The Woodfire Process
Woodfiring is an atmospheric firing where variables such as, flames, vapors, wood ash and trace elements contribute to the vessel’s surface development. I fire my pots with the Chautauqua Area Potters (CAP) at Scott Creek Fire Place.
THE PROCESS, THE PEOPLE, THE JOURNEY
To make any piece of pottery, organization is key. I go through making cycles that last about a month. First, clay is prepared through wedging (kneading the clay to remove air bubbles) weighing and forming clay balls to prepare for throwing. Once pieces have been thrown, they are left to partially dry. The next steps include trimming, adding attachments and further drying.
A preliminary firing, called a bisque firing, heats the pots, hardens the clay, but leaves it porous and suitable for glazing. I apply glazes and flashing slips by pouring and spraying each item. Why? I am trying to capture a picture of the kiln’s flame and path onto the pot’s surface. Wood firing’s allure is learning how the flame carries vapors, wood ash and trace elements throughout the kiln.
Pots are packed in bins and hauled off to our kiln site. Each pot receives glued wads on the base of the vessel. Wads are used in atmospheric firing, which is a refractory that keeps the pot from sticking to the shelves. Essentially, the fiery chamber becomes a “room” where melting wood and soda ash fly on the flames that make their way through the kiln, coating everything within. A morning and afternoon is spent with the community to stack and load the kiln.
The kiln typically needs 3-4 days to cool. Once unloaded, every vessel is inspected. Diamond tip bits, Dremel grinders and sandpaper smooth excess glaze, wood ash or wadding that may have fused to the vessel’s base or surface.
During the month-long making cycle, preparation for wood firing also occurs. These duties are shared among CAP community members. We chisel, grind and vacuum melted ash off the shelving. In addition, the kiln’s interior is also brushed down and vacuumed, so old debris does not fall on new pots. Additionally, duties such as collecting, splitting and stacking wood take place year-round.
On the weekend of the firing, we convene to load and start the kiln. The site is abuzz with Chautauqua Area Potters. Ron runs the kiln, directing the wood stoking schedule and adjusting the kiln as it gradually increases in temperature. This is a 12-14-hour firing. Marv rearranges the kiln site with his rolling fork lift, moving wood stacks, building storage, directing splitting and stacking, etc.
Then, there is the food. Potters tend to be very good cooks, so the crew is well-fed. A highlight of the food scene is the brick oven pizza “kiln.” Making pizzas is a bit of a stone soup concept, with members preparing fresh dough and choice toppings. Finally, we celebrate the firing culmination with a toast, celebrating the journey, the people and the art.