Sunday, 14 February 2010

Kiln Building in 1990 -A pictorial essay.

After I stopped renting premises for my pottery, I had a big heap of materials, and the equipment I'd not managed to sell, racks and so forth, and a couple of big stacks of second hand firebricks on what had once been a garden at home.
I had a bit of space inside, enough to make a few pots, and just across the yard was a factory unit which made furniture frames out of kiln dried hardwood. It costs a business like that a lot of money shipping the offcuts away, so it was only natural that my brother and I put all the old fireplaces in the house back into use, installing a woodfired cast-iron stove with a water heating coil, too.
And of course, it was only natural that a pyromaniac potter would decide to knock down the raku kiln and build a nice little woodfire kiln. 
The kiln was a mashup, a hybrid. Well, up to the arch it was a strightforward Fred Olsen Fastfire,  I'd been in correspondence with Nils Lou some time previously, and he'd sent me his plans for what looks like a terrific kiln, the Minnesota Flat-Top, which I'd always planned to be my studio kiln, the place I eventually ended up renting refused to let me have a flame-fired kiln, due to their insurer's fears, and ignorance of the nature of kilns. So I had been all-electric there.
The MFT's roof was a compression structure, which allowed it to remain flat, with no fear of collapse. I liked that. I've built arches the hard way, cutting and shaping. With this, it's just standard bricks, on end, lightly buttered with clay slip, and clamped up by steel bars acting on the corners. I think I put hard firebricks in the corners to take the crush-load a bit better.
Here's a blow-by blow photosaga.
Concrete slab, 6", with reinforcing mesh, followed by a layer of flat-laid hard firebrick.

Firebox walls are hard firebrick. Two opposing equal fireboxes.

Floorslabs, from Butterley Brick, I paid for these, but they were very generous in letting me pick over their refractory seconds and scrap pile.

Walls were large K-23 insulating firebrick, bought very cheaply after they'd been used for the international potters-camp kils at Aberystwith. Lots of people wanted them, but few had the ability to truck them away. I had a big van and trailer.

Almost there!

Dill-the-Dog getting underfoot and stealing bits of wood to chomp on.
The chimney seen here was for use in drying-out, this was 8", it really needed a 10", rising to 12ft above the kiln floor. Door was bricked out of normal size K-23s, bagwalls were hard firebrick. Grates were welded out of 1" rebar, and angle sections, all sourced from construction site salvage.
Firing in 6 hours to 1300degrees C (2370degrees F)(stoneware), was quite easy, though I preferred closer to twelve hours, with a small fire lit the night before in the front firebox to ensure a dry start to the main firing.
Not too long after it was built, my source of dry hardwood went bust! Damn! No big problem, though, it could be fired on oil or gas with only a little alteration.
However. I was persuaded to start making stuff for a couple or three other potters, in their workshops, which I did for a while, making things that they could envisage but  lacked the ability to throw, so it was a mix of production and tutoring,  I still wanted to do my own thing though,  so I stopped all that, and started working in building and plumbing in order to try get the  taxman off my back. I was so disillusioned by my experiences with shops and galleries defaulting on payment to me, and me going into bankruptcy with a tax man threatening me on a regular basis, that I abandoned potting altogether until last year.


  1. It is good to know that materials do get used after Aber. Lucky you with a van!

  2. The Wife had a brief fling with pottery and she even did bit of that whole Raku thing-wonderfully scary bit of business that.

    The only other potter I know also gave it up after a moderate amount of success due to varied and sundry financial annoyances.

    If only there were some way to be an artist without all that bother of being a business person as well.

  3. gz: that was Aber, back in ooh'86? 87?
    Some of the students who'd got a free pass as volunteer workers mysteriously evaporated once they were on site, I'd gone as a ticket holder, but I'm an easy touch, so I said "gimme a job", and Paul Soldner said
    "Over here".
    It was memorable. I met some wonderful and inspiring people, had a great time, and came back with a vanful of goodies.

    How did you find your way to this blog? Didja google Aber, or something?

  4. Descartes: You have it there in a nutshell. To be successful you have to be good at self-promotion and business.
    I hated all that, just wanted to make pots. If I had the resources, I'd just make pots and leave them by the roadside for people to take or leave, as they wished.
    No more of that trying to set a value. Trying to explain why my stuff costs more than something plooted out by a machine.

  5. love the step by step photographs... someday maybe i'll tackle that. the picture of you're getting out of pottery is becoming more clear. nothing like the government for extracting the soul out of something.

  6. I came via Matt Grimmit's blog, I think.

    If that was 1987 that was the second festival at Aber (and the third one, the first being at Newport, Gwent)
    I had the dubious privilege of being the treasurer for the first one at Aber.
    That was a job and a half!!

  7. Jim, it's a long story, if I had a time-machine, maybe I'd go back and call tails instead of heads in a few places.
    But then... Maybe I would not have experienced some of the good things, met some of the good friends.
    If I'd stayed potting all that time, might I be burning out with it now? As it is, I'm re-lighting the flame, loving to see all the things that have happened whilst I've been away!

  8. gz. -I'm not sure which year it was... Ha. I did something really stupid just then. I called up a pic on my computer and checked properties! Of course, in the olden days, when we had 35mm film, mr Kodak didn't record what date and time and camera settings were used on every image...
    But, for your input to the potters camp at Aber, I thank you. I do know what goes into such events, having been involved in those same days with organising the Northern Potters Camp at Bretton Hall, and in running other shows.
    The ticket-paying visitor often seems to think these things happen by magic, they don't see the work that goes on months before, or after, or during, or realise that you spent half the night working.
    So here's a belated thanks. Have a bowlful of good karma!

  9. I could do with some!
    Getting my workshop going again and learning how to fire a gas kiln whilst getting the jobcentre to believe that I AM looking for a job in the rapidly shrinking jobmarket is not easy!!


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