Saturday, October 19, 2013

Working Toward another Good Firing

Decorating another large vase for wood firing

I've got an upcoming show in Pensacola Florida the first weekend in November. The Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival is held Nov. 1,2,3. I'm firing the wood kiln next weekend, and I've been busy drawing trees and vines on five large vases I made last week.

These vases are somewhere around 20 inches high. The trees are the most labor intensive. I work for several hours on these. I'll be placing these in the wood kiln and firing in such a way as to maximize what we call flashing, and minimizing ash buildup.

Closeup of flashing on a pot
Flashing is where subtle coloring occurs on the surface of a pot due to the interaction of the clay surface with the volatile compounds of the flame. Too much ash buildup obliterates the color.

Placement of the pieces in the kiln is important, as well as how the kiln is fired. Placing a pot behind another pot protects it from too much ash buildup. If I decorate a piece with trees surrounding the entire pot, I will try to protect that pot from ash. If I decorate a piece only partially with trees, I can arrange the pot in the kiln such that the decoration is facing the back of the kiln so that the design isn't blasted by the flame and ash.

The picture below shows placement of pots in the front of the kiln. Top shelf for some reason doesn't get a lot of ash buildup in the very front of the kiln. Pots on shelves below it get a lot of ash, so the tree designs are facing the back of the kiln. The large pot at the top has three other large pots directly behind it, somewhat protected from the ash.

Front shelf

Ash buldup can be seen on left

Three vases ready for firing

Friday, October 11, 2013

Feedback Inspires

Wood-fired vase, 18 inches high

The picture above got a lot of attention when I posted it (along with a host of other pictures from the latest firing) on Facebook: 48 shares or more, and more than 100 likes, as far as I can tell, and I'm still getting feedback.

Nothing like positive feedback to inspire. I unloaded this pot during our annual kiln opening Oct. 5. I fired the kiln a little different this time, with a long "reduction cool" at the end. I let the temperature drop to 2,000 degrees and sealed it up, then stoked small fresh pine branches - a few at a time - for five hours as the kiln cooled to somewhere between 1,600 and 1,500.

I'll be repeating the technique during the next firing in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, I'm having fun with some new shapes. These are two-piece pots. The base is 10-12 pounds, the top, 4-5 pounds.

I'm including a few pictures from the last firing.

Three vases drying in studio, 18-20 inches high
Getting ready to lift one off the wheel
small bottle
Three small vases
Small vase
My high-iron local clay
My local clay
Three small jars

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Come by and Take Part in the Unloading

Normally, I'd be up in the morning today to begin unbricking my wood-fired kiln, but this weekend I'm giving my customers the chance to experience seeing the pots for the first time. I'm unloading Saturday morning beginning around 9 a.m. - the start of our annual R.D. Mahan Kiln Opening and Turkey Roast here at From the Ground Up (Oct. 5 and 6).

For me, unloading a kiln is significant, especially the wood kiln, since there is so much labor involved, and so much that can happen which is beyond my control. I enjoy spending time with each pot as it's removed from its place in the kiln. I think about why it looks the way it looks, what it might have looked like if it got more ash, was behind another pot or other such things.

"This one got a bit more reduction...."

"I like what the ash did here...."

"Nice color on this one...."

Of course, there's disappointments, too, and I usually take a moment to mourn the loss of that pot before moving on to the next one. Pottery making can be frustrating. Pots collapse, crack, warp. Glazes run, crawl, shiver. Kiln overfire, underfire. So, when a really nice pots come out of a kiln, it's very satisfying.

Come on by Saturday morning and take part. We live and work at 172 Crestwood Road, Robbins, NC, 27325. Ten minutes south of Seagrove, NC. See you then.


Looking in from the back of the kiln
The pots at the front
I really want to pick up that one at the far right.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

R.D. Mahan Kiln Opening and Turkey Roast

Come celebrate with us at our annual kiln opening this coming weekend, Oct. 5 and 6, all day long. We're unloading the wood kiln Saturday morning. It'll be filled with a variety of pieces created with my local clay, a rich dark clay body. Many of the pieces are adorned with my trees and tree limbs. It's up to the flame to decorate these pieces.

