2019 Christmas Sales

A nice Large (30cm diameter) flat bowl serving dish; perfect for serving up the Christmas Goose or Turkey.

This year I will be having a stall at The New Bridge Community Centre Christmas Fayre on Saturday 30th November, 10am to 4pm. The Community Centre is located in Bridge Sollars church located just off the A438 on the road to Madley. There is parking available across the road from the chuch.

I will also have a small selection of pots for sale at the CUP Ceramics Community Cafe and Gallery throughout December. CUP Ceramics is based on the Foley Trading Estate in Hereford next door to the Hereford Yoga Centre.

I am also happy to have visitors at my studio by prior arrangement. Please see the contact page for details of how to get in touch.

 

Posted November 13, 2019 by damiankeefe in Uncategorized

H.Art 2019   Leave a comment

Its that H.Art time of year again. Throughout Herefordshire artists’ studios and Galleries are open for 9 consecutive days displaying the work of local artists and artisans, the first day being Saturday 7 Sept. The majority of venues, including my own, are open from 11am until 5pm each day. Some are open for longer.

I’ve spent the last week transforming our summerhouse into what could reasonably be considered to be a gallery (if a little rustic), and the preceding 6 weeks firing both my wood fired kiln and my electric kiln to produce some (in my somewhat biased opinion) excellent  pots.

The garden is still looking very colourful and you are welcome to enjoy exploring it and relaxing in it.

A selection of salt-glazed pots

Posted September 4, 2019 by damiankeefe in Uncategorized

H.Art for Christmas

A nice Large (30cm diameter) flat bowl serving dish; perfect for serving up the Christmas Goose or Turkey.

After what I considered a very successful first involvement with H.Art week in September and as a result of quite a few people asking, during H.Art week, if I would be opening up for Christmas I am going to be open for business on Sunday 25th November and Sunday the 2nd December from 11am until 4pm. There are new pieces to look at as I fired my electric kiln 2 weeks ago.

My tech-savvy wife tells me we will be able to accept credit cards as she has a new gadget which talks to her phone. It is, as yet, untested. Rather than risk disappointment I would also bring cash, a cheque-book or your phone + banking app with you.

Posted November 21, 2018 by damiankeefe in Uncategorized

H.Art

I’m participating in H.Art this week. Its Herefordshire’s arts, artisans and crafts week-long festival of open studios, gallery openings and assorted craft venues . I’ve spent a fortnight turning the rubbish packed summerhouse into a gallery and making safe(ish) footpaths to it and my wood-fired kiln so visitors can see what I make and how I make it.

mug shelves

A display of my stoneware mugs

 

I’ve been clearing out rubbish, re-homing useful stuff, dusting and vacuuming, putting up shelves, building tables from scrap wood etc. etc. and today had a pleasant flow of visitors and good sales.

Tomorrow my wife is going to offer ‘tea and cakes’ (and coffee etc).

Maybe see you here.

 

Posted September 8, 2018 by damiankeefe in Uncategorized

This week I have been mostly making….a ware chamber.   Leave a comment

The first course of the ware chamber is bedded on ceramic fibre paper to ensure it has a perfectly level surface

The first course of the ware chamber is bedded on ceramic fibre paper to ensure it has a perfectly level surface

The kiln I am building has the ware chamber (the area – strictly speaking volume – where the pots are placed for firing) located above the fire boxes. The ware chamber floor is the fire box roofs. It has approximately the same length and depth dimensions as the base of the kiln and is just over a metre high , however this varies because the top of the chamber is arched. The internal volume is approximately 0.85 cubic metres (30 cubic feet) although not all of this can be used for stacking pots as shelf-free space must be left over  the flues which bring the heat, gasses and flames into the chamber from the fireboxes below.

 

 

 

Once the first ware chamber course is complete the corner supports can be put in place. These are held in place by threaded rods.

Once the first ware chamber course is complete the angle iron corner supports can be put in place. These are held in place by threaded rods.

