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liner for pit firing cage?

updated thu 11 jul 02


vince pitelka on tue 9 jul 02

> Vince, anybody, suggestions? I'll be spending a week at the lake when I
> get back from the Clennels workshop in Tennesee, and hope to try
> again...

Kelly -

What you want is thin sheet steel. You can get scraps from a sheet-metal
shop, or else just get those big number 10 cans that restaurants use - any
restaurant can give you plenty of them. Remove the bottom, cut up one side
with sheet-metal snips, and flatten out. They are pretty thin, and will
only last for three or four firings, but that's okay. Any shape of scrap
sheet steel will work great. If the sheet metal shop gives you larger
pieces, just drill a 3/8 inch hole every four or five inches. The idea is
to get the smoke and heat to circulate among the pots, while minimizing
direct flame contact.

It sounds like what you had was aluminum roof flashing, and that will not
work at bonfire temperatures. It needs to be sheet steel, which is often
referred to as "tin" as in "tin cans." The old time tinsmiths worked with
sheet steel, and then "tinned" the inside of their vessels with pure tin or
a lead-tin mixture to prevent rusting during use. When you are scrounging
for sheet metal, just take a magnet. If the magnet sticks to it, it is
sheet steel.

The old barbecue grills should work fine, and the chrome plating will not
affect the pots at all, but again, those grates are pretty thin and will not
hold up to repeated firings. Thus the wisdom of getting a rebar grate/cage.
I make them from 5/8" or 3/4" rebar, and the cage dimensions are 24" by 24"
by 12" tall, and the cage stands on 12" legs. The legs are subjected to a
lot of heat, so you need to double or triple-up the rebar for the legs. The
one I built at the Craft Center eight years ago finally needs to be
replaced, because the bottom bars have sagged so badly.

In such a cage I can fill it and mound up the pots on top, cover the whole
thing with sheet metal scraps, and I can accommodate six or seven cubic feet
of tight-packed wares. That's a lot of pots.

And Kelly, when I am in my office at the Craft Center, that delightful
little bonfired frog you gave me at the ancient clay workshop sits on top of
my computer and stares at me. It helps to keep me focused.
Good luck -
- Vince

Vince Pitelka
Appalachian Center for Crafts
Tennessee Technological University
1560 Craft Center Drive, Smithville TN 37166
Home -
Work -
615/597-6801 ext. 111, fax 615/597-6803

primalmommy on tue 9 jul 02

I spent the 4th of July at my parents' cottage, and took advantage of
the distance from my stuffy neighbors to do a pit firing. I tried to
remember everything Vince taught me, but was foiled by (as usual)
impatience, and "cobbled" materials.

I had some low-fire clay, made terra sig from the clay at the lake using
Vince's precise operation -- and all of that went well. The pots shined
up nicely. But I made a little "cage" to hold the pots out of 4 metal
grilles from abandoned gas BBQ grills, wired together at the corners
with electric fencing wire. I propped the bottom corners on stacks of
flat sandstone so the fire/embers could get underneath.

Then I remembered Vince had used some triangular sheets of blackened
metal to line the sides of his cage, to allow smoke to enter but keep
the flame/uncombusted wood shavings from touching the pots maybe? I
asked my dad and he said he had a roll of "tin" in the garage -- so I
found it (a roll of roof flashing) and cut wedges with tin snips. It
looked a lot like Vince's operation... right up til the metal sheets
caught fire. Aluminum, I bet.

I covered the top of the cage with sandstone instead, and dumped the
shavings and buried the whole mess with dirt, having no great hopes at
that point. When I dug it up in the morning, I had a few nice pots, a
few broken bits, some only half blackened, but worst of all, a few had
either globs of metal looking like thin solder drips, or shiny spots
that I think might have been the stuff melted off the bars of the grille
grates (which kind of melted and warped.)

So today running errands with the kids I am stopping by the "monumental
iron works" shop with a sketch, to see if they can weld me up a small
cage out of rebar like Vince's. But I have to figure out what kind of
thin metal to use for lining it. I could hammer out my big V* juice
cans, but aren't they aluminum too? Something cheap would be best. I
know native people used pot shards but I don't have that much broken
bisque. (just tons of hammered glazed ware.)

Vince, anybody, suggestions? I'll be spending a week at the lake when I
get back from the Clennels workshop in Tennesee, and hope to try

Yours, Kelly in Ohio (where we're on water restriction, though I only
ever water my garden and can fall back on rain barrels... it's finally
cooling off and trying to rain on the dry crunchy grass... and tonight's
project is jelly from backyard currants. Tomorrow's jam is pick-your-own
red raspberries from a nearby farm... )

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Snail Scott on tue 9 jul 02

At 06:46 AM 7/9/02 -0700, you wrote:
>know native people used pot shards but I don't have that much broken

Some of the 'native people' I know go to
Wal-Mart and get the really cheap terra-
cotta flowerpots to use as saggars. Put
them in the oven on low-temp to make sure
they're dry before using them to fire.
They'll last quite a while if kept dry.