Friday, September 17, 2021

Neat Trick!


I learned a great trick fromTyler, while we were working on the kiln! If there's a horsey person in your life, you recognize this: it's a curry brush. It's also a great tool for shaving softbrick, when you need to remove just a little bit, to fit an odd shape or to flatten the face of a softbrick wall: 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

With My Freeze Ray


Just kidding - this is actually one of the snazzy new burners for the kiln. I just thought it looked more like a sci-fi weapon. 
We didn't quite get these positioned today, but we did get the door completed! I am so excited to have a door on this kiln. You know that moment when you place the last pot on the shelf, & think "Whew, I'm done! Hot bath here I come" followed immediately by "OH &#%@ I STILL HAVE TO BRICK THE DOOR?" Well, those moments are done for me forever. 
The door is on a pivot hinge, to accommodate the space between the kiln & the shed. 
Probably not a lot more progress will happen this week, until the bolts arrive for the door. I do have to make a few changes to the stack - or more correctly, I have to swap out some brick. There are a few brick from the old stack that I am not 100% sure are superduty - & I do need superduty for the bag wall. I should have used the dubious brick in the stack, where it won't matter, because (obviously!) it doesn't get nearly as hot.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Stack, The Arch, & More

Achievement unlocked: the stack is up! As is the arch. 

Tyler built the angle iron frame & laid the brick for the arch on Monday. Sadly I was not able to be here for that! Trying to work around my teaching schedule was going to delay construction, and I really really need a kiln. I have orders piling up! Anyway, I came home Monday night to a completed arch, with a blanket of insulating kaowool. We removed the form in the morning & laid a layer of Quikcrete. I had a brief moment of wishing I hadn't discarded the boxes of broken pottery bits I used to save, thinking one day I might make a mosaic! I decided a couple decades ago that I am probably not going to make a mosaic! & even if I wanted to, there are plenty of shards in the world. But I am kind of enjoying the sleekness of the plain concrete finish. If I change my mind I could always add another thin layer of concrete & lay buttons & mug handles & porcelain doll heads in that. 

We built the stack yesterday as well. There was a little design question to resolve: what material to use for the upper portion of the stack. Technically, to fire, the stack only needed to reach the top of the arch, because this kiln will utilize forced-air burners. (More on that later, but here's the scoop from Ward Burner on the differences.) But in order for the hot gas escaping the kiln to vent above the roof of the shed, the stack has to reach that high, and do so without creating a draw that would interfere with the firing. 
Options: a piece of culvert, elevated above the last brick layer to let air in (ugly, will need to be replaced every couple of years); a double-walled stainless steel tube, also elevated, made for kilns & such (less ugly, more durable but spendy - maybe $300 for a 3 foot length) or...hey, we've got all these brick! 
The stack could not be solid, like a conventional stack, because of the draw issue, but Tyler had an idea: we could build it in a checkerboard pattern, leaving gaps between the brick to pull in air. So that's what we did & it looks so cool! Can't wait to see it firing - I am hoping to see a bit of light thru the gaps. 

Next, the door, the burners, the plumbing - that last bit will be the hold up, since it will happen just whenever the propane tech can get here. 

If you'd like ot support this project or just want a great new mug, you can pre-order a mug from the first firing at this link

Friday, September 10, 2021

Walls UP!

 We made a lot of progress on Wednesday! Next is the angle iron exoskeleton, then the back wall, then the arch, then the rest of the stack. Last will be the plumbing, and that will require a licensed propane technician to complete. The timing for that is out of my hands, & unfortunately it might take a while! It was going to take a month for him to come un-plumb, when I was in the deconstruction phase. I begged & pleaded & they did finally accommodate me, but that probably won't work a second time. So, we're probably looking at mid to late October before the kiln will be serviceable. 

You can see the burner channels in the back, & the soda ports. We placed these ports higher than in the old kiln, as I am planning to switch to the spray-in soda method. Previously I was using the Gail Nichols soda-salad application method, which I enjoyed & got good results, but I've been doing that for 11 years & I am up to try something new. Not 100% new - I have used the spray-in method before, at Watershed, & gotten good results - but this will give me an opportunity to play around with it some more. 

Right now I am not able to be much help - Tyler is cutting the angle iron that will make the frame. We got a massive amount of rain last night here in Augusta, so everything is soaked & there are puddles everywhere, so he's not going to be using the arc welder! We can get the pieces up & clamped in place this afternoon. 

In between classes & this I have been able to make a few things! Lots of mugs, a few bowls, some small lidded jars for an order. During the deconstruction I just couldn't motivate myself to make anything - some kind of psych block, I guess - but now I'm thinking OMG I NEED POTS! 