The ware chamber is built with HTI (High Thermal Insulation) bricks. These are similar to, what in the UK, are called ‘breeze blocks’ or ‘Durox’, but they are very high temperature tolerant and even more thermally insulating. The material is like pumice but with a uniformly small bubble size. I read somewhere, many years ago, that it was developed as part of the US space programme for insulating the Space Shuttle during atmospheric re-entry and earned the craft the nickname ‘the flying brickyard’.

 

 

 

 

By the time the sixth course is finished the chimney outlet has been bridged using a piece of kiln shelf as a lintel. Note the thin slivers of HTI brick needed to make this wall the same length as the firebox walls and the way the bricks have been cut to allow a vertical panel of bricks to be removed

By the time the sixth course is finished the chimney outlet has been bridged using a piece of kiln shelf as a lintel. Note the thin slivers of HTI brick needed to make this wall the same length as the firebox walls and the way the bricks have been cut to allow a vertical panel of bricks to be removed

The HTI bricks are cut from a larger slab of material after it has been made and are therefore very uniform in size.  This is in contrast to the firebricks used for the base which are cut before they are fired and can vary in length by as much as 5mm with the majority being slightly longer than their nominal length of 230mm. This means that a row of 6 HTI bricks is almost always shorter than a row of 6 heavy fire bricks and necessitates cutting thin slivers of HTI brick to make up the length. Fortunately HTI bricks are easy to cut. The second, third, fourth and fifth ware chamber courses  have a gap in them at the back where the flue to the chimney will join and at the front of the chamber the bricks are laid such that they can be removed to allow the pots to be placed into the chamber. Although strictly speaking this panel of bricks is not a door, for simplicity’s  sake that is how I will refer to it from now on.

 

 

 

 

 

The ware chamber walls are complete, the door bricks have been cut so it can be laid in row-lock and two 'spy-hole' bricks have been put in.

Viewed from the front, the ware chamber walls are complete, the door bricks have been cut so the brickwork can be laid in row-lock and two ‘spy-hole’ bricks have been put in.

The remaining 7 wall courses are straightforward and similar and and when they were complete I took down the door bricks and cut one of each alternate course in half so that the door wall could be built more stably. In a couple of places I replaced a brick with two wedge shaped bricks one of which was slightly too long for the space available for it. This made it stick out from the wall which will allow me to pull it out during a firing to see what is happening in the kiln and pull out test pieces.

Finally, on each side of the kiln, a piece of angle iron is supported by brackets on the corner supports just above the top of the chamber wall. This is the ‘arch support’ which will prevent the arch, which forms the roof of the ware chamber, from pushing outwards and collapsing.

Next, the tricky bit, building an arch.

 

This week I have been mostly making …. fireboxes.   1 comment

Heavy firebricks are laid on the concrete floor to protect it

Heavy firebricks are laid on the concrete floor to protect it

The wood-fired kiln I am building has a lower and an upper half. The lower half is where the wood is burnt to generate the heat needed to fire the clay pottery. It is built from heavy fire-bricks which, although they need to be heat tolerant do not need to be particularly good insulators. They are cheaper and more robust than the High Thermal Insulation  (HTI) bricks which will be used for the upper half. The kiln has two fireboxes – each one the equivalent of a hearth in a domestic fire.  They are located at the front and back of the kiln with one of them being stoked from the left hand side of the kiln and one from the right.

The first course of bricks protects the concrete base from extremes of heat.

 

 

A hole is drilled into the concrete where each set of 4 bricks meet.

A hole is drilled into the concrete where each set of 4 bricks meet.

While laying the floor bricks holes are drilled in the foundation slab to allow steam to escape easily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Firebox course 1. This is the trickiest course to lay as the bricks are not all exactly the same length and the side walls have gaps in them.

Firebox course 1. This is the trickiest course to lay as the bricks are not all exactly the same length and the side walls have gaps in them.

The first course of bricks must be carefully planned to make sure the corners are square. Lots of measuring and set square usage. It incorporates supports for the ash grates which hold the embers from the burning wood until they are thoroughly burnt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fire bars on the left support the long billets of wood used to fire the kiln. As they burn they break up into embers which fall onto the ash grates below.

The fire bars on the left support the long billets of wood used to fire the kiln. As they burn they break up into embers which fall onto the ash grates below.

