Monday, April 27, 2009

Loaded for fire

Loading the kiln takes me hours and hours.

After wrecking my back a few times, I've gotten smart about it and I spread the job out over several days a few hours at a time. This loading went pretty well.

It starts with the shelves.

These babies weigh over twenty pounds each. I start by cleaning them. They have to be coated with a clay mixture called kiln wash that will keep stuff from sticking to them during the firing.

But after a couple firings the kiln wash can flake off and start sticking to glazes. The shelves have to be scraped and have a new coat of kiln wash. This is the number one most disliked pottery job for me. This is the one thing for which I really want an apprentice. I would be a happy potter if someone would take over this mundane muscle job and keep my shelves smooth and nice.

These are the shelf posts of varying heights. They are used to stack the shelves in the kiln.

Loading the kiln is very much like putting together a puzzle when you don't know what the final outcome will look like. It takes a lot of thought, meditation, cogitation, contemplation, lip-chewing, planning, reworking, ruminating, hair-pulling, teeth-grinding and sighing.

The pots of like height go together. I try to load pots tightly, filling as much space as possible. The pots have to go as close together as they can without touching anything else.

I am so excited about my big baking dish. It is BIG. It will be so awesome to cook for a crowd in this deep-dish. I can just see it with bubbly scalloped potatoes or army sized macaroni and cheese! Except, of course I will try to sell it. But if it doesn't sell it is mine!

But because of its size, it wouldn't fit well on the shelf and I had to break some rules to get it in the kiln.

So I got the back stack of shelves in after a couple hours of work. I had these two tall vases to figure out how to include. The problem was there were only two and they left a lot of open space in the back of the kiln. This would not be good. I only had short things to put on the shelves on each side. It is important to fill as much of the volume of the kiln as possible for an effective firing.

So, because I pre-plan so well, (not!) I took out everything on the top two shelves and started over. This was followed by some more cogitation and teeth-grinding.

And I came up with this arrangement. Much better. It took only.... oh... an additional hour or three. I deliberately left the open space to the left of the tall vases and above the short pots. In order to see the cone packs in the glow of the 2000 degree heat, it helps to have space behind them. I was pretty proud of myself for thinking of this ahead of time.

Next I loaded the front stack of shelving. Same thing. I had to measure and figure out which pots were in the same height groups to load together. And lift a twenty pound shelf, balance it over the stacked pots to place it perfectly over the shelf posts. If it's not in the right spot, lift (using my wobbly biceps) to hover the 200 pound shelf over the pots and into the right spot on the posts.

Take a break and look up massage therapists.

These are pyrometric cones. Each one melts at a specific temperature in the kiln. With these I make...

...cone packs that I place in the kiln behind spy holes in the door. During the firing I can look through the holes at the cone packs to watch how they melt. This helps me know what is going on with the kiln temperatures. The front row of cone packs show how they look at the end of a firing. They melted one by one starting at the left to the right.

I have to place these cone packs in exactly the right spot behind the spy holes so I can see them during the firing. This also factors into how the shelves are stacked so that the height of a shelf will bring the cone pack to the height of the spy hole. Keep in mind the heights of the pots are also involved as well as a couple other considerations I won't get in to. Get it? COMPLICATED.

The finished load. As always I had exactly the right number of pots. Like I planned that. Right. Don't ask me how that works out but it seems to.

These are the cone packs in place where I'll be able to see them through the spy holes.

This is the view through the spy hole. Only during the firing, there will be flames shooting out towards my retinas when I look.

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