Friday, October 30, 2009

Preparations and pressure continue

There's no going back. I've committed myself. But I'm apprehensive about the transition from firing electrically to firing with wood.

Yesterday, I spent an hour or so stacking a pile of hardwood with my wife, Mary, thinking, "There's so much preparation with a wood kiln." I tried to get into the zen of stacking wood, but I just wanted to get it done so I could get back to my wheel and make some small pots for the first firing in my Manabigama. It's that time of year when I feel pushed to produce as much pottery in as little time as possible.

I've still got to cut shelves, figure out posts for shelves, complete the grates for the firebox....

Choosing the next pot for the bisque kiln. Pots above are bisque-fired, ready for a little glazing. Most will go in the kiln as is. Maybe some glaze inside, but I'm going to allow the kiln firing to do most of the decorating.

Loading a bisque kiln. I'm bisque firing all the pieces for this firing, but in the future I will be firing raw pieces. I just want to get a feel for the kiln first.

Stacking more wood

I need to add some pine to this and I'll be ready.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Celebration is sneaking up on me

I'll be going to the Celebration of Seagrove Potters again this year, and I'm behind on getting some work to the organizers of the festival for the two auctions. All my energy is going toward firing my first load of pots in my new wood-fired kiln. There are so many preparations to make. I keep thinking of something else: door for the stoke hole, posts and kiln wash for the shelves, new glazes, cutting pipe for the fire grate....

Meanwhile, you can see the latest work from some of the potters who will be attending the festival, Nov. 20-22. Go to for more information.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stoke hole design and David's kiln

Stoke hole is laid out in front of my kiln

How many different ways can you construct a stoke hole? Well, I've thought of many different ways, and finally came up with this design for the time being. My hole will be about 10 inches wide and 9 inches high. The bricks on either side of the hole are cut diagonally in the back so I can shove the wood left or right if needed. The block above and below the hole will have to be cut 1 3/8 inches shorter to fit in the space of the opening.

I drove over to David Stuempfle's yesterday to check on his kiln-building progress and ask a couple of stoke hole-related questions. He and Andres Allik from Estonia were busy mixing what looked like refractory mortar or castable while Keith Cagle dug into the surrounding earth with a box blade behind his tractor, doing some grading around the kiln. Keith had delivered a load of firewood to my place earlier in the morning. He gets around.

David assured me that my "brick elbow" would heal, and offered some advice on building the stoke hole on my kiln.

David's kiln in progress

Keith on his tractor

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wood delivered... Now, for some Pots

We stacked a load of wood around the kiln and are getting another load today. I've got to cut my shelves and some brick to fill in under the arch after loading.

Oh, yeah. Gotta make some pots!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Stucco Finished

Yesterday, I spent the day laying stucco onto the top of ceramic insulation which was laid on top of the arch of my new Manabigama wood-fired kiln I am building. The stucco protects the insulation and gives the kiln a finished look.

I opted for a small galvanized pale for measuring the amount of sand, clay, perlite, mortar and portland cement for my stucco mixture, and used heavy duty rubber gloves to protect my hands from the caustic cement mixture.

Start with ten parts perlite, six parts clay, six parts sand. Secure my respirator and mix by hand in the wheel barrow. Add four parts mortar and four parts Portland Cement. Mix by hand. Add water and mix by hand. Add more water and mix by hand several times until I reach the correct consistency. Catch my breath and begin to form patties and lay them onto the arch of my new kiln. Spread out with a small trowel and smooth down every now and again.

I think it took seven wheel barrow loads to finish up with nothing to spare.

Twelve hours later, I stepped up the stairs to have dinner and turned around to look at the kiln in the light of a couple of incandescent bulbs. That's a beautiful kiln.

First layer of ceramic insulation

Correct consistency of stucco

Cardboard protects insulation, wire strengthens stucco

Working around a spyhole

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Metal work completed

Jerry Darnell of Mill Creek Forge and Blacksmith Shop just down the road from me did my metal work for my new kiln the other day, but it took me a couple of days to get the pictures uploaded and edited because of some software update issues that are playing havoc on my Mac.

