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firing disaster

updated fri 31 may 96


RB & LA Klopper on wed 29 may 96

Hi All,

Just opened my kiln (which had an order for 500 miniture vases in it), and
lo and behold for the first time in a Very Long time it was near disaster.

The shelf supports on the bottom of the kiln decided to melt.
Fortunately or unfortunately I only lost about 70 to 100 vases. The shelf
second from the bottom was sitting on top of most of the vases on the bottom
shelf. All the glazes were fired to perfection. Isn't that always the way.
I just had to tell someone what happened. Has this happened to anyone else?

Oh well I guess it's back to the potters wheel to make another 100 or so
vases before I leave for my vacation to Europe, Canada (Toronto) and U.S.A

I may even meet up with one or two of you guys over there.

Lorraine in Perth where it has forgotten how to rain.

Russell and Lorraine Klopper Phone 619-3396067
38 Allen Street Fax 619-3519443
East Fremantle
Western Australia E-Mail

(See our Total Flower Export web page at

Klopper Pottery Phone 619-3363779
3 Banister Street
Fremantle Western Australia

Vince Pitelka on thu 30 may 96

Lorraine -

We had a similar occurence. In a firing in our 60 cu.ft. salt kiln a student
was checking the top spy hole at around cone 9, when the cone pack moved. He
watched as all the wares on the top shelf shifted to the side, including
several enormous jars and drums he had made. When we unloaded the kiln late
the next day we realized how lucky we had been. The places where the leaning
wares touched together were minimal, and in most cases not a problem. The
cause of this near disaster? - a kiln post ON THE BOTTOM LEVEL which finally
became sufficiently salted that it turned pyroplastic. Fortunately, one of my
students was experimenting with a new clay body which turned out to be
EXTREMELY refractory. He had several fairly heavy cylindrical jars on the same
level near the offending kiln post, and the shelf just settled down on Scott's
jars, which supported the shelf for the duration of the firing. Whew . . . .

Speaking of kiln disasters, and I expect we all will be for some time now,
these are my two favorite stories. I have a good friend in Crescent City,
California named Mike Selfridge, about whom I wrote a little tribute piece on
Clayart recently, and who Joe Bennion spent some time with early in his
ceramics career. Mike teaches ceramics at the College of the Redwoods campus
in C-City, and he had a particular student named Delores who was a little thick
in the head. He had just built a new sprung arch downdraft softbrick kiln, and
it was the maiden firing. By some unfortunate fluke, Delores decided to light
the kiln. She turned on the propane (no safety systems on this kiln in those
days), and went looking for a newspaper twist. When she came back, and poked
the lighted twist into the burner port, the kiln went up into the sky.
Fortunately, the kiln was surrounded by a stout welded steel frame, so Delored
was spared, but the wares, shelves, furniture, and arch all rose up into the
air, and came back down with a resounding crash. Not much was salvageable.
Fortunately the kiln was outside, or the damage would have been far more

The other story dates back to the late 60s and the early days of hippie potters
in Humboldt County, California, when myself and other friends were first
building kilns away from the potshop at Humboldt State, primarily so that we
could salt-fire. Unlimited hardbrick were free for the taking at the big
sawmills, where they relined their boiler fireboxes routinely, and all their
employees long since had all the brick patios they could use. One friend named
Steve Hyman built a caternary arch salt kiln up on Fickle Hill above Arcata.
He poured a nice thick concrete slab, and then used only two thicknesses of
hardbrick layed flat for the kiln floor. It was a long slow firing, and as the
kiln neared temperature everyone was standing well back from it, due to the
extreme heat. This was extremely fortunate. When the slab let go, the entire
kiln rose up in the air, and for a fraction of a second, through the spaces
between the bricks, you could see all the pots suspended in mid air, before
they tumbled down into a huge nasty white-hot pile. Fortunately there was
nothing combustible close by, and all we could do is stand back and let the
pile spit and pop for hours. Steve left it there for a long time as kind of a
monument. Steve was an easy-going, good-natured guy, and when the kiln
exploded and collapsed, his first comment was a resounding "Well . . . I think
this calls for more beer!"

- Vince
Vince Pitelka -
Appalachian Center for Crafts
Smithville, TN