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pit fire frustrations (longish)

updated thu 7 jun 01


JON LOVEJOY on tue 5 jun 01

At least once a year, I reserve a space at a campground and my youngest
son and I do a series of pitfires. I've been doing this for years, and
have always had at least a few pots with pleasing results. This past
weekend, however, I tried everything I know, and could not get a decent
blush on a single pot. (When I pitfire, I'm not trying for the solid
black body like a sawdust fire - I like color.) I use manure, sawdust,
peat moss, copper carb & rock salt - and of course pots & wood. I can
usually count on a nice rosy blush, sometimes going to peach. The only
thing different was the fire ring. I usually fire in a large, shallow
ring or an old rusted one. This ring was about two feet tall and about
three feet across - pretty new. Could the depth and un-leakiness (?) of
the pit affect the firing that much? I was really stumped.

The first firing I put down a layer of manure, then a layer of sawdust,
sprinkled in copper & salt. Added pots & wood, sprinkled in more
sawdust, copper & salt. Filled with wood to the top. This one seemed to
burn pretty hot, with a fairly tall flame. Once the wood was down to
embers covering the pots, I covered it loosely with corrugated sheet
metal & let it cool overnight.

Dissatisfied, for the second pit I blended manure & sawdust 50/50,
thinking that the first one burned too hot. I also added a lot more of
this mixture in between the pots as I was stacking, thinking that the
reason it burned too hot was too much air between the pots - otherwise
the same as firing #1. This one burned low and even, and I left it

Still not satisfied, pit three featured a 3-way blend of peat, sawdust &
manure. Pit #2's mixture was left really "fluffy", so this one I patted
down before placing the pots. Similar stacking with wood, pots, copper &
salt, with each pit getting progressively more copper & salt (COLOR!).
This one was a bonfire, with huge flames for hours and a full pit of
good embers all the way to the top, then covered like pit #1.

All three results were very similar, with blacks and greys and an
occasional faint wisp of color. Any tips?

Thanks - Jon Lovejoy in California, where every weekend has been dreary,
only to brighten up Mon-Fri. Maybe I should blame the weather...