24 October 2012

Higham Hall anagama, October 2012, firing continued

Shozo Michikawa pot, made and fired at Higham
.....a bit more detail about this firing now that I’ve been home 10 days already (I haven’t caught up with everything just accepted that some of it’s late and some forgotten and some just won’t get done)

Frustrating firing given that it failed to reach a good temperature. All those pots, all those miles, all that time. On the other hand lots of good company, lots of superb weather and lots learned.

We had a nice easy climb for 10 hours up to 900ºc using lots of the small wood (I mean very small wisps of wood bundled together, 1 - 3 ft long, 1/2 - 2 inches thick).
Then 4 hours of reduction keeping the temperature around 900º, building up ash in the chamber, using the damp wood.
The next 6 hours saw a slow rise of 100º up to 1100º. This would have been fine if the stokers didn’t have to endlessly rearrange the wood piles in an attempt to dry the wood around the kiln. It was tiring.
From hour 18 (4am) until hour 26 it hung around 1120º finally getting to 1150º at which point we started to feed in the soda through the fire box. We use Carol Nicols recipe of bicarb, soda ash and whiting.
Hour 32 and we’re at 1196º, the maximum achieved on the pyrometer.
Then 6 hours of consistent heavy reduction, continual feeding of wood which ignited before you could get it into the fire mouth. The fire had nothing substantial in the grate to maintain, let alone increase, the temperature. The ash pit was closed up as there was little ash to pre heat the incoming air. And the continual pyro watching, trying to get just a few more degrees.
By hour 39 at 1 am with the wind picking up and blowing onto the long side of the kiln we were actually losing heat so we started on the ton of big dry logs saved for the last stage of firing. Turned off the pyro, turned off the stress.
Now here’s the part which I don’t understand. Using the big logs gave a fire of white heat, minimal reduction, over a period of 4 hours, yet the pyro reading on the hour every hour, showed a decline in heat. And when we unpacked cone 10 was down in various parts of the kiln but most of the glazes were not matured - the exception being a pot of Shozo’s from the ash pit which somehow managed to be fabulous.

17 October 2012

Higham Hall College, October 2012

Despite perfect weather for firing this was not our finest hour, or rather 44 hours. I am inclined to put its failings down to wet wood. We had a ton or so of 60cm long split logs nice and dry in the garage and 4 bundles of offcuts ordered of which only 2 had been delivered. Despite being under tarpaulins the seemingly continuous rain of the summer had left the wood at 30% moisture content (according to Rob's moisture meter gizmo) and the final 2 bundles delivered the day before firing were wetter than the driftwood I pick up on the beech at home.
The lovely Will arrived on Sunday to chainsaw up the bundles and agreed to return on Monday to deal with the second lot. Size matters when it comes to chainsaws, I only wish we'd found Will for the last two marathons of sawing - we were knackered then before lighting the first match. This time we were knackered from the continual rearrangement of wood on and around the kiln as we tried to dry it out. These bundles were of very small bits, far too small for the later stages of firing, and no time to sort it either. Not a perfect arrangement but better than no kiln at all!
Sunday we chopped and stacked wood, straightened the chimney with longer angle iron and brackets and threaded bar top and bottom, and set up tables and the wee pop up marquee which extends the shelter in front of the kiln. Monday was loading day although some precious time was spent on wood. It's a long slow process and so important. I'm not sure we'll ever make the best of it. We each have our own preferences for wadding, dry/sticky, white/flashing, course/fine, and many of the wads fall off by the time the piece reaches the person doing the packing crouched in the bowels of the kiln. More research needed on this. I like a fireclay/course sawdust mixture which flashes nicely and sticks well  to the pots, but it also sticks to hands which is not appreciated by porcelain.
   By the time the light was fading it had already been a long day and there was still dinner to make and the door to brick up and some clamming of holes to do. It was a tighter pack this time. More shelves, lots more pots, one more firer (5 of us). We had put the gas burner on  through the damper at the base of the chimney for a few hours earlier, which was a good move as it dried and warmed up the chimney to improve the draft. It gets very wet sitting through 6 months of Cumbrian weather between firings.
Overnight on gas into the firebox took the temperature to 100? Then we lit a small fire in the grate at 10am and so began the rota of 4 hour shifts, 6 hours off for the next 45 hours.

3 October 2012

Glazing for anagama

Two days to go before setting off for the next anagama at Higham Hall College.
Glazing nearly finished, the concentration needed is tiring but I've finally learned to give myself enough time. And I made notes, so there's a chance I'll know which glazes are on which pots when they come out of the kiln - must record where they are in the kiln.

