet weather
Wet wood
Wet work

Condensation on the outside of the workshop windows - yes the outside.
A forlorn damp kiln down in the garden.

On the bright side - a new iron framework for the kiln being welded together.
This will include a door for the fire mouth to protect the stoker's knees.

And another anagama firing in the planning to look forward to.

Not a bad start to the year.