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Firing Log

ancient kiln | 21st century logbook

April 4, 2006

Waiting Is the Hardest Part

Filed under: Firing,Kiln,non-anagama,non-anagama — odin @ 7:13 pm

I managed to get through Monday without any peeking. Really, the kiln is much too hot but the temptation is strong. To take my mind off things, I decided to build a paper kiln. I’ve been reading about these since college (15 years now) and I’ve always wanted to try one. Sunday night when I got home, there was a Sunday paper on my doorstep. It was a sign. I don’t subscribe.

Now, I also had a hole from getting dirt for the top of the kiln. Given a hole, a free paper, and a spike-pod piece that had been sitting around for a couple years because the tip of the spike got broken somehow, I decided Monday was the perfect day and this was the perfect project. It would give me something to open today and thus help me get through two days of the cool down period (ideally, at least ten days).

Let’s start with the hole:

I threw in some damp wood. This turned out to be a mistake because I couldn’t get it to light. What I needed was some thin kindling underneath the bricks that make up the floor — there is an air inlet underneath the top layer. I should have filled that with easily burned wood. As it is, I had to resort to the raku burner to get the thing going.

Then I filled it in with some millends. The millends are fairly damp too — they aren’t kiln dried, but being cedar, once they get going they burn like the devil:

Then I piled up more wood over top. They say that early kilns were simple pits with shards placed over top to help hold in heat. I don’t have any appropriate shards (I have lots of shards, but when I smash up stuff, I smash it into little bits), but I hoped the paper/slip wrap would function similarly. As it turns out, one Sunday paper isn’t quite enough to make a nice thick shell — it was only a double layer at the bottom and when things got going, it ripped:

Mixed up some slip (twice, needed 3x this amount):

Grabbed the paper:

And pasted it up, threw dirt on for good measure. Dirt is the cheapest most abundant refractory around. Great stuff:

I threw some hot coals down there and started waiting. Although it looks like they caught, when I’d pull them out the smoke would go away, so the smoke was from the wood I threw into the air inlet, not from the kiln wood:

To make a long and rain soaked story short, I eventually got it lit. But then it smoked like crazy — thick green smoke — the kind that looks like a liquid. The smoke was was bothering me a lot and although I knew speeding things along would damage the unbisqed pot, I was mostly interested in seeing some fire so I forged ahead anyway. I fanned the flames and indeed, heard some ominous pops from the kiln. At last it really took off and boy, what a sight:

Notice the cat in the middle to lower left. The kiln’s cats LOVE fire! Click the pic for large version:

Today, I retreived the pot. When I got to the pit kiln, I saw shimmering heat from the sides of the dirt walls. That surprised me … till I realized it was a shimmer shadow from the anagama chimney. I’ve never been much for pit fire and this piece hasn’t convinced me there’s anything there for me to do. Here’s the rather bland piece:

But then I turned it over. There’s glaze on the foot! Honest to goodness glass! I cursed a bit in a surprised and happy fashion. As arrogant as it sounds, I thought to myself, “if I can fire a hole in the ground to a glass finish, I can fire anything.”

Clicking on the following pictures opens a large view:

You can see the damage from pushing the fire, but so what? Glaze!

Here’s the worst hole:

The best was yet to come — something even more interesting than the pottery itself. When I dove into the pit to retreive my bricks before filling in the hole, I discovered the dirt had melted — really melted! I was simply amazed — it’s very brittle, but very cool. I’m thinking about incorporating dirt with firebox pieces in the anagama itself:

So there it is. I can melt dirt. What a great day and better yet, one more down in which I did nothing with the anagama. I have to work the next three days so that will help too.


  1. Dear Odin,
    Your piece turned out great. We can see some damages at the sides and of course at the hole, but I say it is great. there is fire personality in it.And real glaze! That means you attained high temperature. I can say that as an afficionada of pit firing!You could put an ikebana flower in it just like the Japanese do. Maybe if you put some barbecue coal in the bottom of the pit and wood chips of dry wood, it wouldn’t produce so much smoke.
    Do it once again… your kiln structure looked very good to me.


    Comment by Claudia Borio — January 23, 2007 @ 10:27 am

  2. Great information and very encouraging. I have just made my first pot by coiling today and plan to fire a pit kiln this weekend. Hope it is as exciting as yours
    Thanks Odin

    Comment by Martin — April 26, 2007 @ 5:55 am

  3. great to read your story of the paper clay firing. I’m just in the process of making a kiln (or series of kilns) entirely out of paper as my final project for mr Masters degree. Your work is very interesting and I’ll be keeping a close eye on it for tips and hints.

    Thanks for sharing.


    Comment by Angela Tait — September 20, 2010 @ 3:29 am

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