We're serving organic coffee and scones for breakfast, leek and potato soup and roasted turkey, as well as Mary's colcannon, an Irish potato dish. We'll be demonstrating on the wheel throughout both days, and the studio is stocked with new creations by Michael, Levi and Chelsea Mahan.

Michael has been busy incising trees through a slip

Two large vases for the kiln

Some small vases with trees

Solar drying some last-minute work - plates are a special order

BC says she's excited (NOT)

Friday, August 2, 2013

New Shape from Ireland

Old milk tankard in Ireland
We're back from Ireland and I couldn't wait to get on the wheel and make some pots. I found myself influenced by an old rusty milk churn or milk tankard I saw in Ireland at my brother-in-law's house. Mary grew up on a dairy farm, and back in the day, they used these tankards to carry the milk by horse-drawn cart to the creamery. I suppose I could call these "milk jugs." What do you think?
Four 'milk jugs'
I like this one best

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sausages and Sunshine

Laying arch brick

Percussive flare ups of small sausages in the cooker greeted me this morning as I stepped into the kitchen. A fine morning.
"Tis warm this morning," Mary's Mom says.
Indeed, it got up to nearly 80 yesterday and today should be warmer. Mary and I are going for a massage and then heading to Kilkenny to pack our rental car with 300-plus insulating fire brick. We found a great source for new brick - an old brick manufacturing plant that went out of business. I wrote about it in my last post.
The kiln has come along quickly in last few days, after an extended period of working willy nilly, according to the schedules of the family friends and who are helping out with welding and whatnot, and the availability of brick saws in working order. I have a great kiln shed. It's actually great weather for working beneath it, especially in the morning. Prior to the roof, I had to stop working for the rainy spells.
Ireland's weather is always changing. Wear a sweater in the shade, step out into the sun and take it off. Put it back on when the clouds shade the sun. This week it's sunshine for a week, followed by more sunshine, something that hasn't been experienced here for 20 years.
The smell of freshly cut hay mixed with occasional whiffs of burnt diesel from the tractors mowing, turning and bailing. Sunscreen on the nephews. Sweaty pale and freckled foreheads at the kitchen table. We take a lot of tea breaks....
It's been a challenge to create this kiln with brick and block taken from different sources. The base of the kiln now rests on large refractory block - five inches thick, nine inches wide and 12 inches long. There's a taper on the end of the block and it's makes for an interesting look. I like it. The six-inch wide secondhand arch brick I purchased last year from a ceramic supplier in Cork worked out great.
I keep hoping to finish the kiln in time to fire it before we leave, but with three weeks left, the chances of that happening look dimmer and dimmer. But it doesn't stop me from striving for that goal.
Kiln shed and kiln next to old barn
Fox eyes a magpie in freshly cut hay on the farm

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I want some Snickers

Errol Delaney with a handful of clay and his Snickers pants - and me.

It's been two weeks since arriving in Ireland, and I'm finally starting to build my kiln. I began stacking concrete block yesterday. These Irish block are heavy, and I'm feeling it in my legs - all the bending over and lifting and bending over and setting down - over a hundred block. Then there was the bending over and lifting and setting down we did when we moved the block from out on the main road to the Amazing Pottery Shed at Mary's mother's farm. Driveways in rural Ireland are often too narrow for delivery with large trucks. We're waiting for delivery of another few pallets of hard brick for the kiln and two RSJs, iron H-posts used for building barns and sheds. We found an old brick plant in Castlecomer that went out of business and they sold us some hard brick and soft brick at a great price. Errol Delaney was the man that sold it to us. He also showed us around the factory and helped us scoop up some fireclay, shale and some unfired brick that was piled up outside. Internet service is scarce at Mary's mother's house, so I'm writing this blog on our way to Limerick where 3G service is better and my 3G "dongle" actually works. Mary wants to buy me a pair of nice pants. I want a pair of Snickers. Errol wore a pair. Work pants with pockets everywhere. "You'd have a tool box in your pockets when you get home," he told us with lovely smile on his face. Slainte.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Heading to Ireland