I've mostly been making my floral slip trailed ware. I have a couple of other flowers I want to work on rendering in slip in a recognizable way, but I can feel Dotopia calling me as well. 
If you would like a mug & to help support this project, you can pre-order a mug from the 1st firing at this link. 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Hold On & Power Thru

 I feel like everybody has a lot less in the tank these days, with the pandemic stress piled on top of all the usual stressors, and the political hostility cranked to 11 these last few years. In Maine this summer we've also had to contend with multiple heatwaves with over 90° temperatures. I'm aware that other places had it far worse at times! But this is unusual, for us, and they just keep coming. Today it will be over 90°, I have to teach an extra class in an un-air-conditioned facility (for a co-worker who has covid) where we will be firing the gas kiln. 

I keep telling myself, just power thru. It won't last forever, it won't kill me, just hold on & power thru.

I've never been more delighted to welcome pumpkin spice. 

The heat will probably be over today (though there is still plenty of summer left for another one, or more!) but covid won't be done until either almost everyone is vaccinated, or almost everyone gets sick. Plan A seems like the obvious better choice, but some people don't see it that way, so that stressor is not going away any time soon. 

In addition, the kiln rebuild has hit some snags! The big one this week came from the delivery company, Estes Express, which was supposed to bring the brick yesterday. 

They did not bring the brick yesterday. 

What's more, they did not tell me they weren't bringing the brick yesterday, even after I contacted them in the morning to ask if they could narrow down the delivery time. I didn't find out until 4 pm that my brick weren't even loaded on the truck. 
I know mistakes happen, but this was multiple, compounded mistakes. Then when I called this morning to reschedule the delivery, they told me the brick would be coming today - a day when I can not be here to receive them. Which I had already specifically told them. 

We sorted it out, & rescheduled for tomorrow, but at this point I'll believe it when I see it. In the end it's a minor thing...just power thru it, Lori. 

Updated to add: Estes Express really is a clown show! I just got an email that they have scheduled my brick delivery for today, when I have specifically told them both by email & by phone that I will not be available to take delivery today. I think I got it straightened out - again - but who the hell knows at this point. Maybe they'll show up today anyway, & I won't be here! Maybe it'll come tomorrow, or maybe I'll wait around all day & then they'll say "oops!"
So frustrating. 

Updated to add: The eagle has landed! The brick arrived today around noon. LET THE BUILDING BEGIN

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Progress! Slow, but progress

The kiln project is not very photogenic at this stage! But it is coming along. The old kiln is gone - or rather it is in stacks of (mostly reusable!) brick in pallets in the kiln yard. The plumbing is disconnected, the rubble brick (mostly) in my truck waiting for a dump run. 

One bummer note: I cancelled my participation in the Common Ground Fair. I thought I could squeeze in a kiln rebuild & still have pots for the event but...well, maybe I still could have! But there were too many things that had to go exactly right for that to happen. The big one that loomed for me is that the burners are scheduled to be delivered the first week in September. There's like an 8-week lag between order & receipt. The kiln itself will be built by then but obviously I won't be able to fire without burners...and then it will take some time to get them plumbed, and I can't schedule the propane guy until the burners have arrived...and what if they come a week late? That's something neither I nor Tyler can control. I decided to cancel out of hte fair while they still have plenty of time to fill in an alternate. 

To my surprise, they offered me a booth refund! I think this might be a pandemic thing but either way it was very generous. That money will go directly to the kiln project. 


Back from my dump run! As always I saw lots of bald eagles, including this guy: 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Begun Is Half Done

 ...or so a wise friend once told me! By that metric I am done the deconstruction of the kiln. 

I took down the stack, down the the level of the shed roof. I stopped there because I am going to need some pallets to put the soft brick on, rather than the wet ground; and also because it seemed like a good place to stop. I am not crazy about heights, so I am relieved to get all the roof-of-the-shed work out of the way. 

Next steps:

  • Get some pallets! I think Portland Pottery has some, or sometimes hardware stores give them away; in a pinch I could always buy pallets
  • Take down the rest of the stack
  • Borrow some post jacks to jack the arch form up under the arch. I need to lift the weight of the brick so I can remove them without destroying them. 
  • After that it's just brick by brick until only the angle iron frame is left. That'll be fun, getting that to the dump. 

Here's all the brick I unstacked, tossed down & restacked today! No wonder I am exhausted & smell like a goat. 

This is happening! If you want to support this project, or just want a new mug, you can order a mug out of the first firing here. 

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Nice Day to Start Tearing Down a Kiln!


Yesterday, not so much! It was a deluge of rain among the last shreds of Hurricane Elsa. I drove to Belfast, to deliver pots to Mainely Pottery, a lovely little gallery & studio who started carrying my work just as the pandemic descended up on us. 

