Archive for August, 2010

Q and A

Monday, August 16th, 2010

A young potter sent me and email recently with these questions asking for a response. I am posting this publicly in case my thoughts are useful to anyone else.

Next spring my family and I are planning to settle down and open a pottery studio making functional pots that are woodfired and salt glazed. There is a reasonable supply of slab wood for a woodfired kiln available there, Maine. At the moment I am trying to decide what type and size of kiln would be best for me and would like to seek your advice on what kind of kilns are best for a beginning pottery studio primarily making domestic ware for local sales and regional craft fairs. I am trying to figure out how to balance the cost of a new kiln with the amount of pottery it can produce in one firing and the energy and wood involved in firing it.

So far it seems to me a smaller kiln would be the best choice as I can fire it often to increase my skill and knowledge about woodfiring, won’t have to risk months of work when firing and the overhead to build the kiln is lower. But how small is too small?
I have looked at so many styles of kilns: Olsen fast-fire, train kilns, Phoenix, sprung arch, caternary arch, Minnesota flat top, bourry boxes on all kinds of kilns…there are so many. Recently I have been looking at the “managbigama” kiln designed by John Theis and Bill Van Gilder. It’s basically a small anagama they say fires efficiently to cone 12 in under 12 hours and less than a cord of wood with some ash deposits up front. They say they designed it as a beginner kiln for those who have not built a kiln before (plans available for $300) and haven’t done much woodfiring. But it has 30 cubic feet of stacking space and I wonder if that is enough space…

I would like to ask:
-How many cubic feet of stacking space does your kiln have?

My kiln has two chambers that are about 30-40 cf each.

-How long do you fire it and how much wood does it consume in that time?

I fire on average 15-18 hours and use 3/4 cords of wood.

-How much can you control how much black smoke is emitted? I assume all kilns emit some and while we will be living rurally we do have neighbors in sight and want to minimize the smoke if possible.

For most of the firing I am looking for a more gray smoke but black happens. That is part of woodfiring.

-Does steel make building the kiln easier, or would you advise a design that minimizes the use of steel supports? I have no welding experience.

For the kiln I have steel is just a necessity. I have seen anagamas built with out steel using stones and earth to buttress the arch.

-How quickly does salt firing corrode a kiln? Have you had success with kiln washes to minimize corrosion?

I use about one pound of salt in the second chamber to give color development a boost. I have fired this kiln 72 times and it is holding up well.

-I notice in Phil Roger’s Salt Glazing book, you had a gas kiln for salt firing. Do you prefer salt glazing in a gas kiln to a wood kiln?

I enjoy wood a lot. If my primary interest was salt glazing I would probably not bother with wood as it is time consuming.

-From your experience what are the most important points to think about when considering what kind of kiln to build? I hope I am on the right track, but have little experience and would appreciate any advice on things I may be overlooking.

How often do you want to fire?. I can fill and fire my kiln monthly if I wanted to. As it is I fire about 8 times a year give or take.
What kind of ware are you making. Is it domestic (use oriented)?
What kinds of surfaces do you want?
What will your neighbors tolerate?
What can you afford and what can you build yourself?

-Do you have any advice on what size of kiln may be optimum to support a one person studio making domestic ware for a local market?

I think anywhere between once a month to every other month firing is good. A lot depends on how often you need to have new work rolling through. How you are selling may be a factor.

-What size kiln would you consider to be too small for the time and energy it would take to fire it?

That “managama” seems a little small to me for a potter trying to make a living at it.

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Here is my kiln, designed and built with the help of Kevin Crowe, Nelson County VA.

August pots

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

I’ll be heading for the Salmon River next Wednesday fro a week long trip. I’m making what I can when I can to get ready for the September 11 studio tour. I’ll be firing right before the tour about September 8 or 9.
I’m working on an order fro 13 of these cookie jars. Because I need 13 keepers I’ll throw 18-20 of them and let the client pick. If I made 13 only Murphy’s Law of pottery would kick in and I’d be short. Rather than throw the lid and add the knob after trimming it I throw the lid in place. It works OH on small lids like these. If I am making a large lid like for a big casserole dish. I’ll add the knob after trimming the lid.

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These platters are thrown with 15 lbs of clay. They are about 16-17 inches in diameter.

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1.5 lb faceted tea bowls for filling in around the platters.

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Jugs for the top of the bag wall.
The kids come by every day for a bit of clay to mess with. I remember how fun that was when I was little. It seemed like magic material.
Tennessee came by with a load of curious tourists.

The Dream Trip: Camp 16, March 20-21

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

We moved camp again on day twenty three, taking a quick breakfast of cold cereal and apples before pushing off at 9:30. The night had been warm and clear with no wind so we slept out.
On the water we floated down to Spring Canyon at mile 204. We filled our six gallon jug in the clear side stream there and commenced a hike up the canyon.
The first quarter mile of Spring Canyon is a jungle of willows and bramble infested with snakes that come to feed on the abundant rodents living in the brush. It is slow going and weeds out all but the most curious boaters. Past the water source things open up and the vegetation returns to its usual desert flora. We hiked a ways and stopped to rest, eating what snacks were left in Lee’s day pack. We had not consciously taken any food thinking that the whole hike would be two hours or less. We kept thinking we would go just a little farther to see what was around the next bend and things looked so good that we would decide to go a little more. It began eating up the whole day. Below are some of the small wonders we ran into.

