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ancient kiln | 21st century logbook

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March 23, 2006


Filed under: Clay Bodies — odin @ 1:35 am

Today was wadding (FN 1) day, among other things. This is my recipie (all measures are by volume, not weight):

  • 2 parts silica
  • 2 parts grog
  • 3 parts fireclay
  • 5 parts rice bran
  • Zero parts mouse droppings

I bought a new sack of rice bran today. I like to use bran for my wadding because 1) I can get it, and 2) it works great. It’s important to have a reliable source for any raw materials you use. Apparently, rice bran is fed to horses to give them a shiny coat which means I can get it for $16.99 at a local feed store. I wish they had a $10.99 sack though. At 50 pounds, I don’t really know what to do with it all.

The last time I bought rice bran, I stored the leftovers (most of the sack to be precise) for the next firing. The next firing rolled around and what should I find — a sack of moldy bran dotted with black beads of mouse stuff. I sighed, did my ineffectual best to separate the little gifts as well as I could, and mixed up my wadding. The nice thing about this fresh sack of bran: no mouse dirt. I think I’ll just give the bran leftovers to the neighbors this time — they have horses — and I’m not too keen on mixing up a batch “ick” wadding next fall.

My clay mixer is rather simple. I have two plastic five gallon buckets, a mud mixer (for plaster — look in the sheetrock section of a home store), and a drill. I put some water in a bucket, some clay, mix with the mixer attached to the drill and make a moderately thick slip. Then I simply keep adding materials and water till I have enough. I mix the silica, clay, and grog first. Once that is mixed, I add the bran and give it all a final mixing.

I need to get a corded drill though — I went through three batteries today and still had to resort to using a stick to finish the job. Not easy because once the bran goes in, the stuff has the consistency of old thick oatmeal with a dash of concrete. It smells pretty good though — bready.

mixing wadding for anagama

Once I’ve mixed it up, I dump it out on a plaster table, crank up the heat, and wait for it dry out enough to wedge up. As it gets dry, it gets pretty crumbly so it is important to keep it from drying out too much. It must be moist enough to press into little cones (or big ones depending on the size of the piece it will support). Be aware that the wadding will dry much more quickly than plain old clay when using the wedging table method of clay making.

The rice bran gives it a very odd feel. Even when wet, you can handle it and make it do basic things. Clay without the bran at that consistency would be slightly less workable than room temperature Crisco. With the bran in, it behaves very differently. I’ve been thinking I might try making a small kiln using the wadding as a roof. I also think the wadding itself has the potential to be used in making pots. Surprisingly, some of the best fire-color to come out of the kiln has been on the wadding, not the pieces. You want to know frustration? That’s frustration.

Hmmm … I hope the mouse dung had no responsibility for the great oranges and reds in the previous batch of wadding.


1. Wadding is nothing more than lumps of clay placed between the pieces and the kiln shelves. Salt fired and wood fired kilns require wadding to elevate the pieces off the shelves. If the pieces are placed directly on the shelves, they will be forever bonded to the shelves by the atmosphere induced glaze. I use rice bran in my wadding because it burns out. That way when a piece of wadding sticks to a pot, it breaks away fairly easily. Solid clay doesn’t work so well. I knocked the feet of at least half my pieces in the first firing because of lousy wadding.

March 20, 2006

Resting Hands

Filed under: General — odin @ 1:24 am

I did very little today. First excuse: I had to work at my day job. Second: I just need a day of rest before I really launch into preparations. I did do a few things: received some more wood; made a half-hearted attempt at stacking wood; finished the process of making pavers out of my scrap clay.

I don’t regret it. My hands need a rest or they’ll be useless and clumsy. I don’t mean this metaphorically at all. It’s disturbing but I get strange pains, numbness, locking fingers and such if I too much gripping. Preparing firewood is pretty rough — I have to choose my forms of abuse carefully.

I find that throwing is not difficult, but of all things, I’ve recently become quite interested in pinch pots. Unlike wheel work, humble little kindergarten level pinch pots do take a toll. What I find interesting about pinch pots is how the surface of the clay breaks and cracks, particularly when expanded from the inside. The effect is quite pronounced when the clay has dried and hardened a bit.

The most natural thing to pinch is a cup and of all the things I can make, I love making cups the most. Cups are held in the hands — they’re inherently tactile pieces meant to be touched. This fits well with how I derive satisfaction from pottery. I care not so much how a piece looks, but how it feels (FN 1). Cups and bowls are amazingly sensuous. When clasping a wonderful cup in my hands, I get a sense of beauty that is wholly unrelated to appearance. With eyes closed, the sense of touch can evoke feelings of warmth and ease more evocative than any decoration. And when one’s mood calls for a point or thorn, a sharp edge to jag into fingers, why settle for mere image? An emotionally charged cup needn’t “speak” with clever designs or artful drawings — it emotes with a power predating imagery or grammar or language.

Pinch pots seem to have the potential to get to this “unevolved” emotive quality more readily than thrown objects. I have much to learn about pinching though — technical qualities that can interfere with tactile seeing such as weight and balance must be right, and I’m still working on those elements. The only real way to learn is to keep pinching, and painful fingers slow that learning.

I don’t mind procrastinating a little. I need to maintain my strength.


1. I have no intent to denigrate painterly work. I have neither the skill nor the patience for such art and I respect people who surpass me. I’m merely stating my preference for a cup’s feel to its appearance. This is a personal preference not meant as a universal value judgment.

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