We’re living with The Kiln Whisperer

So, most of y’all have seen the little wood-fired kiln Cetty and Joe built, so that she could do some raku.

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And this is awesome, but it does have some downsides. Tim has to chop wood for it, and stay ahead of Cetty using it (that’s not a problem, he loves to chop wood – but he doesn’t always have the time, even when he wants to). The smoke from the fire in the kiln affects the glaze differently than the piece would be affected should the smoke not get baked into the glaze as it’s doing its thing. You have to constantly feed the wood into the fire, and the temperature goes up and down a lot while you’re trying to get it to just go up. It’s hella fun, though! We do not want to get rid of the wood-fire kiln, especially with how much fun everyone had at our last Open House. But weekly raku firings would be easier if we had an electric kiln with which we could do raku. And that can’t be my big kiln. Let’s call her… Bessie. Bessie is already under heavy use for bisque and glaze firings, I can’t give her up for raku.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, my friend Jenn was gifted an old kiln. Long time readers and friends may remember that Jenn’s old Duncan kiln sat on my porch for years; it allegedly worked, but when I fired it, nothing happened. So it sat there until I desperately needed the space when I bought Bessie (retiring my original kiln, that G-ma had bought new in 1965 – let’s call that kiln … Abby. Yes, if I buy a new kiln, I will start her name with “C”.). So, I was retiring Abby but couldn’t bear to pitch her after 45 years of faithful service, and I was getting Bessie. So Jenn’s old Duncan had to go, and it went onto our backyard neighbor’s back porch where it lived for a couple more years. Eventually I gave both Abby and Jenn’s old Duncan kiln to my brother-in-law Issac, hoping that when Cetty and Joe were staying with them for a while, that Joe would be able to cobble the two kilns together to make something Isaac could use for his glasswork (that never happened – Isaac wound up buying a new kiln a few weeks later when a place near him was having a sale).

ANYWAY. In return for some acupuncture work, Jenn was given this old kiln. Joe went out to her house to help plug it in and make sure it worked, and, sadly, it didn’t. So Jenn gave it to us, so we could take it apart and use the brick to rebuild the wood-fire kiln (let’s just start calling that one Woody), because it is going to need new brick and a rebuild in a couple more firings. Tim went over to Jenn’s… I guess it was last Thursday, and picked up The Little Red Kiln, and brought it home.

Joe promptly set to seeing if he could fix it the next day, and while he was able to get it to the point where it would start firing, it would never get above 900 degrees – and we need about 1750 for the glazes, so Little Red Kiln was a no-go for anything other than brick.

However, the next day, Saturday? Joe and Cetty went out to Amy and Isaac’s to help them with some work at the park, and… they came home with a kiln. Not just any old kiln, but Jenn’s Old Duncan! Which even though the bottom had fallen off, and what was left of the bottom was pretty much punched through getting it sideways shoved into the back of Cetty and Joe’s PT Cruiser, well… it could also still be used for brick.

Except that Joe was certain that with some of the parts from the Little Red Kiln, and by bypassing some things on the Old Duncan… maybe he could get one working kiln out of those two. Enough, anyway, that we could use it as a raku kiln when we don’t feel like firing up Woody.

However….

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… in retrospect, maybe I should have been a little more forceful in asking Joe if he really, no, REALLY was 100% certain that firing a kiln with the bottom blown out was truly, REALLY safe on a wooden dolly. Perhaps I should have asked him three or four times, instead of just once.

Well, at least they didn’t burn my studio down.

That was… it was a day I was running a million errands, so I wasn’t actually home when that happened. Tuesday, it was. The plan, then, was for us to get more fire brick with which we could build a new bottom for Ol’ Sparky, there, and submerge him about a foot or so into the ground and use him as an electric raku kiln. I will get more into this in a moment.

Wednesday, Tim and I had plans to run to Atlantic Pottery Supply, which is where I get my clays from now. While we were there, I mentioned that our next stop was some sort of fire brick store that Tim had found, because we were interested in getting more fire brick for Woody, and some for a new bottom for Sparky. The lovely lady behind the counter cocked her head, thought a moment, and said, “well, how would you like that?”… and I looked over into the corner she was indicating, and there was a kiln there! She allowed as how they’d already cannibalized it for almost everything they could, so if I would just haul it away, I could have it. Tim and I look at each other. Will it fit in the Rav….?

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Well buy me a Cadillac and call me Elvis! It fits! Along with a little over 350 pounds of clay and slip.

We came home, unloaded it, and within minutes, Joe, the Kiln Whisperer, was having his way with it, cannibalizing parts from Little Red and Old Duncan, and damned if he didn’t get it working just fine. Can you believe this?!

So. Old Duncan is going to be taken apart, and the brick used to help rebuild Woody. I’m not sure if Little Red will be taken apart to add to that, though, because Tim really wants to try converting it to a small gas kiln. And this one we brought home yesterday…

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… has already been lowered into that hole, where it’ll be hooked up to electric and also a pulley system attached to the tree above it to help with opening the lid — it’s way too hot, at 1750/1800 degrees to just lift it up with your hands. And then Cetty will have an electric raku kiln; it’ll basically just turn on and keep getting hot until we turn it off, but the lack of carbon and smoke within it will allow Cetty to get some truer colors with her glazes. And soon we’ll rebuild Woody (and also finally build a pole barn above everything, so we can stop covering everything with tarps).

Y’all can thank Tim for this post, because he wanted me to write it all up while it was fresh in our heads, so that a year from now we’d remember the week we got so many kilns, correctly!

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