If you're in the area, please stop by his shop on Busbee Road. He's got some great items in stock and a few pots on display as well. You'll probably find him shaping a piece of iron on his anvil. He's always at work.

It took a day and a half to create what I wanted, and Jerry worked hard, while I helped out as much as possible. It's hard work lifting and moving the 1/4-inch angle iron in his small workspace, which is not set up as a welding facility.

"I went to school so I wouldn't have to do this kind of work," he said as perspiration dripped down his face. "My father did this kind of work for a living. It's hard work."

Thanks, Jerry.

Jerry disappeared into one of his many rooms inside the self-built wooden structure to cut something on his band saw.

Here he's cutting some metal with a torch.

Grinding metal with an electric grinder.

MIG welding. MIG - Metal Inert Gas. Some hot stuff.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Chimney Completion leads to Relaxation

I finished my chimney today. I was tired of the ladders, the clay slurry and slip, the rough hard brick. I laid down on the grass. No pillow. Just soft grass beneath my head, soft grass on top of hard clay and dirt. The sky was blue. Not a cloud. Breezy. A big Monarch butterfly fluttered by. A frog chattered in the garden. Carpenter bees. And every now and then some soft white fluff drifted by high up in the air.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Finishing the Chimney

Twelve or thirteen feet up on a roof that wiggles. It makes me hesitate when I step onto a six-foot long by one-foot wide scaffolding made from two-by-fives and 1/4-inch plywood. The wiggle plays with my sense of balance as I stand next to a solid brick chimney that seems to move every now and then.

I began stacking brick above the peak of my roof today. I have three more feet to go before I can stop the endless transfer of heavy refractory brick up one ladder onto a scaffolding below the roof, then up another ladder to the scaffolding above the roof, two bricks at a time, 16 bricks for each course on the chimney.

I looked down the chimney and imagined flames spiraling up, pots vitrifying in the kiln. It gave me a bit more impetus to keep up the work.

Can I stand on that?

Two feet on the scaffolding and two hands on the chimney allow me to feel safe

And then I eventually begin work on the rest of the chimney, one brick at a time.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Opening a success

The R.D. Mahan Kiln Opening and Turkey Roast Saturday was a blur of excitement, reminiscing and catching up with old friends. Chad Roberts wrote a great post about the day at Now, it's back to kiln building as soon as the rain stops. I'm building the chimney through the roof now.

Bottom row: left to right, Fish Campers Al Cook and Chad Roberts. Top: stepmother Helen Mahan, Michael Mahan, Fish Camper Andy Bean, brother Randy Mahan.

In tribute to my father's love of the water, Al Cook and I launched my canoe into my pond and placed a fishing rod inside.

When my stepmother walked into our showroom after several years of having not visited, she was smiling big, loving the way the place looked.

"Ron (my father, who died of cancer in '92) would be proud," she said.

Friday, October 2, 2009

R.D. Mahan Kiln Opening, Turkey Roast

The first pot I threw for my new wood-fired kiln is displayed inside the kiln next to a picture of my father, who died of cancer in October, 1992. It seems appropriate to pay homage to him as it is he who gave me the determination and drive to manifest my dreams. So, come by and eat some turkey and Irish spuds during our R.D. Mahan Kiln Opening and Turkey Roast Saturday, Oct. 3.

As it so happens, Saturday is the wedding anniversary of Mary's parents. Her father died earlier this year, and we planted a tree near the kiln in honor of her father. My children bought the tree for Mary after we returned earlier this year from a trip to Ireland to attend the funeral of her father, Willie Holmes.

I believe some good pots are going to come out of this kiln. I tried to finish building it in time for the kiln opening, but ran out of time.

I will be opening my electric kiln Saturday with a variety of pots, but you'll have to wait for the wood-fired pots.


Mary's mother sent Mary a picture recently of her parents taken in 1962. They're the couple on the right. Yes, that's milk they're drinking. And much to Mary's surprise, they're both smoking a cigarette, which they didn't do, according to Mary. It was taken the year they married.