Heading to Ireland today. It was three years ago that we purchased a 23 1/2-foot metal shed and constructed a footing on Mary's parents' farm so that we could work toward developing a place to make pots in Ireland. Today, I'm on my way to Ireland to build a wood-fired kiln. We are blessed with this opportunity. Here's a few pictures from Ireland, and one from the U.S. By the way, my son Levi is watching the shop while making his own pots while we're away. Stop by and visit him.
February 2011

What a beautiful send off on our way to the airport today

June 2011, helping stack reed in Ireland

Mary's mother Lally's rhubarb pie

Irish rook

The shed and kiln pad June 2012

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tavern Mugs

Tavern Mugs drying
I got a request the other day to make 12 "tavern mugs" for a fundraiser. They want them to hold 16 ounces - a pint. So, I made some of my big steins, the kind that I pull the handle from the bottom. I'm not sure what led me to try pulling handles from the bottom of mugs or steins, but I've been doing it for several years now on certain ones.

I like making big steins. I think I'll call them tavern mugs now. I like that. Conjures up images of crusty men with beards and mustaches sitting at round wooden tables in a dimly lit tavern.

So, I figure a tavern mug should have a wide bottom to prevent knocking it over, and it should have a substantial handle that you can grip with your entire hand. Here's some pictures of me making my "tavern mugs."

Attaching stub of clay to bottom
Supporting wall with sponge-on-a-stick
Pulling handle
Attaching to top of mug

Shaping the handle
Finishing join (mug is held firmly onto work surface)

Finished handle

two finished tavern mugs

Friday, April 26, 2013

Making more Adjustments to Kiln Arch

Opening the Kiln from the Top
Hi everyone. It's been a while. Guess I've been Facebookin' more than bloggin'. Thought I'd share a little bit of behind-the-scenes work that might be of interest to some folks. I've been dealing with some brick-slipping issues in the arch of my wood kiln. I ignored it for a while - it was just one brick.

However, the brick kept slipping. This being the first kiln I ever built, I asked around and other potters said to not worry. But the brick kept slipping. I decided to open the top of the protective shell where the slippage was occurring. I did this a few weeks ago, and I ended up pushing the one offending brick out of the top of the arch, and replacing it with a new brick of the same shape, slathering some wet fireclay onto the surfaces where it was slipping past other bricks.

I thought the new brick fit tighter, and this might solve my problem. I also got a better view of the key at the very top of the arch which had cracked near the offending brick quite a while ago. What I concluded was that the jagged crack had kept one section of the key from settling back down during expansion and contraction while the kiln heated up and cooled.

I decided to cut into the crack to try to allow the two pieces of the key to settle evenly, but my saw blade would only go about halfway into the crack.

After all this, I replaced the kaowool insulation and the protective shell that I had cut away, and proceeded to fill the kiln and fire it.

Upon unloading, I found that I now had two bricks slipping, and they were slipping further than the previous single brick. So, it was time for more drastic measures. Lucky for me,  kiln builder Andres Aillik of Estonia who helped build some wood kilns in Seagrove was in town. He and David Stuempfle (wood fired potter) dropped by yesterday and we decided the best thing to do would be to cut a small section of the key out of the kiln (including the crack), grind the crack smooth and place it back where it belongs, leaving a small space between it and the other sections of the key.

So, I borrowed Ben Owen's gas-powered concrete saw, drove to Carthage for a new abrasive blade and did what was required. I had to support the section of arch from where I was removing the key, then remove two arch brick on either side of the key section I would remove.

Perhaps, it will all make sense when you see the pictures:

Here's the previous repair with the new brick and crack showing.

Supporting arch for today's repair work

Bricks and key section removed (rope held key section during cutting)

Don't want crud slipping between brick or onto pots.

Finished job. Hope it works.