I love the chemistry of ceramics (not very good at it mind you) but the glazing I used to find painful, physically, like those awful cross country runs at school, close your eyes, scream and launch yourself through  the cold, muddy puddles - that's how I've always felt when glazing, it only gets better once it's all over.  When I was making slip cast earthenware, one glaze, resist decoration and cobalt wash, it was simple but tedious; raku glazes seem to smother my textures so I don't use much in that medium; I never knew enough to be in control and I think I just didn't like the glazes I was using or the results.

But now,  I think I'm almost enjoying the process. The simplicity of wood fire glazes is beautiful. The basic ingredients are identifiable as rocks, clay and ash. The process of their melting is imaginable and there's the possibility that the combination of ingredients and fire will produce a moment of pure magic way beyond the sum of its parts.

No photo, you have to imagine your own perfection

15 July 2012

The final firing

The final firing of this little kiln that is.
Number 27, 7th July 2012

That was the Wimbledon weekend when Andy Murray finally made it to the final and I realised on Friday that I had to fire on Saturday in order to watch the tennis on Sunday. Only the realisation happened on Friday evening after he won the semi, which I had been watching instead of packing the kiln (keep up there).

If I packed in the morning and fired into the night I would get enough sleep to be awake again in time for the final. That's if the forecast bad weather held off long enough.

Another fairly loose pack. Flat black clay tiles on the bottom shelf 'wadded' on silica sand, two more shelves, large platter on the top shelf. Cones 7, 8, 9, 10.

Midday Saturday, high cloud, gusting from the North and North East, a bit chilly really but DRY and NO midgies.  Lit the gas to get it going. The gas blew out so for the first time I started with wood alone. Usually the kiln has absorbed so much moisture from the humidity that I have to dry it out for at least a couple of hours on gas. However whilst the covers have been going on at Wimbledon and England is doing an impression of Atlantis this corner of The Misty Isle is having a drought.

Five hours later with the pyro reading 993ºC I reckoned it was as good a time as any to let the kiln do a fast fire!
After 7 hours it was at 1158ºC after which it started to slow a little
After 8 hours it was at 1168ºC but touching 1200º so I put the soda in, about 250g
          9 hours               1212ºC  cone 7 bending
         10 hours              1220ºC  cones 8 & 9 softening, getting a good temperature rise with thin pine branches about 2 - 3 inches diameter.

After 10 and 1/2 hours it reached 1251ºC with cone 10 softening. End of firing.  At least 3 hours shorter than normal.

Bed, sleep then sit back and watch Andy lose! But just like woodfiring it's the taking part that counts not just the results.

21 May 2012

Decisions decisions

Set the alarm for 5 and was woken by the puppy at 4.30. She couldn't understand why I wanted her to go out when she'd already peed in the kitchen. Lit the gas and retired again to be kept awake by the birds. But it was a lovely dawn, high broken cloud, slight breeze bringing the scent of the sea and the sun sending shafts of orange light across the sky.
8 hours later the kln is at 1029 C and the sun is shining.
I'm hoping to make some decisions about the new kiln today. Reading Kiln Building by Ian Gregory and trying to absorb the information concerning ratios of flue to chimney and grate to chamber floor etc. Aaaaaarrggh!

Just get on with it.

8 May 2012

The firing, continued...

 Lovely new cladding on the kiln.  Fire clay, vermiculite and a bit of sawdust. It was like plastering with porridge only less salty. And had the added bonus of making the arch look a little more professional. The green posts are ex-tennis court posts rammed into the ground, wedged with bricks and wired together over the top in an attempt to counterbalance the desire of the arch to become a pile of bricks.

And lo and behold the whole construction held together, rather well actually, and looks a whole ot better than the ware chamber.
The new arch is a proper roman arch and considerably higher than the old one. Had we thought about it we should have lowered the supporting walls by a course or two. We weren't sure how this extra volume of the fire chamber would affect our ability to reach temperature. The results, after 40 hours of stoking dry pine slab wood was cone 10 melted almost throughout the chamber (middle back cone 10 was just down). To my eye, the best firing yet, some lovely natural ash glaze, good crusty effects in the firebox, not too many collapses, not too much reduction. We could spend more time building up ash deposits in the next firing being fairly confident of achieving a good temperature if we have good wood.
More detail of the firing log soon. photos next

I won an award

In the middle of rebuilding, chopping wood, packing the kiln and firing it in 4 hour shifts for 40 hours in a place of limited mobile and wifi coverage, I learned that I have won The craft&design Selected Awards 2012: Ceramics, gold award.


