Saturday, September 26, 2009

Time for Break from Building Kiln

I have reached a point in building my Manabigama where I feel comfortable taking a break and making some pots. I spent the day building about a third of the chimney to the point where I will corbel the brick and construct a smaller version which will extend through the roof of the kiln shed.

I had been carrying brick to another potter and using his wet saw, but today I changed to a diamond bit on my Makita circular saw and took advantage of a misty day that kept the dust down to a minimum. I still used a heavy duty mask and goggles.

Tomorrow, it's back to making pots for my kiln opening next weekend.

The catenary arch ends and the chimney begins.

Layers of brick dust covers the saw.

The kiln is ready for iron bracing now. And I'm ready for a break.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Kiln takes shape

Manabigama's beauty begins to shine

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Form succesfully removed

I was tapping some shims on all four corners of the bottom of the form that I used to lay the arch to my Manabigama - a few taps on one end, a few taps on the other end - slowly lowering the form, listening to small bits of clay and chips of brick drop and slide down the Masonite covering on the form, hoping that's what I was hearing, and not actual bricks sliding or moving....when Seagrove potter Jared Zehmer showed up. We decided we could pull the form out, and I kept saying we needed to be careful. I think we can do it, he said, not realizing how heavy it was. We got it a third of the way out and stopped there. I called my friend and potter Jeffrey Dean, and the three of us succesfully pulled it out, carefully and succesfully. I'll post some better pictures tomorrow. Thanks Jeffrey and Jared. And thank you Wil for the help stacking some more brick today.

While in Greensboro yesterday picking up
bags of Pacocast 28 Li and rolls of Kaowool
for the arch of the kiln, I snapped a quick
shot of this guy on his Harley.
Click on the picture and you'll
see he's smoking a cigarette.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Arch work nearly complete

Work on the arch yesterday was slow and steady. I used most of my 590 three-inch thick standard straight brick. I think I'm left with about 15 or so. I tried to conserve them by using other brick like 6 x 9's and some 13 1/2's and a few 24-inchers. The 590 number was what Jeffrey Dean, David Steumpfle and I each wound up with after counting all of these brick. I'll be using some standard-sized "Derbys" to build the chimney.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Channeling my Father

I'm channeling my father's energy, I think. We've scheduled a kiln opening on Oct. 3, and I wanted to create an annual commemoration of my father, so we're calling the kiln opening the R.D. Mahan Kiln Opening and Turkey Roast. My brother, Randy, has agreed to deep fry a couple of turkeys for the event. I should be making pots, but I'm making a kiln instead, and working to get it finished and fired for the kiln opening - Oct. 3.

When my father had a dream, he made it a reality. No stopping him. When I was a kid, he opened up a boys camp in the Florida Keys and taught hundreds of young kids how to fish, dive, ski and sail among other things. He leased an island off the coast and built a camp there. He kept the camp operating for 12 years. You can read about Fish Camp (and see a better picture of my father) on my other blog, one I share with others who attended the camp.

When he decided to open up the camp, he applied to the Miami Boat Show to set up a booth advertising the camp. He missed the deadline. He didn't let that stop him. He rented two rooms at a hotel across the street from the boat show, one for him to sleep in and one to serve drinks and hors d' oeurves. Then he talked the owner of the hotel into letting him launch a boat, rigged with outriggers and fishing poles, in the pool.

The day after the first day of the boat show, The Miami Herald featured a story on the boat show - underneath a story on Fish Camp. Parents signed their kids up that weekend, and my father used the money to buy equipment for the first year of Fish Camp.

So, don't tell me I can't do it. By the way, he's cleaning out the bait freezer in the picture above.

Eyeballing a course of hard brick on the arch of the kiln

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Kiln work continues after short break

I've been working for the past several days nonstop until yesterday when I had to take a break from it all and get a fresh perspective this morning. I'm now ready to lay the arch of the kiln.

The arch form is in place and I laid down a trial run of the arch brick.

Working on the walls earlier in the week

A view from above with the walls complete, and ready for the arch

Building the arch form

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Manabigama's beauty takes shape soon

Manabigama translates "a beautiful learning kiln," according to the designers. I bought the plans for this kiln in early August, built a tool shed, a kiln shed and finally started construction of the actual kiln on Sept. 4. Eleven days later, it's beginning to finally look like a kiln.