The ash grates and the fire bars (brick course 4) are made from mild steel angle iron and weldmesh. I measured and cut the pieces of metal and a friend in the village welded them together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fire boxes second course. The outer bricks are laid flat whereas the inner bricks are laid on their sides.

Fire boxes second course. The outer bricks are laid flat whereas the inner bricks are laid on their sides.

The second and third courses are pretty straight forward except that a number of bricks must be cut. For the heavy bricks I used an angle grinder and for the HTI’s I used an old panel saw which was no longer sharp enough for wood.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1570

Fire boxes third course. Ash grates in position.

No mortar is used. The slight unevenness of size in the bricks is accommodated by adding a thin layer of fire-clay slip mixed with sand between courses.

 

 

 

 

 

The fourth course supports the fire bars

The fourth course supports the fire bars

The fourth course supports the fire bars. The inner wall, just below the fire bars is partly made from HTI brick as it is easier to cut and is not subject to much wear and tear in this location.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fire box course 5. The fire bars are not in position as the weight of the sixth course bricks is needed to prevent the central support bricks being pushed downwards by the unevenweight of a single set of fire bars on one side.

Fire box course 5. The fire bars are not in position as the weight of the sixth course bricks is needed to prevent the central support bricks being pushed downwards by the uneven weight of a single set of fire bars on one side.

Fifth course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fire box course 6

Fire box course 6 with fire bars in position.

Sixth course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fire box course seven. This serves as the foundation for the ware chamber.

Fire box course seven. This serves as the foundation for the ware chamber.

Seventh and final firebox course. Great care is taken to make sure the brickwork is level from front to back and side to side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fire box roof. Kiln shelves laid on ceramic fibre paper. The gaps at each end are where the heat from the fires will rise into the ware chamber.

The fire box roof. Kiln shelves laid on ceramic fibre paper. The gaps at each end are where the heat from the fires will rise into the ware chamber.

The fire-box roof, which is also the ware chamber floor is made from 25mm thick kiln shelves laid on a couple of layers of ceramic fibre paper (which is more like felt than paper) This provides a good seal between the upper and lower parts of the kiln and evens out the minor unevenness in the final course of firebox bricks.

 

The next stage is to build the ware chamber – the place where the pots to be fired are placed – out of HTI bricks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This week I have been mostly making….Concrete   Leave a comment

Shuttering for the concrete kiln base. The uneven stable floor meant there were gaps at the bottom of the shuttering in some places.

Shuttering for the concrete kiln base. The uneven stable floor meant there were gaps at the bottom of the shuttering in some places.

The wood fired kiln build has started. The first thing needed is a good level foundation. The design I’m basing my kiln on had a 4 inch (10cm) thick concrete slab. I happened to have some 14cm wide plywood strips which I exchanged with the lady who rents our paddock for a weeks rental of the paddock so my foundation was going to be 14cm deep. I created a 2 metre by 1.5 metre rectangle using the plywood as shuttering  and filled it about one third full with the hardcore which we find in the flower and vegetable beds. (The local soil is very stony and the house has been here for over 400 years and during that time it seems anything unwanted or broken was dumped somewhere in the garden.) The top edges of the shuttering were adjusted, using a spirit level, to make sure the concrete slab would be perfectly level.

After the first concreting session the gaps between the shuttering and the stable floor are sealed.

After the first concreting session the gaps between the shuttering and the stable floor are sealed.

The location of the stable means it is not feasible to get a concrete lorry to it so I had to mix my own concrete having wheel-barrowed the sand and cement from the road at the front of the house. I did it in two stages. The first session I mixed the concrete quite stiff and concentrated on filling the gaps between the bottom of the shuttering and the ground. The second session the mix was much wetter which allows the concrete to be levelled easily using a plank resting on the top edge of the shuttering.

