My third wood firing. Third time, third kiln.
If you ask a question in pottery, invariably the answer is “it depends”. The clay body, the throwing style, the temperature and humidity of the air, how long you’ve waited, the speed and temperature of the first firing, the ingredients in the glaze, the glaze recipe, the glaze thickness, the fuel used for the second firing, the speed and temperature of the second firing, the placement in the kiln, the speed of the cooling of the second firing, and. And. And.
New kilns, new glazes, new unknowns.
This time around I went off to Saxony, Germany, to fire with Hendrik Schöne. He’s been potting for longer than I’ve been alive, has been building kilns for a decade, and lives in a former water mill off in the borderlands of Germany-Poland-Czech where one can stand in one spot and see see solar/wind power-coal power-tourist restaurants atop a hill (respectively).
For me, a special treat was the “hikidashi”, a Japanese word which literally means “pulled-out.” In the ceramic sense, it pots which pulled from the kiln when blisteringly hot (1300 degrees Celsius) and cooled in a bucket of water.
This treatment, combined with a glaze that’s 50% iron oxide and 50% wood ash endows them with a luscious matte black surface. When you’re lucky.
In this kiln there are only three spyholes which are the of the right size and position for hikidashi, so when you’re lucky a max of 3-6 hikidashi pieces come from each firing. Lucky me, both of my pieces came out; the other four were less fortunate.
One day to chop the wood (12 cubic meters in all).
Two days to fill the kiln.
Three days to fire the kiln.
Four days to cool the kiln.
One day to open the kiln.
There are ways you can control the process. You do have a hand in choosing your materials, and in shaping your materials, and in feeding the fire. Yet, it’s also relaxing and oh so stressful to give yourself to the kiln. To let the kiln give you something. To let pots be born, not be made. At no point in pottery can you change the outcome: you can’t go back, you can’t go sideways, you can only go forward. To accept the failed pots, to celebrate the successes, to make it better next time. To the next time.