 'These highly regarded national awards, first launched in 2009, are based on an Online Public Vote for British and Irish designer makers with work represented in Selected, craft&design’s prestigious online gallery at  www.craftmaker.co.uk. The Public Vote determines six finalists in each of six categories. Specialist Invited Judges, together with the craft&design panel, subsequently assess the work of the finalists to establish one Gold Award Winner, two Silver Award Winners and three Finalists in each category, with just one person being awarded the top accolade of craft&design Maker of the Year Award.'

The only downside to this is that the lovely and wonderfully talented slipware queen Hannah McAndrew couldn't join me on the podium and had to settle for silver! But how do you compare apples and pears? Or jugs and bowls for that matter?

30 April 2012

Rebuild continued

It's not pretty but it survived the night of wind and rain.

Rebuilding the anagama

 None of the four of us has done this before. I've built my boxy unmortared little kiln, Jan is planning an anagama, Rob is an engineer (mostly of software ! ) and Julia has a building company. In other words lots of theory but no experience. 
It looked worse than I had remembered. Not just the general air of abandonment which an unused kiln seems to have but the very real state of imminent collapse of the front arch. We quickly droped our optimistic hope of jacking up a former under the arch and it all settling neatly back into place.

The arch came down, at least that bit was easy. 
Making the former was relatively easy (Rob did it).  Inserting it into the space left by the arch without pushing over the arch supports was awkward. Working out how to tie the front arch brickwork to the rear arch brick work .... We didn't work it out, or tie it in, but they are wedged together firmly and the second layer of bricks is covering the gaps. 

Last arch bricks coming out, former in place, looks a bit small to me 

Patricia Shone

29 April 2012

Rebuilding the anagama at Higham Hall

Here' the front arch going back up. Looking a lot prettier than this morning. You can see how the rear arch has slumped too.

19 April 2012

Firing 24 continued

Turned out to be a good firing.
Light north easterly breeze, frost and a crescent moon rising at 5 in the morning. Sunshine most of the day and only a little snow first thing!
Slow fire through 900ºC as there was one raw platter to consider then a gradual and steady rise in temperature without any stalling.
First soda in at 1130º after 10 hours (250g soda)
Cone 7 bending at 1199º after 12 hours
Cone 8 bending at 1220º after 13 hours
and cone 9 going down after 14 hours.
I finished the firing at 7.45 just short of 15 hours having reached a top temperature of 1255ºC and cone 10 nicely down.

I wonder why this firing was so smooth. Perhaps the weather direction, no gusts of cold air around the kiln. Perhaps I was more relaxed with it being a last minute decision and not too concerned about the contents. It followed the same pattern as firing 23 even to the exact same temperature of 1130º after 10 hours, but the previous firing seemed to stall later on and it was a struggle to get cone 9 down.

photos of the results to follow

15 April 2012

Firing 24

A last minute decision to fire after realising how few weeks there are before the summer exhibition and markets season kicks off. My support team goes back to work in a couple of days and it's always better firing with a regular supply of tea
and sandwiches. Plus there's a new puppy who needs constant tickles (no, there will be no puppy pictures, this is a potting blog). And yesterday morning we had to finish putting the skin on the poly tunnel before the weather changes back to it's windy norm. Given all that I don't quite know how I got a kiln load glazed and packed in time to fire today. It's a fairly loose and 'creative' pack. Several long platters which use up a lot of shelf space, some refires, test pieces and odds and ends. Potentially a waste of time and wood. However sitting here in the sunshine, watching the spring bloom amid the  occassional snow flurry I know it is worth it (always is). 

(Oh alright here's the puppy)

10 April 2012

Funding for a bigger kiln

Well it looks like this blog may continue as a kiln and firing blog for a while longer. I've been awarded funding from Creative Scotland and HI-Arts towards the building of a new and larger wood kiln.


Patricia Shone

25 February 2012

Firing 23

No wonder I was twitchy, it’s 5 months since the last firing. According to the weather forecasts I shouldn’t have been able to do this one either. However a kick into action from the angels earlier in the week in and I managed to coordinate being ready for the only decent day we have had in weeks (months to be honest, though it feels like years, but this is NOT a ‘moan-about-the-weather’ post)

I’ve been putting myself under pressure to make pots ready for a firing here and for the Higham Anagama in April. The calendar is filling up with Potfests and galleries wanting work. I knew I would have to be ready to fire at short notice if the weather looked promising. It takes a day to pack the kiln, carrying glazed pots from the studio, wadding them, placing them, taking them out again, rearranging them to squeeze another one in or to get a better flow of flame around them. Too much wind and rain on this day makes it very unpleasant to pack. So really I like two good days in a row.