The shuttering is full of concrete and the mixer is taking a rest

The shuttering is full of concrete and the mixer is taking a rest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

small round lumps which appeared overnight in patches on the surface of the foundation slab

small round lumps which appeared overnight in patches on the surface of the foundation slab

Its a rule of DIY that nothing ever goes 100 percent to plan. When I came to look at the set concrete the following morning there were a few patches where the surface was lumpy. It certainly wasn’t lumpy when I left it the day before. On close examination it occurred to me that the lumps were all about the same size and shape. I wondered if bubbles had somehow formed in the wet cement, but a bit of prodding with a knife indicated they were solid. Fortunately concrete hardens slowly over a few days and I was able to investigate further by digging some of the lumps out. They were all approximately spherical and of very low density although quite hard and clearly mineral (rather than organic). I have no idea what they are but presume they were some sort of contaminant in the ballast I used to make the concrete with. Clearly they were light enough to float to the top of the liquid cement and protrude a couple of millimetres above the surface before the concrete began to set. Lumps on the surface are the last thing you need if you are going to lay bricks without mortar, which was the plan, so I investigated ways of removing the lumps.

Although not what you would call a smooth surface, the concrete was either a the right level or indented which meant my bricks would sit stably and levelly on it and not wobble

Although not what you would call a smooth surface, the concrete was either a the right level or indented which meant my bricks would sit stably and levelly on it and not wobble

Digging them out one by one was too slow and tedious but a trip to the tool shed reminded me I had a plasterer’s float that was designed for making large areas perfectly flat. It wasn’t intended to be used in the way I was going to use it, but since I last attempted to use it 30 years ago (unsuccessfully – plastering large areas is best left to the professionals unless you want a very rustic look) I felt it wouldn’t matter if it got a bit roughed up. It worked surprisingly well. As I moved it across the surface from a completely flat area to one of the bumpy areas its sharp metal edge would either knock the little spheres right out of the surface or it would cut them off level with the surface. It also levelled any raised areas around the sets of cat and bird footprints which too had appeared overnight. An hour later I had a foundation on which I could build the kiln – although it needed to harden for a few more days.

 

This MONTH I have been mostly making …. purchases.   Leave a comment

600 Fire bricks stacked by the house woodshed and covered with polythene to keep them largely dry.

600 Fire bricks stacked by the house woodshed and covered with polythene to keep them largely dry.

The wood fired, salt-glaze kiln project has been reactivated now that the essential DIY tasks have been completed. I’ve dug out the drawings, photos and materials-list of the kiln I’m basing mine on and attempted to get hold of what is needed. I was kindly given the kiln design by Bob Park of Greystoke Ghyll  Pottery nine or ten years ago. Although I’d applied to attend his kiln building course he didn’t have enough other applicants to make it worth his while. However, when I asked, he agreed to show me how to fire the kiln over a weekend and give me the kiln plans, for a very reduced course fee.  A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then and several of the suppliers on Bob’s list have ceased trading or stopped selling the items listed on the kiln materials list so getting hold of what’s needed is less than straight forward. I’m also modifying the design slightly as I have an existing building (stable) which I want to house the bulk of the kiln, but the stable roof is made of asbestos concrete which I am reluctant to cut a hole in (due to the health hazard of asbestos dust) for the chimney, so the chimney will be built outside the stable and I will need a horizontal flue linking the ware chamber to the chimney. The kiln is based on the Olsen ‘fast fire’ design but has clearly been modified either by Bob or whoever he got the design from. Fortunately  Fred Olsen published a book ( The Kiln Book: Materials, Specifications & Construction ) explaining the design principles used to design the original and I am applying those principles to modify the design.

On the left a small pile of standard HTI bricks and on the right a variety of kiln shelves being stored in the old chicken shed to keep them nice and dry

So far I have purchased

600 heavy fire bricks which will be used to build the bottom half of the kiln including the fireboxes, and the bottom half of the chimney.

400 lightweight HTI (High Thermal Insulation) bricks which will be used for the top half of the kiln ie the ware chamber.

80 HTI arch bricks which will form the arched roof of the ware chamber.

35 Kiln shelves and a selection of props to support them – for stacking the pots in the kiln.

An assortment of other pieces of kiln shelf which will be used in the construction of the kiln forming the ware chamber floor/firebox roof, chimney floor, various lintels, the firebox doors and the flue damper.