I've worked every day for the past 11 days, taking breaks to keep an eye on the shop and make a few pots here and there. I think I could have been further along if I had ordered the kit that Larkin Refractory sells for the Manabigama. But I, and two other potters, stumbled upon a bunch of refractory material earlier in the year (picture at right) and I spent many hours trying to figure out how to alter the plans for the kiln in order to use some big refractory block I have.

But finally I decided to stick to the design that potter John Thies sent me. The plans call for 2 1/2-inch thick brick. I've got 3-inch thick brick, so I have to keep counting brick in the plans and photographs on the cd that came with them and then multiplying by 2.5 and then dividing by 3 to figure out how many courses of 3-inch brick it takes to make the same or close to same measurements in the plan. Today I spent an hour or more scraping off old mortar from some soft brick that I cut with a saw over at another potter's place yesterday.

It's the first time I've built a kiln and John's been very helpful, guiding me along and giving me advice and encouragement. I've been determined to get the kiln finished in time to fire it for our next kiln opening, Oct. 3. As that date fast approaches, I'm beginning to think I may have bit off more than I can chew.

Anyway, the photo below shows my kiln's firebox and the ware bed behind it where I'll be stacking pots if I can manage to make some before I finish the kiln. I hope to soon be building the arch (that's where the beauty of the kiln will begin to shine):

Monday, September 14, 2009

I like a Laser Level

Progress seems slow right now on building my Manabigama. Lots of measuring, cutting, figuring and adjusting. Of these three tools, I'm using the level most, the square next and the laser leveler last. But I like the laser. It can do what the other two tools do but in a different way. It'll shoot two beams at a 90-degree angle to each other, so it can be used like a giant square. I used it when I started laying brick for the ware bed of the kiln, which is on top of concrete blocks next to the firebox (shown here).

I had to quit early today to go the a meeting for the Celebration of Seagrove Potters, Nov. 21 and 22. We picked our booths tonight.

You don't see this many potters
in one room very often

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Quick update on Kiln Building

I didn't have time for posting yesterday. We had a customer at 5:30. Mary was upstairs getting ready for the Zoo-to-Do, and then she came downstairs to take over (wearing her little black dress) while I got ready. We had a great time at the zoo as usual.

So, this morning I'll share these photos before getting back to the brick laying:

(Oh, by the way, Ed and Gloria Henneke (parents of Samantha of Bulldog Pottery) ended up buying the three birds by Asheboro artist Mike Durham. Gloria was thrilled and Ed said they would place them in their new solarium.)

Kiln update:

Not a great picture, but I like this pattern I came up with to cover the air intake holes. I used 6 x 9 bricks as a bonding course on the side walls, and one 6 x 9 on each outer corner along with standard sized brick, leaving a small space in each corner so that I could alternate the joints.

This is as far as I got yesterday. The grate holes were formed by cutting a 6 x 9 brick in half and laying them into the space created for them.

Word spreads fast around here, and this small chicken came by to have a look at my progress. I guess it's a chicken. It looked as if it had chicken feet, at least.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Five Courses on the Firebox

I was a bit nervous today when I finally got everything lined up to start stacking firebrick for my "manabigama" kiln today and dipped the first brick into a slurry of bonding clay and water. It took a few courses for me to get into a groove. Then, a local pottery student (Michael) came by to help out and we stacked together for another couple of hours before I quit for the day.

I was hoping to get to the point where I would need to make a couple of cuts with potter Ben Owen's masonry saw that he said I could use, but I didn't get that far. Tomorrow, I'll get there.

I made sure my corners were square (but I had to lift up those bricks in the front. The bricks that are pulled out represent air intake holes and those holes were on the next course). The aluminum foil acts as a vapor barrier and heat deflector.

That's more like it. I replaced those front brick and then filled in the space in the middle with some wedge bricks. I have a lot of wedge bricks with no real use for wedge bricks, so I'm always looking for places to use them. I figured the floor of the firebox wouldn't need to be level so I sloped the floor into the middle.

Now it's time for the air intake holes. I'm dipping a brick into the slurry before setting it.

