Autumnal Raku Firing

Before the summer break I encouraged the ceramics workshop participants to create new pieces for a raku firing in the Autumn. The workshops recommenced in September, with the raku firing planned for October.

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This gave me the time needed to rebuild the kiln. First step, collect an empty oil drum for the outer shell of the kiln.

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I cut off the top of the oil drum to create a removable lid. I dismantled the old kiln, which was coming apart anyway and was as a result very inefficient, and reused the ceramic fibre in the new kiln.

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Ceramic buttons and nichrome wire to hold the insulating fibre in place.

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Once everything was in place, including handles to make it easier to move, I then cut the holes through the ceramic fibre in the lid and at the base where the gas blower goes in.

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As people had a tendency to pile any old garbage on top of the old kiln, I made sure to make a cover for the kiln. I hope this works.

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On the appointed day at the appointed hour I had the back yard set up for our firing, complete with a gazebo in case the weather turned bad on us. As the day progressed and the weather stayed glorious we eventually took down the gazebo and worked under a clear blue sky.

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Since it would take a few hours for the firing we also planned a pot luck lunch, which was varied and delicious and makes the event a very social one.

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Ready to start, with an assistant in place to lift the lid on the “smoker”, which is a metal can filled with shredded paper and sawdust.

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The ceramic pieces are loaded into the kiln and quickly (45 – 60 minutes) heated to a glowing red heat. At this point they are lifted out of the kiln while hot and subjected to various burning processes in order to create the unique raku effects.

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This involves burning objects such as feather and hair on the hot glaze to create black patterns…

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… you can also throw sugar at the hot glaze to create random burnt spots!

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The still hot pots are lifted into the smoker, where the action of the burning paper and sawdust further highlights in black any interesting surface textures and gets into any cracks in the glaze.

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Waiting for the smoker to cool, approx 10 – 15 minutes.

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The still hot pots are dipped in water to cool. This stage itself can change the glaze surface dramatically, sometimes creating a shining metallic effect. It is all totally unpredictable and I emphasize to the participants again and again that they must embrace this lack of control and give over to the process-driven results. It is very exciting and freeing.

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Some of the beautiful lines created by burning hair!

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I am very pleased with all the beautiful pieces created on the day, each one very different from the next both in initial design and in the final outcomes.

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It was a fantastic day and I know the participants are already looking forward to the next opportunity to try this unique and ancient process again, hopefully in the spring.

James Hayes

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