All of these materials were delivered on pallets by lorry and because the track to the stable where I am going to build the kiln is too narrow for lorries the pallets had to be delivered to the front of the house. The road has no pavement and our drive is too soft to support a pallet truck so the pallets had to be left on my neighbours drive. After each delivery I spent several hours moving the materials by wheelbarrow to their temporary storage locations where they would be out of the way and suitably protected from the elements.

 

This YEAR I have been mostly making …. Home Improvements   Leave a comment

A view from what is now the utility room past where a shower room and a WC had been to the guest bedroom and where the back hallway had been.

A view from what is now the utility room past where a shower room and a WC had been to the guest bedroom and where the back hallway had been.

This time last year the house was in chaos. Building work had started at the beginning of September and was scheduled to last 12 weeks. As is often the case with old houses, things cropped up which required additional work and expenditure and in this case the work over-ran by 25% and the expenditure over-ran by 30%. The builders finally left in mid December. We had allowed 10% in the budget for over-run so all our remaining savings were cleared out leaving no funds for painting and decorating, paving and landscaping or building my wood-fired kiln. It was time to put our DIY outfits on and work our way through to the end of the building project. First came tiling, painting and varnishing in the kitchen in an attempt to make it a suitable work space for hosting Christmas. We managed to get the tiles on behind the worktops and the new oak door varnished, the windowsills painted and some of the walls painted particularly in areas where food splashes and fat spits  might permanently stain the bare plaster.  Once the festivities were over tiling, painting and varnishing spread to the utility room and guest bedroom. I also put up shelves and coat hooks in the utility room and pantry/boiler room, roller blinds and curtain rails generally and mirrors and toilet roll holders in the downstairs loo and new upstairs bathroom. The painting went on for weeks as there were 4 large rooms, a small loo and a pantry and a stairwell, staircase and landing all of which needed laborious preparation with filler, sandpaper and knotting solution and at least 3 coats of paint.

 

 

Paving panel with quartz pebble and kitchen tile offcuts standing on edge

Paving panel with quartz pebble and kitchen tile offcuts standing on edge

Outside it rained and rained and rained – the wettest winter in living memory. The paths around the house either turned to mud or became dangerously slippery – the local stone is porous but fine grained which allows a thin film of slippy  algae to grow but has little grip. One path was even completely flooded where it dipped close to the old well the water in the latter rising above ground level during the heaviest downpours. It became clear some new and/or replacement paving was needed. As all our spare income was being spent on paint and tiles and carpets and vinyl flooring and curtains and a dozen other decorating necessities it was clear the paths would have to become another DIY project.

Paving panel with round pebble and broken roof tiles standing on edge

Paving panel with round pebble and broken roof tiles standing on edge

The incessant rain also highlighted the fact that not all the roofing and rendering were totally waterproof and that practically all outside paintwork had remained neglected for a decade or more. So as winter turned to spring and the internal decorations neared completion my attention and effort turned to matters outside. My wife had taken a full time job so was less involved in the out-door works concentrating her efforts mainly on the garden. I clambered about on ladders and roof ladders, filled gaps with mortar and caulking, painted neglected woodwork and applied bitumen to roofs, mortar flashings and timber framing, re-painted rendering, repositioned and re-secured roof tiles, pulled up paths and laid new ones all on a minimal budget and at the same time trying to keep on top of the garden and to ‘tame’ new areas of it.

 

Paving panel with half-brick surrounded by pebbles

Paving panel with half-brick surrounded by pebbles

For the paths I mainly used materials I had to hand – bricks from the walls taken down by the builders, stones from the veg. and flower beds, slabs from the pre-existing paths and bits of old sandstone roof tile which litter the garden all held in place with concrete which provides good grip underfoot.

