May 1, 2015

A Better Pit Firing

The results of my last pit firing exceeded my expectations. I was not expecting such great variations in tonality from the deepest black to touches of light white and pink. Nor was I expecting the reduction firing to convert the greens into great reds.

The previous pit firing, which I did not write about, had reoxidized so that all the ceramic sculptures emerged with a bland monochromatic greyish purple color. I waxed some of the ones from this batch that I wished to keep and put the rest aside for a second try at a smoke firing. Over time I came to regret having put a wax coating on the monochromatic works because they began to look increasingly boring resting on my shelf. I checked the contents of the microcrystalline wax that I had buffed the surfaces of these ceramic pieces with and found that it was indeed flammable. Would I create an explosion in my electric kiln if I tried to heat the coating off so that I could smoke fire it? I sought the advice of a more seasoned potter on how to best burn off the wax coating and she recommended just sticking the pieces back into the outdoor pit where the coating would burn off and I would not fill my home with a noxious odor.

Back into the pit firing went two waxed pieces along with the unwaxed pieces from the previous failed smoke firing. I added to that all of my new sculptures; small rattles, ocarinas, bells and whistles. This meant for a jam packed pit firing - generally a good thing for a reduction atmosphere.

The pit firing from last week was the first one that did not completely flatten me since the onset of my disability four years ago. I account for this because my neighbor graciously volunteered to relieve some of the effort by helping me keep the fire stoked. A low dose beta-blocker also helped keep my heart rate in a reasonable range. But nothing does a heart more good than a kiln full of pottery with swirls of lovely patterns made by smoke and flames.

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