Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tree Vase, wood-fired

This vase was fired in our wood-fired kiln during the last firing. It was up front where it got some heavy ash and flame. The finish - some blue clay from Ohio that a customer brought me - was brushed on thinly in two coats. There was so much happening on this pot that I thought I'd try to film it rather than take pictures. The front of the pot where it faced the firebox is quite glossy. The opposite side is a satin finish.

If you've got the bandwidth, I'd suggest watching it in a higher resolution by clicking on the play button and then changing the "240p" setting to at least "480." Or try 720HD and then click the lower right icon for full screen mode. Let me know what you think.

The vase at about 2300 degree F.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lots of Pictures of New Pots

Levi and I agree that this last firing is one of the best if not the best firing we've had so far. We fired the kiln in 13 1/2 hours to cone 13 in the front and cone 9 in the back. We didn't lose any pots to cracking, and we got a lot of nice ash and flashing throughout the kiln.

Here's a few pictures of some of the pieces:

porcelain slip/sgraffito


My local clay with rock dust ash glaze

Testing out a new flashing slip

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sneak Peeks

Here's a few shots from the front of the kiln, through the stoke door and from the above the door near the top of the kiln where we took a few bricks out to let some heat out. Temperature was around 500 degrees this morning.

We seemed to have knocked the bowl on the left off its wadding while stoking

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Soft Rain Better than Snow during Firing

Heavy smoke after a big stoke late in the afternoon

We fired the rest of the awards for the Uwharrie Mountain Run Wednesday. Firing started at 7 a.m. and we finished up at around 8:30 p.m. That's 13 1/2 hours, maybe our quickest firing yet. I preheated the kiln with a gas burner overnight and turned up the gas in the morning, adding small sticks from hardwood pallet scraps (Italian in origin) and then larger pallet scraps under the grates.

We took it easy up to about 1,000 degrees and then stoked heavy for the rest of the firing. Cone 12 was flat up front and cone 9 was down in the back when we stopped stoking. The picture at right shows a couple of pieces at the end of the firing just inside the kiln. It turned out to be a warmer day than forecasted earlier in the week, with soft rain instead of snow.

Seagrove Potter Phillip Pollet helped out toward the end of the firing.

Here's a little video of Levi stoking Wednesday afternoon, shot from the balcony of our home:

Friday, January 21, 2011

New Pitchers and a 'Kettle-inspired' Handle

I've been working on some six-pound pitchers this week, and a new type of handle (shown in the picture below) inspired by my wife Mary's tea kettle handle.

I added a small pad of clay on the inside of the handle,
which makes for a firmer grip when picking up the pot.
I also added a little lug on top of the handle, which Mary's
tea kettle did not have, but when I grasp the handle the lug
really helps.

I'm not sure about how the new handle looks.

This is a new shape I'm working on. I don't feel I'm
that good at this type of handle, but I felt the pitcher
would function best if its handle was near the pots
midsection and close to the side of the pot.

This handle is a little further down
and a little further away from the pot,
I like the other one better.

I think the shape of this pitcher's top portion
calls for a handle pulled off the pot.

I finished pugging my scrap clay today as well as working on the pitchers. Mary and I are going to Ireland for three weeks beginning February 6. Levi will be watching the place for us and making some great pots. When we get back Levi and I will be working on foot-soaking bowls again for another order. Only 45 this time, instead of 200.

We've got a show in Hickory the last weekend of March and then the Celebration of Spring in Seagrove in April. Geez, it's getting busy around here.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

RIP - Rock

One of my more peaceful times spent in the workshop was when I centered a leather-hard vase on my wheelhead then set the flat side of my small burnishing stone to the surface of the stiffened, semi-moist clay. Sitting at my wheel, breathing easily as the afternoon sun beaming through the window displayed the radiance of aligned clay particles forming underneath the smooth stone. Slowly raising the stone up the side of the vase, then down again, flipping the stone over to use its convex shape to reach into the curve of the pot's neck, flipping it over again and lightening my pressure to work the lip of the pot smooth.

I knew that stone as well as the unsighted knows a lover's face. I think about holding it against a pot and I experience that moment again, like a smell-awakened memory.

I loved that rock.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Good and Bad News

I've been wanting something to blog about, but I'd rather have had a different kind of experience to write about. I found my burnishing stone. I've had it since Mike Ferree - pottery instructor at Montgomery Community College - gave it to me back in the 1980s. I lost it last year.

It turned up in my clay mixer/pugger, a Peter Pugger. I was mixing scrap clay (pictured at right) today, and during the last load of the day, I stepped away to check some pots in another building while the mixer was on.


"Oh, &%^*," I said and ran to shut the machine down. I dug out all the clay by hand and didn't find anything. I dug some more in the far recess of a corner and found what I thought was a piece of glass, or maybe a piece of fired pottery. I found a couple more little pieces, set them aside and then I turned the pugger on again, and it clunked again. So, I turned it on and off quickly until I heard a scraping. Then I found something larger wedged between a blade and the side of the pugger. I took a piece of 2x4 and forced the blade backwards until I could dig out the larger piece, brought all the pieces into our house and washed them.

That's when I knew I'd found my burnishing stone.

