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wood fire conf. / big anagama

updated sun 10 oct 99


John Baymore on sat 9 oct 99

First of all...... Mel...... Thanks for the updates on the conference.

I personally find it sad that the trend should be towards ever larger
kilns, especially at colleges where they should be teaching their
students how to build affordable kilns that one person can, at a pinch,
fire on their own.

The American =22bigger is better=22 phenomona is apparently alive and well =
seems to be infecting others =3Cs=3E.

In 1979 when I started doing the planning for my noborigama here in NH, one
of the main design criteria was that it be of a scale that was fireable by
one For that is who/what I am. One person studio. So with
that as a design goal, I am still able to a more =22mature =
.......... fire it by myself. With two people working, firing it is a

Being a wood firer that fires mostly glazed wares, I tend to be a bit
outside the current =22 woodfire trend=22 =3Cg=3E. I wanted to be able to =
varying atmospheres, temperatures, and effects (glazed and unglazed) in a
single firing. The nobori does that pretty well. Anagama tend to be a
little more of a =22one trick pony=22..... although certainly huge =
in the same types of effects happen in the single chamber...and you can
fire glazed in certain locations and in saggers. But it is not as
efficient, nor as flexible.

It is interesting to watch the 30 year woodkiln trend since when I first
started woodfiring to BIG kilns. =22Mine's bigger than yours=22. =
not go there =3Cg=3E. Is bigger better? One of the old Japanese potters I
visited has a two chamber noborigama that helped him produce killer
unglazed wares.... and his kiln was smaller than mine. It isn't the's what you do with it. (God... I'm starting to sound like
Tony=21=21=21=21=21 =3CBG=3E)

There is also the =22anagama uber alles=22 trend (talk about mixing =
=3Cg=3E). Mel is spot-on about us overlooking the possible beauty of =
on red earthenware clay and the like. It is such a simple
thing........wood fire makes nice markings as it plays across the wares no
matter what the temperature or what size the pieces of wood.

I have friend that has a large anagama which was completed recently. It is
a beautiful kiln built with wonderful workmanship. I have helped fire it.
At one level, I am envious of the is a REAL beauty (is this a
case of kiln-envy? =3Cg=3E). He did his homework. But I wouldn't really =
to own it as =22my=22 kiln.

The problem with such kilns in private studio situations is that they are
generally pretty impractical. He fires it about once a year. So all the
eggs are in one basket, and the cash flow from selling the pots is highly
intermittent. Then the firing is dependent on getting a bunch of people to
help fire, ..........and of course trading away a good piece of that large
kiln space (you paid to build) to get the firing help. So when the kiln
owner is not there, HIS work is subject to the whims of whomever is in
charge of the stoking for that shift. Hard way to assure your work comes
out OK =3Cwg=3E.

I once watched the above kiln owner give careful instructions to a team
(potter friends) about how he wanted things done. As soon as he left the
area to go to sleep, the debates started..... about how the stoking should
actually be done. So the 8 hour stoking shift got done.... but the stoking
was NOT what the kiln owner thought was being done to his instructions.
The multiple =22experts=22 on duty all had different theories about what was
=22correct=22........ and seemed not to value that they were instructed to =
a certain way. So they eventually tried periods of every persons pet
theory. So that blew any =22cause and effect=22 ideas that the kiln owner =
about the results coming out of that kiln load.......... but he didn't know
it =3Cwg=3E. I've seen this many times on =22communal firings=22 in this =
We are an independent lot..... and following specific instructions from
=22authority=22 is not our strong suit =3Cg=3E.

I think there is a place for such big wood kilns (and of course for certain
rare individuals it IS the right kiln). In a teaching/learning situation,
a huge kiln can help build a sense of community and interaction within the
department/program. I found that when I built the noborigama at Massart
way back in the mid 70' was a great thing for the majors to
experience. The energy level in a large group firing is fun. The teamwork
to bring such a firing to completion is a wonderful thing to experience.
Builds friendships. Inspires lots of good work. A big kiln in full fire
is an awe inspiring sight. All positive aspects of such a situation.

But it DOES seem that this type of monster kiln is being promoted as THE
way to wood fire. If nothing else, anagama are terribly inefficient in use
of fuel, and also produce a lot of smoke (PM10 anyone =3Cwg=3E). These days=
the ceramic show press, woodfired alternatives to =22anagama style pots=22 =
not as easily found. That huge anagama should be sitting right next to the
50 cubic foot crossdraft caternary (or whatever) wood kiln, and that next
to the 25 cubic foot downdraft fastfire. That way students/learners get to
see the breadth of possibilites of not only kilns, but wood fire effects.

Personally, I think you'll learn a lot more about clay, glazes, fire,
kilns, wood, ash, and pots by firing a 20 cubic foot wood kiln by yourself
100 times than firing a 2000 cubic foot wood kiln (along with dozens of
others) once. The one big kiln firing is an experience you should try to
have at least once..... but you might want it for dessert....not the main

More power to Mel and Kurt and company on the mini-train. And to they and
others building more realistic, =22main-stream=22 potter studio sized wood
kilns. And to those not totally on the anagama bandwagon as the only track
to take. There are other ways to fire with wood, and we'll find more and
more twists to try as time goes by.

Just my two yen worth =3Cs=3E.



=22not happy about not being able to get out to the woodfire conference=22

John Baymore
River Bend Pottery
22 Riverbend Way
Wilton, NH 03086 USA