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pit-firing greenware

updated sat 29 apr 00


Alison Kaye on fri 28 apr 00

Hello clayarters,

After a good 2-3 years of straightforward sawdust firing of bisque ware, I
decided to try pit-firing. However, being slightly apprehensive of digging a
big hole in my garden and taking the wrath of my partner when she came home
to find it, I instead did as follows:

My sawdust firing dustbin had been full of heavy, London clay soil since
last Autumn when we dug our pond. I dug into this soil, about 2 feet down,
leaving a thickness of about 2 inches minimum around the sides, patted it
down hard with a spade, lined it with white stoneware clay, filled it with
kindling and lit it to harden the whole thing up. I then took a bone dry,
unfired pot, heated it in my oven to 250 degrees C (the highest it will go).
This idea I'd had from reading an ancient book in a library. I carried the
pot to the garden, put it in the "pit" and surrounded it with a mixture of
sawdust and kindling (having no larger pieces of wood to hand at the time).
Set it alight (which took time as at the same instance it decided to pour
with rain and hail, so I stood in the garden trying to light the damn thing
like a maniac).

2-3 hours later when it had smouldered away to nothing but black ash, I
tentatively had a look at the results - to my surprise, the pot was still in
one piece except for two small pieces which had exploded off it. It was pure
black and not that strong, about as strong as bisque ware, I'd say, but I'm
very pleased that I managed it. Didn't have to bisque it, didn't have to
make a hole in the garden.

Next time my pot will probably explode but that's what pottery's about isn't
it, leaving your creations to the wrath of fire?

carried away by the sheer alchemy of it all in London.