This time I had a potter friend from Aberdeen (Sjarifah Roberts) to help carry and pass stuff which was a great help although she couldn’t stay for the firing. She’s wanting to build a kiln herself and it’s SO much easier to understand all the variables of kiln design when you are actually standing in front of one. The books are great but nothing beats getting involved with someone else's build or firing.

The usual start at 5am to put the gas on low. I had given the kiln 4 hours of drying the evening before, even so it continued to steam like a sauna for the entire firing. I was concerned that the wood might be damp too from months of high humidity.
The morning was dry but overcast with a breeze from the west which continued for most of the day with a few showers and quite a bit of sunshine.
Firing followed it’s usual pattern at first although I kept the gas going for an extra 2 hours after introducing the first wood at 8am.
Normally I get reduction happening at 900ºc after 8 hours. This time it was at 1000ºC, perhaps the wind in the west was increasing the draft, it certainly takes the smoke away from the shed  very effectively. Generally it was a more oxidising firing with a low bed of embers which I only had to scrape out once.

Another potter friend (Robyn McGraw) arrived at 1pm and helped with the stoking for a few hours while I drove around the village looking for the dog who isn’t impressed with the kiln and prefers to hunt for bird food scraps that the neighbours leave out (and he steals my wood). The first soda went in after 10 hours at about 1150ºC. then two more lots during the next hour. About ? g in total.
Robin had to leave at 4pm so missed 1200ºC at which point there was an almighty downpour and i lost temperature which stalled the kiln at about 1160º. It was a long slow climb back to 1220, achieved by closing the shed doors and feeding one small piece of wood at a time for for the next 3 hours. Because the kiln is built mostly of HTI bricks it has a low mass and doesn’t hold its temperature for long. It was raining more by now and blowing from the south west into the fire box. Exhausting but satisfying finally to achieve 1220º for a while and see cone 9 going down.

4 February 2012

Last of the earthenware

Time to write something but not a lot has happened and there are no deadlines looming. Which is probably why I am feeling relaxed and easy in the workshop. That and the weather which has finally, after 3 months of storms and rain and gales, calmed down. We've had bright sunny and days for almost a week and it's nice to be able to take such pleasure in rather ordinary conditions.

After bringing a lot of pots into the house to dry off I was able to get a bisque firing done. Today I glazed a set of earthenware plates, a commission from last year which was taking so long to dry that I tried to force dry it which warped the pieces so I had to remake them and then wait for them to dry again. Tomorrow I paint them with cobalt and get them in the kiln along with a few slip cast bowls. I was making a lot of this for about 12 years, it supplied the local tourist market. Last year I sold the lovely stainless steel blunger, which paid for my flight to Philadelphia and released me from the tyranny of continuing to make them. They were a good product, and one of only a few locally made Gaelic gift items on the island, but 12 years of hand painting Brochan Lom (the porridge song) is more than enough for anyone. I don't know much Gaelic but I know that song backwards.
I've been wanting to make this decision for a few years. Space was an issue in the workshop and with the blunger gone I now have an area for red clay work and a pug mill. The downside is fewer firings and a colder workshop. So here's a picture of my last earthenware ready for cobalt and into the kiln.

I find that I am planning the next wood firing in my mind. If this fine weather continues there will also be a rakuing a doing.

1 February 2012

First bisque of the year

Finally I've got a bisque firing going. The first for 3 months. Eventually I gave up hoping the weather would improve and took pots into the house to dry them off. Non Potter Partner is away so it's only me who has to put up with every surface covered in green ware.
Of course now that I have the kiln on the weather is gorgeous, cold and dry with the wind in the north and snow on the hills. Only 8 centigrade in the workshop but feels like summer with the sun streaming in the windows.

24 January 2012

Ray Finch

I never met the man but I have met his pots, been to the pottery and heard his name throughout my pottery life. The day that I heard he had died I was visiting the store rooms of the Scottish  Museum and it was good to see these three noble pots of his, quietly biding their time in the cupboard along with Lucie Rie and Ewan Henderson

 "What we do with the clay, what we create with our hands, what we offer up from our spirits may not end racism or stop injustice, but it may just help keep our culture human." Malcolm Davis, 2010

 Dan Finnegan worked with Ray at Winchcombe Pottery and below is a link to his blog post remembering his time there. 

