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How Do They Do That?
Pottery is either wheel thrown or hand built and then allowed to dry to leather hard and trimmed. The pots can be covered with a terra silica and buffed with a chamois cloth for a smooth finish or textured and left with a rough surface before firing. Various additions of color and decoration are then applied. These include copper carbonate, salt, iron, copper mesh, steel wool, plant material etc. Sometimes the pots are also wrapped in newspaper or aluminum foil. The finishing effects are always a great surprise and come directly from the final firing technique of pit firing. Smoke and flames curling around the smooth curved surfaces help create unpredictable and beautiful results.
This type of firing is a return to a more traditional or primitive method and is a further connection to the earth. In fact, it is sometimes said that the pots are fired in an earthen kiln. An 8 foot long by 4 foot wide by 4 foot deep pit is dug out of the ground! The walls are reinforced with sheet metal. You can see below the wear on the kiln after one firing. It requires regular maintenance as the heat warps and weakens the metal.
The pots are placed on a six inch bed of woodchips, charcoal pieces, shredded paper and topped off with fine sawdust. The area of the pot that is in the fine sawdust will turn black from carbon being deposited in the pores of the clay. Organic materials and chemicals are added on and around the pots and then a layer of salt soaked straw is then added.
Cow pies from a local farm are collected, dried and added to increase the temperature and to also act as insulation. Pictured below are the hard working manufacturers of the cow pies that help make this pit kiln work!!! I want you to know that none of the cows are injured or killed during this process. For city folk, cow pies are cow poop! For hundreds of years Indians living on the prairies where there are hardly any trees have used cow or buffalo pies for fuel and I believe some of them still do.
More shredded paper is added which becomes a cushion for the large fire built above the pots. Finally kindling and larger pieces of wood are stacked until they form a mound over the top of the pit.
Always be prepared...with Kiln Gods!
After kiln gods are made and placed on top or at the head of the pit, which is a whimsical tradition that supposedly protects the kiln load and certainly part of the fun, the fire is set ablaze. The fire rages for about two hours and then, while the embers still burn brightly, it is covered with sheet metal. The process of preparing the pots, loading the pit, firing, cooling, removal, and packing takes about three days.
After the pots are cool they are washed and allowed to dry. Then the pots are sealed with a protective finish and may be decorated with vine, reed, or cane grass. Pieces created in this way are to be used for decorative use or planters only because of their porosity.
This process was first used hundreds of years ago to make storage pots for food, grains and water. Because they were fired at such a low temperature, they broke very easy. Later on the people learned to make their pots water proof and more durable by coating them with pitch from trees. This also made it so that they could cook food over campfires in their pots and the heat produced the patina that is seen on some of the very old pots displayed in museums.
Go ahead and try this for fun, you don't have to build a large pit, maybe one just big enough to fire four or five pots, and what ever you do don't forget to make a kiln god to set on top of the pit. In the Tools section I have a page explaining and showing some of the different kiln gods that have been made. You can build your own pot or buy some from a ceramic shop. In the Projects section of this site I have given instructions on how to build simple pots, which would be excellent for firing in a pit. Why don't you try it and see what you get? Every time it is like opening a wrapped present to see what is in there!!!!
GOOD LUCK AND HAVE FUN!!
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All About Clay
Have you ever come up with a good idea while working with your handmade pottery and thought that you would like to share it with others? You have? Well, why not send it to us and we will add it to the tips page for all to see.
Handmade pottery can be a very gratifying hobby that produces fun and satisfying results. For many people it's an enjoyable release that is created by working an inanimate mound of clay into a beautiful work of art that you made through your artistic abilities.
The best way of starting out is to take a few lessons from Youtube. You will probably waste quite a bit in materials when you first get started. Figuring out how to truly make handmade pottery correctly and shape into what you want it to be can be quite an ordeal. The different tools that a normal shop will have can be fun to try. You will soon see which ones you like to use the most and then when you are ready you will know which ones to buy.
With the help of the internet, you can now purchase most if not all of your ceramic and pottery tools and supplies online. We are located far from any well supplied dealers and yet working with reliable ceramic and pottery suppliers online has allowed us to recieve most of our orders within a timely manner.
When you get all set up, just enjoy the hobby and have fun at it. Some people get pretty serious and start selling their creations at craft fairs and small stores, but others just like to create items for themselves, relatives, and friends. Whichever kind of handmade pottery you desire to endeavor, enjoy the hobby and have fun doing it.
Stash It, Smash It, Crush It,
Tye Dye It, Fly Tye It, Simplify It,
Buy It, the OutBack Hat.
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