Procrastination. Whooo-boy, if procrastination was a career field, would I ever excel in it.
It’s actually pretty funny, that has been the first line of this blog since I started writing it on Tuesday, the 26th, it is now the 30th nearly the 1st and I am only now just finishing it up. To be fair to myself, the soda firing itself was very intensive, and then from Wednesday to Thursday I was packing and moving down to Martha’s Vineyard. But, at any rate, this took a while to write, but it’s mostly done now!
So as I have stated before I do best when I start at the beginning so that’s where we will start.
The majority of Friday the 22nd was spent glazing and then wadding frogs and lizards. I would say that one of the most significant difference between traditional firing and soda firings is, obviously enough, the soda. Pretty much everything that one does, or prepares, for the soda is a direct result of the properties of the soda. Because the soda in the soda firing acts kind of like a glaze, the pieces must not touch the kiln shelf or they will become stuck. This is a theme that is prevalent throughout this type of firing and this blog post. If it’s in the firing it will get soda on it, and it will get stuck, and you better be prepared to break something. Wadding is substance is soft and then dries hard. You roll it into little balls and glue it to the bottom of your piece to give it feet. The wadding easily breaks off as long as it is not touching any glaze.
Early in the evening my teacher started stacking the pieces in the kiln. The shelves are constructed on the spot for maximum space efficiency. The kiln fits two columns of shelves and the shelves are staggered in height so that no two are exactly adjacent to each other. This allows for maximum air flow and distribution of the soda.
Once all of the pieces are placed in the kiln, it is time to begin construction of the door. To avoid being glued shut with soda, the door is constructed by hand for every firing. There are heavy solid bricks painted with kiln wash (a sort of anti-stick solution made of slip) and are placed on the interior of the door. Soft airy and lighter bricks are placed on the outside. Clay is mixed with wood chips to make it more fragile, and easier to break when the time comes, and then is used to fill any gaps in the door.
As a lifelong ceramist, I was raised on the notion that, to ensure a good firing, one must build a kiln god to watch over the firing. It can be any kind of creature you desire, but it must be attached to the outside of the kiln. It must be attached before the firing. And it CANNOT be removed until it naturally falls off, to do so would be asking for trouble. This little guy was the kiln god made by one of my class mates for this firing.
The kiln is lit, and the waiting begins.
Eventually, when the kiln reaches the right temperature, gates are opened and wood is thrown into the kiln. The wood burns inside the mostly sealed kiln. The additional burning and sealed environment uses up oxygen creating a reduction reaction. The reduction phase is what makes the clay turn golden brown in the absence of glaze.
When the kiln is at its peak temperature, soda is mixed with water and sprayed into the kiln. The kiln is then slowly taken down in temperature, and two to three days later the kiln is finally cool enough that the door can be dismantled.
Those bricks are still pretty warm though. As my teacher disassembled the door, she handed me the bricks and I painted them with a fresh coat of kiln wash. The bricks were so “warm” that in some cases they only needed a few seconds to dry.
Many of the ceramic pieces retain their heat and need to cool. The kiln was not to be fully unloaded until Friday the 29th but I was already on Martha’s Vineyard at that point so I will have to wait for the majority of my frogs. I did sneak a few from the front though!