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black raku

updated wed 25 apr 01


Matthias Arnold on fri 11 jul 97


I have been wondering about how the traditional Raku Black was achieved. By
now, I only learned that different books are telling me different stories,
- at highest temperature, take the piece out of the kiln, it will get
black while cooling in the air
- at highest temperature, take the piece out of the kiln, put it in cold
water, it will get black
(wouldn't the bowl burst into thousands of pieces?)
- at highest temperature, take the piece out of the kiln, put it in a
container with wood wool or fine shavings, and it will become black
(thats what a modern potter told me)
Does anybody know of books, where those old techniques are reliably
(understandable) described?

many thanx
matthias on sat 12 jul 97

Your request to identify books gives me an irresistable excuse to cite my

Raku, by Chris Tyler and Richard Hirsch, 1975, Watson Guptill. It is now,
alas for the recipients of royalties, out of print.

On the subject of black raku it says: "The black glaze was made from
special stones found in the river Kamo. Kamogawa stone is still used as it
is apparently a satisfactory material containing a natural mixture of iron
and silicic acid....The temperature of the water used to cool the glazed,
fired pot remainsa secret transmitted from master to disciple." (p. 17). The
thermal shock factor is significant. Howard Shapiro, the American potter
who had visited Japan and had worked in the Raku factory (the raku
family still makes the real raku which sells for unimaginable prices, but
there is a "production facility" which makes medium priced work) and had
visited Raku-san in the 1970's, told me that the original black raku was
dunted as a result of the thermal shock. The distinctive sound which
dunted ware gives when struck is valued in the zen experience of the
tea ceremony with raku vessels.

Post firing reduction was not used by the Japanese, and is generally held
to have been specifically invented by the American potter, Paul Soldner,
in 1960 at Scripps College, California. (See our account on pp. 25-27).
Other potters, such as Hal Riegger experimented with post firing in the
late 1940's at Haystack, Maine, and Jean Griffith on the west coast.
Soldner does not claim sole credit. Certainly, black Japanese raku has
nothing to do with post firing.

Leach's A Potter's Book is the best starting point for readable, first hand
accounts of Japanese techniques. His knowledge is related to Kenzan's
use of the technique, which is not the same as the Raku family's. On of
the most intriguing links in the raku story is Warren Gilbertson, a graduate
of Alfred who worked in Japan as a potter in 1938 for two years while
he was a CIA agent (or so Dan Rhodes, who knew him at Alfred, told
me). When he returned to the USA, he held an exhibition of 350 works at
the Chicago Art Institute in 1941. Dan Rhodes states that some of these
were raku. Gilbertson wrote an article in the Bulletin of the American
Ceramic Society, vol 22, no. 2, pp. 41-44 called The Making of Raku Ware.
Its emphasis is on the use of raku as an elementary introduction to
ceramics, but I seem to remember it is useful. It would certainly be a
source of information based on directly on traditional Japanese
techniques. Gilbertson was killed in a car accident in 1954.

In most cases, the traditional flux was lead. Anyone trying to duplicate
traditional techniques would have to deal with that problem.

Thanks for asking.

Inge Jung on sun 13 jul 97

I am a little confused about what you mean in terms of "Black Raku".
Are you talking about a black glaze, or about the reducing procedure after
the piece comes out of the kiln and then going into the reductioncan.
Raku-glazes in general get their colors when they are placed in a reducing
atmosphere. You also get a nice black claybody that way.
Write me back if you have more questions.
I do a lot of Raku. Maybe I can be of some help.
My e-mail address:


stevemills on sun 13 jul 97

I always understood that the original black Raku was made using a
naturally occuring high manganese mud stone found (and now all gone!!)
in the Kano river in Kyoto. The resulting pots were fired to about
1200oC and then quenched. This was winter style Raku. Source:Raku by
Dickerson,published a long(ish)time ago by Studio Vista,
In message , Matthias Arnold writes
>----------------------------Original message----------------------------
>I have been wondering about how the traditional Raku Black was achieved. By
>now, I only learned that different books are telling me different stories,
Steve Mills
@Bath Potters Supplies
Dorset Close
Tel:(44) (0)1225 337046
Fax:(44) (0)1225 462712

Timothy Dean Malm on tue 15 jul 97

My information is experiential. In Tokoname, Japan at Tanikawa Shunyo's
studio we fired black raku. The temperature we fired at was fierce
(in comparison to my previous experience with raku firing). Pieces were
pulled and set out to cool. The black glaze we used included lead.
Tanikawa was taken aback when some individuals expressed concern for the
use of lead. I brought home a lovely black raku teabowl made by Tanikawa
Shozo, son of Tanikawa Shunyo. Shunyo's bowls were so highly prized as to
be w-a-y out of my ability to purchase.

Tim Malm
IWCAT '87 (International Workshop in Ceramic Arts at Tokoname)

Steven Branfman on tue 24 apr 01

original message:
Subject: raku reduction

I have just begun trying some raku. I have a good glaze that works well for
me. The problem I seem to be having is the bare areas of the pot where
there is not any glaze don't get that black.( gray rather than black) I use
standard 119 clay. I have tried reducing with newspaper, straw and pine
needles, the newspaper seems to do the best. I fire to between 1800 - 1900
degrees, this is the temp where my glaze will lay down. So my question is
what can I try to get that nice deep black that you see on raku?>>


Intense black clay in raku is simply a matter of intense post firing
reduction. It is not the amount of material but rather the speed at which you
get your piece into the reduction container and covered. You then MUST allow
the material to flame up before you cover the container otherwise you will
not achieve a proper atmosphere in the container. Common problems include the
piece not being hot enough, the material being wet, or a container that is
not sufficiently airtight. Although you are firing your ware more than hot
enough, if you are performing some type of post firing technique that
involves cooling before you place the ware in the container you may be
cooling the piece too much. Another phenomonen that can occur is an area of
"resist" that prevents the carbon from reaching the surface of the ware.
Often when placing your piece in the container you can inadverdently create a
kind of "protected" space towards or at the bottom of the piece or whatever
part of the piece is facing down where there is no material. The carbon
atmosphere surrounds the piece except where this space exists. Reduction
material? I get my best post firing results using dry pine needles, coarse
sawdust or woodshavings.

Steven Branfman
The Potters Shop
31 Thorpe Rd.
Needham MA 02494, USA
781 449 7687
fax: 781 449 9098