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mother's 17th firing

updated fri 12 jul 02


Merrie Boerner on thu 11 jul 02

Before I put Clayart on Nomail for my week in CO....I thought it would be
good to share my thoughts about our 17th woodfiring of my modified groundhog
kiln, "Mother". We named this firing, "The More the Merrier" because, when I
first told everyone that we were firing June 21, EVERYBODY wanted to come
: ) We had 14 participants.
Half of the group arrived on Thursday night, after driving from Alabama,
Georgia, and remote areas of MS and Louisiana. We woke up early on Friday,
cooked breakfast, and the potters began grinding shelves. The shelf
preparation and loading of pots took all day, but everyone was eager to
help. Bill had added an "East wing" to the kiln shelter....with a porch, the morning sun didn't cook us like before.....AND, there was
a rare, late June "cool front" that came through Mississippi.
We began the small fire on the hearth, kept the door on between stokes,
minimized the mousehole air flow, did 30 minutes of heavy reduction around
1600*F. We watched the flame and pyrometer to determine when to stoke. It
was about as easy a firing as I've ever been a part of ! Surprisingly
enough, the wood burned up more completely this time, with no coals to
shovel out. After 34 hours of firing, cone 10 was melted flat in all six
spy holes, 12 and 13 were bent over together in one, and 12 and 13 were
going down together in all the others. This was odd, because usually we
would have 13 flat in front and struggle to get 10 down in back. We were
pleased. After pulling out draw rings and agreeing that we had nice ash, I
thought about all the glazed items that Cappelli and John Gray had in there,
and I didn't want to go to 13. So, we decided to close her up at 6 AM Sunday
morning. We also decided NOT to blast off at the end.....very
All of us went back to the house where we cooked and ate our 8th meal
together.....then everyone said goodbye until the unloading the next
weekend. I sat down at my computer and wrote to friends that the firing was
soooo easy, I had anticipated problems and solved them before the kiln gave
them to us.....basically, I bragged. Nils wrote back to the affect that,
"It is good to feel confident about handling your kiln, but....don't forget,
they are like women.....soon as you think you understand them, they surprise
you !" And, that she did ! As soon as I woke up from my nap, I started
second guessing myself. The next morning, I peeked into the stoke hole and
saw a front row of crusty, unmelted ash all over the pots......DAMN.....we
didn't stoke with pine the last few hours, we didn't stop stirring the
ashes, and we let the temp drop too fast when we were closing
up.....DAMN.....I couldn't see past the crusty ash. So, I was worried....for
a solid week....and feeling like "she" had made a fool of me. Well, The next
Saturday, when we unloaded, we found that the ash HAD melted on the second,
third, fourth, and fifth rows......WHEW. There were crusty places through
out the kiln, but the glazed items were nice. I guess we were a tad
disappointed, but I was also relieved.
Looking back, I had not taken time to review my notes from other firings
and my books and articles....I need a refresher course before every firing.
There are so many distractions and so many decisions, and so many opinions
to deal with during a firing weekend ! Plus, it was 6 AM, and I hadn't had
my coffee yet, when I made that last, bad decision.
I ran into a young woodfiring potter in Kansas City. We had met in '99,
right after I had built and fired my kiln once. We talked about firings, and
he said, "So, you are figuring it out by firing it ?!?" That is
correct......Mother is a good teacher, and she still mystifies me !
Merrie in Mississippi