 

 

 

The house with its new timber framed porch and kitchen wall

The house with its new timber framed porch and kitchen wall

By early Autumn the house was looking good both inside and out and attracted nice comments from neighbours and passers-by (we are on the route of the Wye Valley Way), there were only a few bits of paving which needed ‘seeing to’  and the garden, all of it, was more or less under control. However one more thing had started to irk me. The summerhouse in the garden had been pressed into service for a variety of purposes when we first moved in. Bike shed, night time accommodation for our 3 cats, pottery store for the stock I had brought with me  from Cambridge, kindling prep and storage area (for our wood-stove) and glaze making ingredients and kiln building materials store. After I had converted the garage into my pottery studio, although the glaze ingredients moved out, my workbench, trestles and table, DIY and decorating tools, ladders and timber, paint and other materials, and sack barrow were all moved in. Floor space was a precious commodity and all available shelf space was full. We bought a Barbecue, the chaps from Calor Gas who came to move the gas tank left me 3 bags of cement, the builders had over ordered the (non-returnable) floor tiles so we had two boxes of those, our bumper crops of onions and shallots and garlic needed to be stored somewhere, the boxes which the previous owners had used for storing apples and pears needed a new home rather than the loft space the builders had converted into a bathroom. The summerhouse was full to bursting and if you wanted to get something out you had to move several other items to get to it and several more to get the desired item to the door. What we needed was another shed.

New shed with split roof. The rear is strong so that it can be stood on for house maintenance, the front is clear plastic for internal light.

New shed with split roof. The rear is strong so that it can be stood on for house maintenance, the front is clear plastic for internal light.

It would be my DIY workshop. There was an obvious place to site it, out of view from the house and most of the garden, but close enough to both pottery and house  to quickly grab that vital tool. After looking at commercially available sheds of the size I wanted I decided I could get something closer to my needs for significantly less money if I built it myself. In my mind the saving equated to well over 100 lightweight thermal insulation bricks. It took me around 3 man days (spread over two weeks due to bad weather and other interruptions) to build the shed … time well spent.

Initially, at the beginning of this DIY marathon I had tried to continue potting but  I lacked focus and drive as my thoughts kept wandering to the long list of DIY  jobs that still needed doing. I also wasn’t getting into the studio every day so things got forgotten. I lost count of the number of pots I had to throw away (recycle) because they had dried out too much before I got back to them. It was very disheartening. It also wasn’t getting me any closer to the wood-fired salt-glaze dream and it soon became clear to me that I would be happier if I stopped trying to be both potter and painter/decorator/builder and concentrated on getting the DIY out of the way. Its taken longer than I thought it would, and the DIY to-do list still exists but I can see that the time when I will be able to get into the studio every day is now in sight; so much so that I recently searched  out the CD which holds the details of the wood-burning kiln I am going to build and had a good look at what is in store for me next.

 

 

Posted November 25, 2014 by damiankeefe in Uncategorized

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This week I have been mostly making…Glazes   Leave a comment

At last the pottery is fully functioning. It seems to have taken forever to get to this point but I have now done my first successful glaze firing. The sources of delay have been many and varied. There have been the usual decorating and DIY jobs needed when you move to a new home. The very large garden was a wilderness and is now reasonably tamed and producing bumper harvests. We’ve had a continuous stream of visitors all keen to see what we have let ourselves in for. Several of them stayed for long weekends and some friends from New Zealand stayed for a fortnight. Various major remedial works have been completed such as re-roofing the summer house and moving the gas tank (and as a result also the garden tool shed). Major building work has also commenced and is still ongoing. Getting this started has involved much deliberation on how we wanted the internal layout of one end of the house to be changed followed by the process of getting planning permission, choosing a builder, specifying internal fittings, sanitary ware, kitchen units, floorings, wall decoration etc. etc. All in all it has been difficult to spend any consistent amount of time in the pottery.

pottery waterworks

Outside the clay room. The water comes from the roof and is stored in the green water butt. To the right are shelves for drying pots prior to bisque firing and a table on which glazes are made. In the far left foreground is the kiln lid. Behind this are shelves for kiln props and above these the energy regulator which caused the first glaze firing to go wrong. This is attached to the firing controller (the box with its red instruction manual tucked behind it).

