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wood fuels (long)

updated mon 4 nov 02


mel jacobson on sun 3 nov 02

i think most any dry, flammable wood, gas, coal
rolled up newspaper, sawdust, oil will fire a kiln.
a great deal depends on what is available to you.

the big factors are amount of fuel, amount of air/oxygen,
and the delivery system. (speed of stoke, amount of stoke,
size of fuel.)

the more we learn about the combinations of air/
fuel/ delivery, the better we get at firing kilns.

the more i fire, the more i am convinced that
air flow through the kiln is important.
(that, again was pointed out by nils through karen t.
this week.)

looking to industry, and how kilns fire, how exhaust
is cleaned, or kept in the kiln is valuable.

firing with oxygen, making a clean flame, and using damping
for reduction is smart. the less smoke and crap we can
put in the air will make for happy neighbors and the world.

firing kilns with great gobs of smoke and soot is not a good
thing. it will come back and bite you in the butt, sooner or

i am not a wood firing potter. i have a wood fired kiln, but
we do not fire it very often. ( it has become a group exercise
at hay creek, mostly for enjoyment of the experience.)
the fuel is free, we just have to haul it.
i use natural gas and propane about 90 percent of the time.
i am sure not an expert,
in any way, about woods and their characteristics. i have
some small knowledge. and have read the literature. the
most important factors in wood firing are:
what is local?
how much does it cost to get it? will it be there the next
time you fire?
how much work is entailed to prepare the wood?
how do you store it and keep it dry?
who drives the truck, who runs the chain saw?
how much time does it take to make your fuel ready?
and the big one, how much time and energy do you have?
plus, others will add ten more factors.
it is not an easy way to fire pots. it can be hell.

in some ways, it is like having a lush green golf course
in the middle of the desert. it takes a great deal of
water, money, time and effort. it you can afford it, and
do not care about wasting the golf course.
but, there are a lot of other places to play golf.

working alone, without anyone to help fire, makes
for long nights near the kiln. i will not even think of
doing that. i like turning on the gas. one lever.

educational institutions with time, student help,
and of course, financial aid, are great places for wood
fired kilns. students learn a great deal about fire and

anagamas are many thousands of dollars,...and
you have to have a place to sell the pots...and there
is often a great many failures. when you have a kiln
disaster with anagama wood fired pots, keep a bobcat handy to
push the pots into a pit. hundreds of them. every one
of my friends that fire with wood have had total failures
of there kilns...nils, merrie, you must have
a good solid set of mental health lessons for
is not easy. you have to be like nils when the shelves
collapse. `hey, i found six good pots at the bottom of the
pile, unbroken, and they where wonderful.` and, he was
content with six great pots. the other two hundred went
into the scrap pile. he went back to work to make more.
it is the difference between production and art. if david hendley
lost an entire kiln full of orders, well, it would be harder to smile
and be philosophical. we have all had to do it, but when you
add up the time, materials, effort, well it is hard to do a profit/loss
statement and make it come out right.

wood kilns are one of those wonderful, hateful, crazy, addictive
firing systems that you do not learn in a book. it takes many
firings, loads of engineering and experience. patience is a virtue.
then add the layer of what weather does...never mind, i am getting
a headache.
listen to nils, john baymore, david, karen, merrie. they have
gone to war, and won many battles. good folks. i admire
wood firing potters. but, i reserve the right to not automatically
adore pots, just because they were fired with wood. lots of
brown, naked pots. i like glaze.

Minnetonka, Minnesota, U.S.A.
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