Monday, June 1, 2009

Let's make some fire!

Last Saturday was the annual pit firing party at Scarborough Fair pottery. After we make our pots and bisque-fire them, they are decorated with a variety of components and put into a pit in the ground for a second firing with wood. The combination of chemicals and heat sometimes produces lovely color patterns on our primitive wares. Unfortunately, it may also produce muck. Part of the thrill of a pit firing is never knowing what you are going to get, just like a "box of chawk-lets."

Decorating the pots: We used
low-fire or raku glazes, banana peels, coffee grounds, sisal twine soaked in salt brine and dried, iron oxides, copper sulfate, Jello granules, dried horse manure, copper scrubby pads, and a paste made of Miracle Grow fertilizer, among other things. Then, the pots were wrapped tightly in aluminum foil.

Wrapped pots awaiting the pit.
The pit, a permanent hole in the ground in Peggy's side yard, has a metal pipe leading into one end and another pipe out the opposite corner, to allow for air flow. Prior to firing, Peggy fills the bottom with fresh sawdust and adds some dry hay.

The wrapped pots are placed into the pit.
Smaller or delicate pieces are covered with an inverted terra cotta flower pot, called a sagger, to protect it from breakage should a heavy piece of wood fall on it.

"Chemical bombs," wads of newspaper containing who-knows-what sort of toxic chemicals, are added to the mix. This is the one day of the year that I turn my back on the environment.

Once all the pots were loaded into the pit, we bunched up lots of old newspapers and scattered them over the pots.

Last year's fire was slow to start, so this year, Fire Marshall Ken elected to heap charcoal briquettes in one corner to stimulate rapid acceleration.

Then, we began to transfer a huge pile of twigs, branches, and other yard waste to the pit. I think this is how Peggy gets us to clean up her yard debris every year!
Everybody helps, each to his or her own level of ability.
Finally, we get a mound of wood that looks like this:

Ken, Chief Arsonist in Charge, adds lighter fluid to the brittle, dry cedar to get this conflagration under way.

Peggy lights the first match.
Several matches and cigarette lighter attempts later, we make fire!

After the flames die down, the pit is covered with sheets of metal roofing, creating an oven to bake our prizes.


Safety first: The area around the pit was sprayed down with water before we lit the fire and several times after we covered it, till we were as certain as we could be that no flames would escape.
Eating and resting after our labors.

The next phase comes Monday night, when we unload the pit, clean off our treasures, and discover what we have accomplished. Photos to follow ...

5 comments:

denapple said...

Goodness! That all looks like work. Aren't you glad you don't have to start fires every day? Looking forward to the results.

Susan Gets Native said...

And dancing naked around the flames? Where are THOSE pictures? Huh?
You punked out last year and wouldn't show them...come ON!

holly-the-person said...

The lady holding the twine - she has got to have one of the most interesting faces and greatest smile I have seen in a long time. I just love her face!

(impatiently waiting for the firing results here....)

wv: imerse. Kat will imerse you in pottery lore.

cindyzlogic said...

Wow! can't wait to see what you uncover!

Kathiesbirds said...

Wow! What a process. I hated throwing pots and working with clay in my art class but this almost looks like it is worth the aggravation!