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wood kilns for fun

updated mon 9 apr 12


mel jacobson on sun 8 apr 12

i think james is on to a great idea. experimental wood
firing kiln. small, compact and easy to change and manipulate.

he is going to have a great deal of fun and learning time.

making a simple small flat top kiln is easy and most of
the bugs are worked out. they plain fire well and easy.
but, when you enter the wood firing arena there are lots of
bugs and hornets. it is much harder to follow someone else's
plan, and just `know` it will work to spec.

factors like weather, location, wind, air movement, forest, prairie.
what kind of wood do you have? what is the fuel history, is it going
to be around for a long time?? how much does it cost? how old are you,
and how strong are you? do you have consistent help? many things to
consider. and, it is still very doable. but, work out the bugs before you
start. in other words, know the boundaries.

as many of our wood firing professionals have discussed many times
on is all about `fuel`. good, dry, very flammable wood. and
it takes time and effort to bring that fuel to your kiln. and experience
is the best teacher.

an example: at our farm we got two huge bundles of very dry cedar /used
poles. my god it was dry. anyone would say...`mel, you hit the honey load
with that wood.` but, after we loaded the kiln, started to fire, we found =
wood would not burn. it was all a dud. it simmered. we ran up the hill t=
the woods, got anything that was down. chopped, sawed, scavenged. we
finally turned it all off. started over a month later with all new slab lu=
from butch. and, we learned a big lesson. know your wood, make sure of
your source and pile up at least two more firings worth of wood as backup.

when we built our big wood kiln at the farm we felt we had the perfect
stack. nice and big and tall. donovan was confident. but, it did not
really draw enough. the next year we added about three more feet
of brick. bingo...worked like a charm. and, most of the theory of nils
and flue sizing has to change a great deal...the wood kiln needs a much
larger air flow. the flue grew. one size does not fit all. again, experi=
was our teacher. we adjusted.

i think every potter on earth should have a go at natural fuel firing.
it puts you into a very clear historical position. `what did folks do befo=
skutt?` so much of what is happening in ceramics is getting formula driven.
and, that is expected and will happen more and more as our world changes
to iphones and technology. but, don't throw out the baby just yet.
the bath water is still warm. the ready made, techno driven world can
be a curse as well as exciting. hand craft will always be driven by hand,
eye, mind and creativity. don't let someone else drive your car. be in
charge, don't give away the good stuff.

the struggle of art, problem solving and creative play and learning drives
us to get up every day. it is what makes being a potter worth everything.
if we let someone else solve all our problems...well you get it.

i watch and listen to the `ted` lectures on the science
channel. they are brilliant.
and, one theme seems to be alive and well...`observation, experience,
trial and error still are in charge of our learning. and, when we give up
the `concept of good error and failure` all learning stops.

look at public education and the concept of `no one fails`.....what a crock
of crap. we all fail, all the time...and we move forward with failure.
`fraudulent success is the stepping stone to national stupidity`. and
do we ever have to fight against that sort of philosophy.

the other day i was sitting on my porch with my 88 year old neighbor
that jumped out of an airplane over france, june 6th, 1944. he was
19 years old and he had failure on his mind. he had to make some
quick decisions as his parachute landed him in a tall tree...3 a.m. alone.
he said `no one prepared me for the next two days, it was just me, alone,
and trying to do my job. i learned fast.` he survived.

but, it is sort of like being a potter, crafts-person, artist. no one can
really prepare you for what is coming tomorrow. you just get on with
it, the best way you know how.
but, don't let someone else take away your failure. it belongs to you.
it is how you learn.
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