Now, I've got to take apart the pugger and clean it well, and probably throw out that last batch of clay. I might have to grind off a sharp little ding on the pugger blade as well.

Pretty rock, isn't it?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Big Pot by Levi

For Christmas, I got my son Levi a wooden anvil and paddle for making large coiled pots. Today, while I was making some special order pots and loading a bisque kiln, he finished up a large pot that he started yesterday. I guess this means I'm going to have to give it a try as well. I actually ordered two anvils and paddles, one for me and one for him.

I'll share more pictures of the process when we get better at it. But from the looks of the pot below, Levi's getting the hang of it. He estimates he used about 50 or 60 pounds of Grogewemee 10 from STARworks Ceramics.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Firing One of Awards Unloaded

Awards: 8-milers, 20-milers, 40-milers and winners

I've been doing awards for the Uwharrie Mountain Run - a challenging, winter single-track trail run of 8, 20, and 40 miles in central North Carolina’s Uwharrie National Forest - for 20 years, and this year the organizers wanted to celebrate the 20th year with something special. So, I decided to fire them in my wood kiln using clay from the region around the Uwharries made at STARworks Ceramics in Star. The clay is called Okeewemee 10.

Dave Elam of Chapel Hill, a runner who is volunteering instead of running this year, brought by a bit of downed wood from the trail, and we added it to the kiln at the end of the firing Sunday. About 500 people sign up for the run. That's a lot of pieces to fit into my 25-cubic-foot kiln. We didn't fit them all in, so I'll be firing again soon.

We fired for about 18 hours, from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m., using pine and oak, and the dogwood from the trail.

A grouping of this year's awards

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Few Cracks, but Pots Look Nice

A look at some of the pots up front

I don't know what it is about firing in the freezing weather, but the last two loads we fired we had freezing weather. Sunday's firing went well, except having a few pots up front crack, and a little trouble getting the back of the kiln up to temperature. In the picture above, you can see three wads at the bottom middle of the picture where a stack of two larger preserve jars stood. These cracked, so I decided to pull them into the firebox early on. We also had a couple of smaller jars crack up front and one of the lugs on one of the larger jars pop off.

I pushed the large jars into drying on time before we loaded the kiln, and this may have contributed to weakening the bonding of the lugs onto the jars. I'm hoping the rest of the larger ones haven't lost any lugs. We'll see tomorrow when we unload. Also, I may have been a little overzealous with the fire early on when I started firing.

I am usually pulling out a few pots at this time in the cooling process. I managed to reach one 20-mile award from the front of the kiln. The picture at left shows the runner side of the piece that I pulled out which was facing to the left when in the kiln, so that most of the ash hit to the right of the runner and I got some nice flashing on the left side of the runner.

It seemed appropriate to take a picture of it on the ice.

Here's a little clip of Levi doing a stoke near the end of the firing. If you watch, notice the smoke after he puts the first log in. That's his glove burning.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Loaded and Firing

I borrowed Mary's little stool for loading

With wind gusts throwing the temperatures down into the teens, Levi and I loaded the kiln yesterday. Most of our energy was spent wadding the hundreds of different sized preserve jars that we created for awards for the Uwharrie Mountain Run the first weekend in February.

We got into a groove: squirt glue here,here,here,here... plop a wad here,here,here,here... At one point in the afternoon, I spent an hour unloading the last of the pots from the electric kiln and glazed the bisqued pots, while Mary took them over to Levi to do more squirting and wadding.

We did not get all the pots in the kiln. So, we'll be firing some more soon after this firing. It's 6:47 a.m. now, and I'm tending a slow fire in the kiln, just beginning to add some wood on top of the grates.

More later.

Front of the kiln

Friday, January 7, 2011

Five Hundred Pots - Will they fit?

Back of the kiln is nearly filled

Will I be able get all 500 pieces for the Uwharrie Mountain Run into the kiln? I think it'll be close. Levi and Mary spent the afternoon making "little bitty" wads of fireclay/sand/sawdust to place between the smaller jars while I cleaned shelves and posts. Then we all worked together to start loading the kiln. Levi wadded and put together two pots. Mary carried them out to me, and I placed them in the kiln.

One last bisque load is finishing up right now in the electric kiln, so we're cutting it close as usual. Firing day is Sunday. I wanted to have a day of rest before firing, but that doesn't always work out.

More pots waiting to be wadded

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

'Lugging' Jars

Work station for adding lugs onto 5-pound jars

I spent most of yesterday afternoon adding lugs onto 16 five-pound jars. I enjoyed changing the shape of the lug in subtle ways, and I wondered how I would use these lugs if I was actually using the pot to store food in. Would I grasp the lugs from above with my fingertips, or would I cradle the jar with my hands below the lugs?

I still pull my handles by hand. The picture at right shows three straps that I pulled and placed on a ware board to be used for lugs. I like using handles that I pull myself as opposed to using an extruder. I get a sense of satisfaction - "job well done, Michael" - when I look at all the pieces together after finishing the work and see the uniqueness of a pulled handle (or lug).

So here's a few pictures showing how I create lugs on these jars:

Finished jars

And if you still haven't seen enough about lugs and jars, here's a video: (I set camera to exposure lock when sun was behind clouds and it caused the video to be a little bright)