Dan Finnegan - Studio Pottery

23 January 2012

Treasures at the Scotish Museum,

The Scottish Potters Association arranged a visit to the  National Museums Collection Centre ceramics department of the Museum of Scotland. Stored at two sites in Edinburgh, I was in the group visiting the English, continental and contemporary department in Granton. We were lead upstairs and downstairs, along corridors and through great hangar like rooms full of vast machinery awaiting conservation. Finally reaching one of the rooms which houses the ware. Cupboards lining the walls and in a central block of back to back cupboards which were unlocked as requested and left open for us to handle pieces the like of which I have only ever seen before in books and behind glass.   I felt just like the little pot below.
English Medieval lead glazed cup, 4 inches high - I'm in love.
Some of this medieval work is so fine and lightweight. It looks crude and coarsely potted but it's not. It is beautiful in the hand and absolutely fit for purpose. I'm astonished by it.
Watering can, about 18 inches high
Detail of the handle

English 13th -14th century, buff earthenware, lead glaze
 This, above, was the most finely thrown of the pieces which grabbed my attention, with a slightly swollen base.
ditto, with impressed panels of deer, 20 inches high
We tried to work out how this one was constructed. The upper half has fine throwing rings visible, the lower half is distorted, possibly from the impression of the carved panels. There was a difference in texture inside the pot.
It was such a treat to handle these pots. The collections are public and the curators were very insistent that we come back again, that's what they are there for.

19 January 2012

Getting off the island

Living so far away from most civic amenities, I have to make the most of trips to the city. Today I am on my way to Edinburgh (in a snow storm) to collect the pots which were shipped back from Philadelphia (half the volume of the outward journey). I thought I could take advantage of the spa at the museum which a friend texted me about. Only it turns out not to be a spa but SPA, Scottish Potters Association, and a visit to the vaults of the Museum of Scotland, well the 1970's building which stores much of the collections.
So not a massage but I hope we'll be allowed to handle some of the pieces. I learn so much more from the feel and weight of a pot than from just looking at it. Photos too with luck.

13 January 2012

Pug Mill Blues

Pug mill blues

I have been tripping over 2 buckets of black firing stoneware clay for the past 4 months. As I am trying to convince myself that I am back in the workshop properly and full time after the festivities of winter I thought I would start by dealing with the black stuff. I like the fired colour and texture of this clay, dense blue/black, not as soft as the raku blacks but has the advantage of being stoneware and therefore will take water. Except that after my treatment of it, namely stretching bashing and wood firing, it tends to crack, dunt and leaks like a sieve.
I’m hoping that I can cure this rather fundamental flaw by mixing it with a more fine grained and plastic stoneware. I don’t mind losing a little of the black if I can produce a useable pot. I happen to have a large bucket of white St Thomas scraps, dried and soaked to a nice mush waiting to be reconstituted into throwable clay, and also a bag of unidentified firm stoneware which could be mixed with the black in carefully measured and documented handfuls until it looks about right. A couple of hours work by which time I will be ready to be Creative.
The black clay, anagama fired

I always leave a note of the last batch in the feed hole. I removed the plastic covers from the pug mill and turned it on to check the motor. Working but not happy.
I started to scrape out the nasty crusty iron stained scraps from the safety grid in the feed hole and discovered a nasty crusty iron stained safety grid. Better clean it up before putting more white St Thomas through to push out the remains of the last pugging, won’t take long. I think I have never taken out the grid since I bought the pug mill 2nd hand 3 years ago.
This grid is clean   

The intestines of a pug mill
The bolts were seized so Non Potting Partner was called in to wrestle them off and pull out the grid. Whilst I cleaned that he dug out the hard clay underneath and found yet more hard clay.  


 16 bolts later the top came off, yet more hard clay and crusty corroded metal. Fortunately the screw which pushes the clay along, mixing and conditioning it was bright shiny brass (or bronze?) under all the nastiness just like the propeller of a ship. NPP, the old sea dog, carried on until all was ship shape and Bristol fashion (what?) as you can see from the dazzle in the photo.

With such a clean mill I had to pug the entire lot of white St Thomas before shoveling in the dirty stuff. So a little job to get me in the mood to unleash a storm of creativity ended up in dry dock for nearly two days to complete, and I am still scrubbing splashes of the black clay from decks.
(It won't stay this clean for long.)

5 January 2012

Wood firing and the Weather

It's official - 2011 was the wettest year on record in Scotland and I'll bet that this winter is one of the windiest. After one nasty gale when we lost the power for a couple of days (and water for 4 days, too nasty to go talk about in public) we also lost the lid for the kiln chimney. This 'lid' is a piece of lead sheeting 18 inches/40 cm square, folded to fit neatly over the heavy steel cooker hood which sits above the chimney on the shed roof. I eventually found in a gorse bush below the high side of the shed about 15 feet away. It had been blown off the hood and up the slope of the roof. I must get something to measure the wind speed when I'm firing, would be interesting to calculate the effect. Old sea dog husband can measure it by the whistling through his ears but that's not quite scientific enough for a potter.