Saturday, June 14, 2014

Yesterday,Today, and Tomorrow

Late spring is a busy time! The lawn and garden need attention, stores are wanting inventory, and the season of firing workshops is upon us.

In the studio I've been trying to get a firing lit for a couple of weeks, but in accordance with Hofstadter's Law, everything took longer than I thought it would, even when I took into account Hofstadter's Law. Yesterday all the glazing was done and I was finally able to load the kiln. It sits loaded and ready, to be fired tomorrow.

Why tomorrow, you may ask? Because today I am scheduled to run the first raku workshop of the season at Portland Pottery. I'm sort of a recreational raku-er; I like the smoke and the flames and the tongs, the glowing pots, and the flashy glazes. I also like it as a teaching tool. In a facility such as Portland Pottery, it's hard for students to have much direct contact with firing. I can talk about firing, we can observe the back pressure and odor of reduction, I can even give fun little quizzes on cones and atmospheric terms, but raku allows students to load and fire a kiln with me, and so to better connect with the actual physical process. I'm not as interested in it as a vocational pursuit, because it compromises the function of pots down to a nub, and function is one of the joys of making, for me.

Nevertheless, I've gotten to know this particular kiln very well, and have a pretty good handle on what it takes to have a successful firing. All kilns are different, so these may not be applicable to yours, but here are a few things I've learned:
  • Don't overload the kiln!  The temptation is to fill every corner. This all but guarantees that some people will have disappointing results, because the ware starts cooling as soon as the door is opened, and if there are too many pieces in the kiln, some of them will be too cool to give up their oxygen to the flames of  reduction chambers.
  • Think, when loading, about how each piece will be grasped with the tongs. In the mouth? Around the sides? Does it need to overhang a shelf, to get the tongs under it? This will allow the unload to proceed quickly and with fewer mishaps. 
  • Good gloves, good tongs, good safety equipment. (Thanks, Captain Obvious!) I don't want to be in pain while unloading. Pain is not a good plan. 
  • This is important for group raku-ing: I make sure to say before I open the kiln that once the kiln is open, no one passes between the kiln and the reduction chambers - not for photos, not for spritzing pots, not for nothin'. I don't want to have to worry about that. 
A bit of luck goes a long way, also! Wish me some, for today's firing, and tomorrow's. 

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