don clarke

First Firing .... January 8th, 2000
Kiln Log Book
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We had worked for sixteen months to get to this point. What started out as a regular crew of four (Don-Tea-May-Don) had expanded to include a cast of characters. We had become close friends, shared aching backs and calloused hands, eaten lots of Tea's wonderful cooking and May's infamous snacks, told stories, and dreamed of this day.

ware table ready to loadFor a few months we had been slowly making pieces for this event. Each of us trying new clays (Big White and Soldate 30), new forms, and new slips. We made everything from vases to tea pots, from sculptures to platters, and an enormous dragon which would one day sit atop the first arch of the kiln.

filling up the first chambermore pots go intakes a lot of potsOur plan was to load the first chamber on Thursday, the second chamber on Friday, and fire on Saturday. True to our nature, we had scrounged shelves and had to cut many to make usable pieces. We used kiln-washed bricks for posts and a standard wadding for the pieces. Our first firing load amounted to about 150 pieces which, once loaded, was actually a light load.

the door is sealed with slip/clay

straw is added to some areasAfter the pieces were loaded there was some last minute additions of woody materials (grasses) to provide additional coloration. The doors were diligently bricked up using fire bricks, since this was the first time the doors had been bricked we carried hundreds of "good" bricks up to the kiln.

Where the bricks didn't exactly fit we used wedges of soft brick to fill in the gaps. For the top of the arches we cut soft brick to fit inside and then bricked up to the top with regular bricks. Once done, we filled all the cracks with a mixture of sand and clay (mud) to reduce unwanted airflow. We were ready!

don and beth start the kilnSaturday morning was perfect ... 38 degrees with a clear sky full of stars. I arrived at 5:30AM to start the fire. Propane had been on low since midnight to start to dry out the kiln and create a draw in the chimney. The kiln was at 150 degs when I arrived. I made two small
piles of straw in the air ports of the main firebox with some kindling and started the fire.

warming up on a cold morning In the beginning the fire was so small, so weak ... yet later it would be a roaring beast shooting flames out of the chimney into the sky! Beth was the first to arrive, she too couldn't sleep. Tea awoke and brought out hot Vietnamese coffee. Slowly people started to arrive, often snuggling up against the firebox to keep warm.

everyone gets to work

feeding the beastFor the first few hours we built a bed of coals in the main firebox, stoking from the front. Then we moved to stoking the side ports of the main firebox with "wrist-sized" pieces. As the fire built we adjusted our stoking to include the first chamber firebox. The rhythm of stoking continued to alternate between the main and first chamber firebox as the temperature climbed. Our goal was to get the first firebox to cone 9 down before we started to stoke the second chamber's firebox.

don thinks !We had read and re-read the second Studio Potter article on firing the Rock Creek Kiln. As problems arose (to hot here, no cold there, flame path too quick, etc.) we would read the article again-and-again and discuss options. The article was extremely helpful with its step-by-step solutions and illustrations.

the kiln roars

Tea stokesThe wonderful friendship that had developed over the sixteen months we took to build the kiln allowed us to work through differences of opinion on what to do as things occasionally need adjustments. Despite dire warnings about having to have an assigned "kiln master" to make those final decisions, we managed to make the entire firing a democratic process. By 8PM Saturday night we had dropped cone 11 in both chambers and we closed up the kiln.

we're a happy groupDespite having stoked since 6AM, the mood was electric. Everyone congratulated everyone on the great job we had done ... from a dream to having successfully completed our first firing. We did a cursory clean-up of the area, making sure all flammable material was moved away from the kiln, and agreed to meet the following Friday to open the kiln.

The week was extremely hard for most of us ... the anticipation was unbearable. We had agreed to unload on Friday, to fit into everyone's schedules, but the urge to sneak out to the site and peek was always there. We talked about nothing else for the entire week. For me it was almost the longest week of my life!

first looknice and gooeybob's sculptures a little coolAfter chipping off all the baked "mud", we unbricked the door and stacked all the bricks next to the kiln. We were then greeted by a wondrous site ... the entire kiln load was a toasty red-brown. Depending on the location of pieces, there was nice ash build-up and in general everyone was thrilled.

the unload procession of potsMany guests had joined us for this moment. We formed a long line from the kiln down to the tables we had set out. Each piece was slowly passed along the line of admirers as it made its way to the table. The unloading took hours as each piece was examined, discussed, explained, admired, congratulated, and marveled over. We were ecstatic!

pots to reviewthe crewWe spent the afternoon enjoying the fruits of our many months of labor. There was much food and drink, stories were told, pieces admired, congratulation spread all around, and more stories told.
We were on top of the world ... and talking about our next !