Nevertheless, although intermittent, progress has been made on the potting front. After finishing off the clay room I started to throw pots. It was a bit of a shock to find that although some aspects of throwing, such as centring, hadn’t faded away with lack of practice, other skills such as ‘just knowing’ how close to the wheel head  I had pushed my thumbs down when opening out a ball of clay had deserted me. The other vital skill of ‘just knowing’ how thick the wall of a pot is when you are pulling it up had also faded. The first few throwing sessions produced pots with excessively thick or thin bases and with similarly unsatisfactory wall thicknesses. Initially the walls were too thin and the pots would collapse half an hour after they were removed from the wheel. I then had a phase of leaving the walls too thick. I resolved to make sure that every session in the pottery would begin with an hour of throwing practice. Fortunately, after just a few weeks, these skills returned but all the practice did leave me with many tubs of clay for recycling and very few pots which would be consigned to the kiln. Just as well really because the drying/glazing/kiln room was still under construction.

When in the pottery and  not practicing throwing I lined the remainder of the garage walls with battens and insulated plasterboard, shelves and tables. On the outside wall of the clay room I installed a worktop and second hand sink and on the worktop, against the outside wall I built a stand for a water butt. The water butt  is filled by run-off from the roof and with a capacity of 160 litres provides all the cold water the pottery needs. A hosepipe attached to the water butt tap allows me to direct the flow into the sink or to a glaze bucket sitting on the floor.  If I want hot water I just boil a kettle. Underneath the sink is a big water tank where clay and glaze ingredients can settle out before the water  goes down the drain. Finally I wired up the kiln, put it in its final position and put packing under some of the legs to make it level and stable. I then packed it rather loosely with the unfired pots I hadn’t felt needed throwing in the recycling bin, and did a biscuit (bisque) firing to 1000C. All went well. I had the essentials for pot making.

Before I left Cambridge I allowed all my glazes to dry out completely – for ease of transport – so the next job was to reconstitute these with water, which also includes the time consuming job of sieving them. Many an hour was spent stirring the glaze slop to push it through the sieve a pastime which still continues.

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The glazing and decorating area. An old kickwheel I use as a banding wheel, a low table to support the buckets of glaze at a convenient height and shelves holding bisque fired pots awaiting decoration.

As the stream of visitors slowed down and my throwing skills returned I got more time for making and had another kiln-full ready to bisque, However there was one last hiccough to delay full scale production. When I did my last glaze firing in Cambridge it was clear that the kiln elements were worn out. The temperature struggled up to 1240C and took 15 minutes longer than it should have done. One or two of the pots looked a bit  ‘overcooked’. Time for a new set of elements. Replacing the elements themselves is not too bad a job but the kiln’s instruction book said that after changing the elements the kiln should be fired once to 750C while empty and twice to 1000C with pots in before a glaze firing is attempted. Over a period of 3 weeks and with a lot of frantic throwing activity I duly did as instructed and finally was ready to produce a finished, glazed pot.

I glazed enough pots to fill the kiln, carefully selecting those pots which I hadn’t put too much effort into or which, after the biscuit firing were clearly destined to be seconds – bits of lime popping in the clay, warped, non-circular things etc. A first firing with new elements is prone to mishaps!  Caution, pessimism, realism, experience, I don’t know but BINGO! the mishap occurred. The kiln has a single cooker style energy regulator which limits the amount of power going to the kiln. It is also fitted with a programmable firing controller which switches power on and off to achieve the desired firing rate. This makes the energy regulator redundant – it is always left set to full power and consequently I have never needed to consider it since the first day I got the kiln. Unfortunately, at some point in the months since I left Cambridge the setting of the energy regulator got changed and I didn’t notice. Even when the firing controller was trying to give continuous full power the kiln was only getting about 80% power. This didn’t matter below 1000C as the kiln achieves this quite easily, which is why I didn’t notice the problem sooner. However as the temperature got above 1100C the rate of temperature increase fell below what the firing controller was trying to achieve. It was as if I hadn’t changed the elements and despite  frantic efforts to diagnose the problem I didn’t spot the incorrectly set regulator. Eventually the kiln reached the desired temperature but 50% of the pots went straight to the bin and the rest are substandard.

I eventually spotted the regulator problem a couple of days later while cleaning plaster dust off it and was actually relieved to know that the cause of the problem was nothing more serious. The next glaze firing was fine.

I now need to find outlets for my pottery and make a start with preparations for housing, building and fuelling the wood kiln.

Posted October 27, 2013 by damiankeefe in Uncategorized

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