When Art Explodes (or firing up the new ceramics kiln)

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I’ve been wanting one ever since college; which was [cough] a long time ago.

After getting settled into my house where I finally have room (a great basement and a detached garage for future expansion) I started checking craigslist for used kilns and potters wheels every few weeks. They were all either too expensive or too far away.

I finally got lucky and found a small old Duncan kiln that would plug into regular household current (didn’t have time or energy to wire up 220 in the basement) and an old ( and virtually indestructible) Shimpoo RK-2 potters wheel just across the bridge.

Before I committed to the sale, I checked around and discovered that Paragon, who purchased Duncan had the manuals online for download and still sold parts, so that sealed the deal.

Although my manual was not available online, I emailed Paragon and was sent the correct manual for my kiln. That’s pretty awesome customer service!

My dance friend Jason rode out with me to pick them up and helped me schlep them into the basement.

I decided that I didn’t want to develop bad habits on the wheel since it had been so long since I had used one, so I signed up for classes at Throwing Mud Gallery and it didn’t take too long to get the feel for it again.

Once I was confident that I knew what I was doing again, I started playing on the wheel.

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I threw what I thought was a decent bowl and got it trimmed up.

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Firing an old manual kiln takes work, calculations, practice and more than a bit of luck…

There is no computer to ramp up, hold or cool down so you must pay attention. It has a kiln sitter which holds a pyrometric cone or bar designs to melt as certain fireing temperatures known as “cones”. If adjusted properly, when the bar or cone melts a lever drops which shuts the kiln off. There is also a safety timer which will shut the kiln off after a certain amount of time in case the kiln sitter does not work.

Here’s a shot of the kiln sitter from inside the kiln.

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and after a firing to cone.

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With the timer set, the cone in the kiln sitter and my first home made creation inside, it was time to fire up the kiln.

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The next morning I was super excited to see what I would find.

BOOM!!!

I found one blown up pot. The bottom was blown off and what was left was in tiny pieces. It must have been an impressive explosion.

first bisque fire in the kiln...  FAIL 005

At least when I mess up, I do it big.

Of course, we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. I learned several things from this.

First, make certain that the pot is bone dry, or candle it first (fire on low setting with lid propped open to dry it out, which will wear the kiln elements out early).

Next, ramp up the heat very slowly. (kind of a pain with a manual kiln, but better than having to vacuum up pottery shards.

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After doing some reading and talking to Mark at Throwing Mud, I threw another pot, dried it fully and tried again with a slow, three stage ramp up.

This time it was SUCCESS!

I got a lovely, bisque fired pot ready to be glazed.

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and more ready to go in for the next firing once they are trimmed up…

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I really didn’t want to mess up the glaze firing, so I was very careful with my ramp up and cool down.

The next morning, I discovered an intact glazed pot :)
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I did a little happy dance after that.

This pot is under fired which is no biggie, I can just refire it. What would have been bad would have been blowing it up, or melting it to the shelf.

My little ancient Craigslist kiln will fire some glazes to perfection, but just doesn’t have quite enough ooomph for high fire glazes, the only ones which are certified food safe. Since I want to create functional art, I want my plates/bowls/bottles to be food safe.

So I got an awesome deal on this Paragon Xpress 1193 High Fire Kiln (aka “My Precious”)

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This means that I can use my cute little Craigslist Duncan kiln for bisque firing and the Paragon for glaze firing. Just like a “real” studio.

Soon, I will be able to turn out things like this at home (although I’ll still do some studio time at Throwing Mud because I like everyone there :)

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If you need me, I’ll be down in my basement in my studio.

Oh, how wonderful it is to be able to say that after all these years.

~L


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6 thoughts on “When Art Explodes (or firing up the new ceramics kiln)

  1. Thank you for your response, and I apologize fjor my ignorance, but where does the fuse go? I just have a breaker box.

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