(As a side note, Mainely Pottery is for sale! 5 waterfront acres in Belfast, Maine - a shopping destination - with a long-established business. There are 2 buildings - a full pottery studio & the gallery - and plenty of room to put up a little house or a yurt, if you wanted to live there or supplement pottery sales with AirBnB. As you can see, I have given this some thought! If you have a little money or are the kind of person banks don't laugh their collective asses at,  this is your chance to live the dream: make & sell pots on the coast of Maine. Me, I'd have to win the lottery a little to make this work but you? Maybe you could do it.)

Ok, back about me! After weeks of talking about it, today I am taking the first steps in the kiln-rebuild process: ordering the shelves & beginning the arduous task of taking down the old kiln. I'll start with the stack, which means (EEK) a ladder on the roof the get to the highest courses of brick. Not sure how long this will take but the answer is "forever" if I don't get started. 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Law Of Old Kilns


Are you familiar with the Law of Bad Hair? That refers to that phenomenon that happens when, after weeks of hating your hairstyle & wanting a change, the day of your appointment finally comes...and on that day, you wake up & you hair looks perfect, exactly as you hoped it would when you chose that style in the first place. 

Call it the law of old kilns: my last few firings - all of the ones I have done since scheduling the rebuild - have been amazing. This one is no exception. I used about 6 lbs of soda (1/2 ash, 1/2 bicarbonate) in a 20(ish) cf kiln. 

The very first piece I unloaded sold as soon as I posted it. It's unlike my other work - mostly I was determining how the underglaze decals from San Bao would perform in soda. Answer: like a champion! I don't expect to use decals in most of my work, but they are a fun change. This one was applied at leatherhard. There's no glaze on the exterior, so all the color you see is just the Bmix clay interacting with the soda vapor. 
Also in that kiln, work for the upcoming group show at Monkitree, Exploring Maine: A Maker's Journey. Here are the pieces (probably!) for that show. 

Just about everything in this kiln was spoken for, headed to a store or gallery, right down to the gap-fillers: these minis are on their way to Maine Local Market, a new store in Hallowell. 
Additionally I have pots for the Portland Pottery Café, pots for Bayview Company, pots for Mainely Pottery. 
One of the reasons I need a new kiln - aside from the ever-flattening arch - is exactly that: when I unload a firing, a few days later all the pots are gone! Not what you would call a problem, exactly, or, at least, a nice problem to have; but it meant I can't take on any more shops, and I can't build up inventory for shows. My kiln capacity is the bottleneck to how much work I can make. 

It remains to be seen if I can budget the time to fill the new kiln in a timely manner; I mean, I will, because I'll have to, but whether I can do it & still keep all of my classes is the question. 

Anyway! Usually when I unload I have a few pieces to list in the online shop, which I offer here, but this time I don't think I will, once I sort out which pieces are going to what shops. Sorry! 😞 If you'd like to order a mug out of the first firing of the new kiln, you can do that at this link

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Goodbyes are Hard...Even this One


The last firing of the old kiln is loaded. I'm feeling, as the cool kids used to say, some kind of way. 

I built this, with my own hands. I laid out the plans & placed each brick. It served me well. Could I have done better? Why, yes! But it worked, and it changed my life. 

Since I left SIUE in 1992 I always planned on building a salt or soda kiln. I didn't know it would take 18 years to make it happen! And when it did, my work could come into its own. 

I am excited, of course, for the new kiln: a hinged door! tice as much stacking space. It's an investment but so worth it. Not to mention: check out that ever-flattening arch. I could fix it again, but I'd have to keep fixing it every year, until I couldn't anymore, and then I'd be desperate. If I have learned one thing as an adult it's to deal with stuff before it's a crisis. 

Anyway! One last voyage. I've spent 11 years learning this kiln, & it gives me good results every time now. Here's hoping this is the best ever. 

Friday, June 18, 2021

Tomorrow! cried Toad

Tomorrow!" cried Toad. "I will do it all tomorrow!"

It me. I'm Toad. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

First Raku, Broken Toe & All

The first raku of the 2021 season was a great success! It was a promising beginning. I made some minor adjustments to the kiln, trying to get that perfect fuel/oxygen balance in the firing chambers, the perfect interval of time between pulling the pots from the chamber & placing them in the post-firing reduction chambers (which is a fancy way of saying, piles of sawdust under trash cans!)

This flame? The perfect backpressure. 

We got some fabulous results; some from Laguna glazes, some from mixed glazes. Next session my  

This one is FAB - I actually do have this

R-13, a glaze available from Laguna
I don't have this White Crackle recipe, sorry!
Bright Buff, also available from Laguna

It was a long & sometimes uncomfortable day for my poor little tootsie. I am taking today to put it up & hopefully give it like a second to heal; but no more than a second because I need to be unloading, glazing, and firing my orders. 

My Tuesday classes will be rakuing next session. Already planning some things to try!