Five courses and my level shows I'm spot on. Good enough for a fastidious potter.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Time for a Break at the Zoo

This evening Mary and I took a break and joined a host of potters and artists at the N.C. Zoological Park for a picnic dinner and preview of work that we artists donate to the annual fundraiser put on by the NC Zoo Society called the Zoo-To-Do.

The three birds above are the work of artist/potter Mike Durham of Asheboro. Recycled saws, motorcycle gas tanks, yard rakes, garage door rollers, etc. Everything's recycled. Durham, a former art teacher, told me he's only got a few gas tanks left from a trip to a local motorcycle junkyard a year ago when he came home with a pickup truck full of them.

The Zoo-To-Do is this Saturday. According to the Zoo Society website, proceeds from this fundraiser will fund Project: Polar Bear - "major renovations that will enlarge the exhibit enough to accommodate six Polar Bears and will supply a denning area for pregnant females."

Mike Durham checks out
a pot donated by Seagrove
Potter Jared Zehmer

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

First Pot with New Stamp

I took some time during a busy day of packaging and mailing pots, cutting insulating refractory brick (see below), blogging and taking care of customers to throw a couple of pots. This one is the first pot I threw for my new wood-fired kiln (additional brick are arriving Thursday). I threw half a bag of Star White, a clay body using local clay, made in Star, NC (Starworks Ceramics). My youngest son, Levi, created the stamp just a few weeks ago. The finished pot, below, is swelled out from the inside after stamping.

I've got these oddly shaped insulating brick. Their length is correct, so I created a form to hold the size of a normal brick and cut the rest off.

Tree platter for flute maker

I am honored to be sending this platter to my flute maker, Patrick Olwell, and his new wife, in Nellysford, Va. I have a friend in Ireland who plays traditional Irish flute among other instruments, and he plays one of Patrick's flutes. He got a group of Irish musicians to go in together on the wedding gift, a 16-inch platter, decorated with one of my handmade tree stamps, and stained with red iron. If you happen to be into traditional Irish music, you might recognize some of the names on the back.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Kiln god

Kiln God will be set in the block below the kiln to bring us good firings in the future.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Stacking a few brick for firebox

I'm using brick that are three inches thick. Plans for this kiln use 2 1/2-inch-thick brick, so I have to make adjustments. The holes in the front will draw air into the fire box. The wood will be above the air intakes. The ware bed (where the pots will be located) will be on top of the concrete box, as well as the chimney.

Even though it was a dry run, it felt good to be stacking some brick. Having never built a kiln, I have a lot to learn, and I learned a lot by just stacking these brick.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

First layer of block complete

I completed the first layer of block this afternoon. Easy laying for the next two layers, then I'll have to wait for a few brick that I ordered from Larkin Refractories to arrive before I start laying the brick.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Leveling up first layer of concrete block

The man who poured my concrete put a little crown in the center of the slab, I guess to shed water, but all it did for me was create a lot of work in trying to get the first layer of concrete block laid. I found the highest spot on the slab and used my laser leveler to shoot a laser over to the 4x4 posts surrounding the area where I was going to lay the block.

I nailed up two nice and straight boards and strung a string across the slab to give me a reference for keeping the block level. The picture below shows one of the nice and straight boards and the string and one of the little wooden doo-thingys that bricklayers use to keep the brick at the same level.

Below, you can see how the mortar is thicker at the left, getting thinner with each block to the right. I'm not a brick or block layer, so it took me a couple of hours to lay this much, and I sure wished that I had told that concrete guy to make the slab flat and level. Live and learn....

The kiln's ware bed where pots are placed inside is built on top of several levels of concrete block. The firebox is closer to the level of the ground, to the right of the block in the picture.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Kiln building begins soon

People keep asking me if I've made pots for my kiln. Well, no. I've got to build the kiln first. Like, I'm not going to have time to make pots after the kiln is built or something, or I better get started on the pots, 'cause it takes a lot of pots to fill a wood kiln. Well, it'll all fall into place. My concrete block came today and I spent the afternoon sweeping the clay dust off the slab and measuring and laying a few blocks down to get ready to build. I spent the day glazing and loading my electric kiln and pondering the pots I'll make for the first firing.