Guldagergaard week 3 – Soda Time

It’s been a very busy week, but then again, I suppose nearly all of my weeks here have been and will be very busy. With only five week here, time seems to go by so quickly.

Anyway, the first half of this week was consumed by finishing every possible sculpture I could, so they could be soda fired. The plan was to load the big bisque kiln on Monday, giving it plenty of time to cool before we loaded the soda on Thursday.It’s been a bit rough doing my main firing only 3 weeks into my time here, but fellow artist Jody was about to return to Canada, meaning if we wanted to fire together we had to fire this week.  It’s worked out for me though, since I managed to finish 90 flying beasts, which wasn’t far from my goal of 100.

Unloading the bisque

So after about a full week of last minute frantic studio work, Jody and I loaded up the Guldagergaard wood-soda kiln on Thursday. The kiln is a small little beast, with a capacity of 300 liters/ 10.5 cubic feet. It’s also a very different type of kiln for me, since I’ve only really fired an anagama and a train kiln.  This guy is a cross draft kiln, with a firebox located underneath the ware chamber. It’s weird.  It wasn’t like stoking a firebox, it was like stoking a conveyor belt. It wasn’t so much much a rhythm of “stoke, see how the temperature responds, adjust”, as it was a constant process of stoking, gradually pushing the wood further in the the kiln, and constantly adjusting.  It was like switching from a Sousa march to one of the Bach cello suites. Looking around online, it visually looks a bit similar to the “phoenix kiln” in a book by Jack Troy, which was mentioned on Carl Gray’s website. The main differences are the fact that the firebox has a flat, not arched roof, and the chimney is on the side, not the front.

Anyway, due to some last minute kiln maintenance work, we didn’t get the kiln started until about 9pm on Thursday night. The plan was to fire for about 20 hours, waiting to put the soda into the kiln until cone nine on the bottom of the kiln had fallen. Sounds good, as far as plans go.  However, life is seldom that simple. By hour 22 or so we had cone 9 down on the top, but had barely moved cone 8 on the bottom. It took easily another 4 hours of struggle before finally dropped the lower cone nine, by which point we’d also dropped cone 11 on the top of the kiln.  In all, the firing took us 28 hours, which was pretty exhausting for just two people, especially since we were also constantly splitting  more wood.

Richard prepping the soda bombs

Richard, the tech, had to leave for the night before we were ready to put the soda in the kiln, but here’s a shot of him explaining the soda balls to us. We were using a method developed by Gail Nichols, generally referred to as soda balls/bombs/burritos.  In previous soda firings that I’ve done, people have used the more traditional method of spraying in a mixture of water, soda ash, and sodium bicarbonate into the kiln. However, it seems like Nichols’s soda bomb method is taking off, which is understandable if you’ve seen how amazing her work looks. Basically, you mix soda ash, sodium bicarbonate, and whiting together, and add just enough water to form it in to balls. These balls then solidify to rocks, which you then dump into the firebox.  The soda then vaporizes in the firebox, distributing itself around the kiln.  I haven’t done much soda firing, but I would love to play around with it some more if the results from this firing are promising.

dawn over the wood pile

Anyway, at this point, we’re stuck waiting for the kiln to cool, and catching up on sleep. I’ll let everyone know what the results look like once we unload it!

Off to the wood firing!

As folks who have been following my twitter might have guessed, I’m about to head out for a woodfiring! I’ve just finished packing up several months worth of critters, who will loaded into the kiln this Saturday and Sunday. They’ll be unloaded in two weeks on Saturday, November 28th.
Most of these guys will then be going directly to the Island Gallery on Bainbridge Island, for their December show, “Beauty and the Beasts”. I’ll be featured along side their annual fashion show. Some will be coming to my studio’s annual holiday sale and party. Stay tuned to my twitter for updates on the firing!

Firing, end of day 4

By the end of the firing, everyone ends up so very tired. This is the last night. We’re just working on maintaining temp, especially in the back of the kiln. We’ve dropped cone 13 in the front, and it looks like cone 13 in the far back might be soft. It’s hard to tell, since cone 12 reacts to the ash or something, and doesn’t melt like it should.
Tomorrow morning, we’ll mud up the kiln, and reduce cool it for a few hours. That will probably start in about seven hours.
Here’s a photo of the wood at the start of the firing, and how it is now. We got a whole brand new cord of wood that’s unstacked in the “after” photo.
The other photo is of the night crew. They’re good folks.

Kiln unloaded!

So we unloaded the kiln yesterday.  All in all, it seem like a pretty good firing.  It turned out that we hadn’t dropped cone 13 in the far back, like we thought.  The cones were only viewable from a very strange angle in the back, and someone misread them.  We were only at cone 11 in back, which isn’t bad, but isn’t 13 either. However, we were right about the cones in the front. Cone 13 was completely flat, and cone 14 was starting to bend.

In general, the firing didn’t seem to be hurting from shutting down 15 hours early.  The back was much drier than normal, which was ok for everyone who glazes their pieces (I don’t), but resulted in one or two matte blue gray critters.  I might refirer those two.

Most of the pieces came out great.  I need to now work on cleaning up everything, which should be easy this time, and get photographing.  Unfortunately I need to finish rebuilding my lighting set up from scratch before I can do that.  Photos of the new work (and the new photographic lighting set up) will be coming soon!

Firing, hour 60 some

The kiln has been above 2000 degrees in both front and back for about a day now. It’s been keeping between 2200 and 2300 in front, and we’ve been fighting to get the back to match that. We’ll gain maybe 100 degrees over the next two days. It’s funny how you spend the first day or two working to keep it slow, and now we might have to fight for every 20 degrees.
For the next few days it will mainly be about what the cones are doing, and what the coal bed is like. Cones measure a combination of heat + time, and give us a better idea of how the pots are doing than just temperature. Last I heard, cone 13 is bending in front, and 10 is down in the middle. Not sure about the far back. The kiln will continue to feel hotter and hotter as we go on.
Flame and smoke from the stack with every stoke now. Also, it is a VERY beautiful day.