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About the time we thought we would turn around we came to a fork in the canyon and just had to see what was up the right side. Almost imedeately we entered into some very nice narrows in the Bright Angel Formation. It was a wonderland. I still can’t get over how beautiful it was. We had not expected anything this sweet up Spring Canyon so there was that sense of discovery again.

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Back at the boat we ran Mile 205 and had a late floating lunch as we drifted toward 209. We had planned to stop at 209 (Granite Park) but there was a group there so we floated down to 210 and made camp. Our bed was very near this Sand Verbena and the smell was heavenly as we bedded down under the stars again.
Day twenty four was Sunday and a layover. We had been affording ourselves the luxury of a Sunday layover all the way along, but with as much slack time as we now had they were becoming more frequent. As mentioned above many trips by this point in the canyon are :smelling the barn” and moving through at a pretty good clip, partly because the trip is winding down and they are focused on home and partly because, at least in the warm weather, it is beginning to be pretty hot that far down the canyon. For us it was finally getting warm enough to really enjoy.
After a grand slam breakfast of eggs, blueberry pancakes, fruit and Spam we held a devotional service of sorts and went for a walk up the side canyon coming in at mile 110.

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Looking down there were little wonders like these acacia roots wandering through breaks in the bedrock and the big view if the towering layers above.

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Soon after starting up we stopped to sit around in some lovely limestone narrows with nice pools and narrows.

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As we moved up through the BA layers we came to a dramatic pour over in the Muav that formed a bowl with amazing acoustics where our exploration terminated. We stayed there for a long time eventually eating a lunch of dried meat, fruit and nuts. We watched the light change as the day flowed by talking, not talking and reading from the Butchart book. It was a very nice way to spend the time in our “fun bank”. Of course naps were in order.

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Heading down there was no need to hurry so we lolled around checking out pools from last week’s rain and taking lots of photographs. I was agin impressed by the endless variety in the Bright Angel in this lower end of the canyon.

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Endless variety in the jumble of geological decay as the forces of gravity have their way on the material laid down and lifted up over the past…wow, and wow again.
Back in camp we bathed and made two pizzas, one with red sauce and one with caramelized onion and pine nuts. We made sure that there would be enough for the next day’s lunch. Even with Lee’s pizza appetite is the best sauce. Later we read by fire light, burning a piece of pinyon we had been hoarding since the eddy below Badger Creek at mile 8. The stars came out in force and chased us up the hill to bed next to the Sand Verbena.

The Dream Trip: Camp 15, March 18-19

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Breakfast the second morning at Whitmore was egg, cheese and spam muffin sandwiches with grapefruit after a cozy sleep in. While I cleaned up and broke camp down Lee went walking up Whitmore Wash in the morning cool. By the time she was back I had most of the rigging done and we got on the water by 11:30. Happy Birthday Lee.
We spent the day drifting in a rather lazy fashion. There were no rapids to speak of and we were in no great hurry. I’d stroke every so often as needed to keep us more or less in the current. We talked some and did a lot of looking. We stopped to check out a cave in the lava at about mile 190. It is a place where lava likely flowed out over sand and the sand has long since blown away leaving a cavity that is amazingly cool in hot weather. Lee had not seen it before and I wanted a break from the grind of letting the boat drift. We talked with a couple of groups we met along the way. Most have a keen interest in the kind of trip we are running. Though not unheard of a one boat trip is still a bit out of the ordinary. We talked for a while with a small group of men camped at Parashant Wash.
Above Parashant we pulled over and took a nap in the shade after a floating lunch. It was actually nice to have it warm enough to feel like looking for shade in the afternoon. Lee slept on the boat. I went ashore and found a very nice spot that probably never gets sunlight and was very mossy and soft.
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We took camp at mile 202 on river right where there is a nice beach next to some basalt cliffs. The evening was very nice and we had a fine dinner of pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw, avocados with lime juice and french fries. Dessert was leftover apple crisp from Whitmore camp.

With the trip now a week from finishing time actually felt like it was spreading out instead of compressing like it usually does at the end. Usually by the time we are at 202 we are a day or two away from the takeout. When we launched we thought we might have to go all the way to South Cove at mile 297. We called out with the sat-phone earlier in the day and found out that the new boat ramp at Pearce Ferry is now open. That means we would take out at mile 280 so we were fat on time. Below Diamond Creek (mile 226) we would have 3 days. We also would not have to run Pearce Ferry Rapids which have become pretty nasty though runnable.

We decided to layover again at 202 since the time was not an issue. We got up at 7:30 and put together a breakfast of eggs, ham, corn bread and grape fruit. Just as we were pulling the corn bread out of the dutch oven the boyos from Parashant came by so we called them over and gave them fresh hot corn bread with honey and butter on it. They were OK with that.
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After our breakfast Lee and I went exploring down stream. We hiked up on top of the lava cliffs and followed game trails through what can be accurately described as a desert botanical and rock garden. The heavy rains in January had greened things up and it was a route that probably sees very little traffic. It was splendid. The rocks all had a great dark shiny desert varnish on them. We made our way up a little drainage that terminated in a dry waterfall where we found some shade. It was really starting to act like March in the lower canyon and the shade was welcome.
On the way back we watched a small group drift by from the cliffs above them. They were all very young and trying to get as darkened by the sun as possible, a habit most thinking boatmen get over after a few years on the river. They never new we were up there watching.
Back in camp Lee made a pizza while I baked a cake. The evening light was wonderful and the moon set as we bedded down in the open air. As the moon set the stars began coming out in ernest.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.”
Psalm 19:1-2


Monday, August 2nd, 2010