We left off at the bricklaying stage. The kiln has been finished for several years now and in the meantime I relocated, returned to design work and spent the next couple years looking for the perfect home for me and my kiln. All that has delayed the conclusion of this story. In looking back to those times, despite all the brands I’ve developed in my return to design and all the work on this house, this was the most creative and spiritual time for me since I was a young potter and painter.
If you’ll allow a brief interlude, I’m reminded of the moment my dad asked me to sit down and decide the end use of this kiln. He needed to know the goaled performance. What cone did I want to fire at, how often, what kind of pieces would I primarily be making? Knowing this criteria, he could work out the mathematics of how much heat was required (pounds per pressure). This then determined the type of burners he’d need and design the size around the available materials to be as efficient as possible. My entire professional life as a designer/director has involved the process of backing out the end picture to great detail. I wanted my power kiln to run like a typical studio but on a more individual scale for me; assuming I was terribly productive.
I had dreams of an anagama kiln because quite frankly, I’m obsessed with all things Japanese. I knew though that that beautiful design would not happen. With the Self-Reliant Potter by Andrew Holden, I started sketching out my verbal thoughts based on the through-draught kiln. I liked the idea of it used interchangeably between wood, oil or gas. And then as it typically happens, an engineer swoops in over your shoulder and says, “Uh, no. That’s not going to happen.” And as an engineer typically reacts, picks up the book, flips to the page of the power kiln, points to it and says, “This is what we’re going to make”.
Okay, so it’s not as sexy and dreamy as the through-draught, but as I sat there I thought of my end use. My life wasn’t/isn’t entirely sexy and dreamy anyway. At that time I was working on my business model living with my parents (which I loved) and taking gigs in NYC from winter to late spring. I left my beloved cat behind which was hard enough, and lived in Airbnb. Two long years of this. Two different studios, one of which I taught in as a worktrade agreement and came home on some weekends. Even now, almost 4 years later, I do have a house but it’s not my forever home yet. I don’t see my business being situated here and for all intents and purposes I’m restoring a great little 1920’s flapper house but I just feel like I’m renting it. A kiln on wheels (wheels nearly the size of my head) was just my style. Anyone that knows me knows I’ve operated as a vagabond for all of my professional life, searching endlessly for what home truly is. A kiln on wheels gives me leverage. And honestly, I thank my dad for telling me that my silly sketch would not be the one we would produce (that day). Hopefully I still have time in my life to build a small version of this one and this will be my wood fired kiln. Someday…when I can stay put for a while.
Okay, so it’s not as sexy and dreamy as the through-draught,
but as I sat there and thought of my end use,
my life wasn’t/isn’t entirely sexy and dreamy anyway.
Back To Reality
So we left off at the bricklaying stage. Eventually my feet that had fallen asleep after hours of being crunched up inside the kiln were revived. A ladder was brought to me and I slung my leg over the top of the kiln careful not to erode the edge of our beautiful, wonderful soft brick that would keep in all that heat. I was set free.
The next step would be two-fold. By cementing the top edge it provides protection to the soft brick and keeps everything solidly in place from the walls inward. There’s a chance these bricks may move around when I do relocate it but I’ll probably need to fill the kiln with boxes to keep it from moving around. As mentioned earlier in this series of posts, we could have used hard brick as they are more hardwearing, but the downside to them is their weight, and if they are damaged it is a more difficult time to switch out a damaged piece. Soft brick can be pried out and pushed back in much easier. Yes, hard brick is quite a bit cheaper but they aren’t as insulating as soft brick either. I’ve spent a nauseating fortune on bricks alone but I see their future value. Weight savings and insulation were paramount. But because they are more delicate, a heavy cement lid would certainly help extend lifespan and it was also part of Holden’s design. And so we move on to the cement.
A simple temporary wood frame (squared up), screwed together from the inside creates a channel for this lip to be formed. If you’re wondering why the varying heights of the wood, try to move past this as I had to. These lengths have nothing to do with the design of the lip, it’s just scrap wood. If you’re buying new wood and you want it the same, make it as persnickety as you’d like it to be. It’s merely meant to act as a strong post to support push to the sides — pressing the brick vertically and laterally.
This is what I’d consider wet setup. Clean bucket and scrub brush for first pass cleaning of trowel and float, small plastic bin and water for finer clean up. If you compare this idea to wheel/studio clean up for clay, this is bucket number one for the bulk of the clay, and bucket number two, cleaner water and clean the tools.
This is the kiln cement used for this project. Compared to a common cement in building we found this was much much harder to pack. I’m going to guess the silicate compounds in this makeup take up more volume but it really was a lot of muscling. As he recalled, it was much “fluffier”. I did help in this process a little but in documenting this build I broke to shoot it. I think it’s fair to say as a lithe little thing I always wished to have been a little “girthier”. And if I was girthier I’d surely be able to compress the hell out of it. Luckily the Hulk did nearly all of it.
PSA: Please, please wear a mask.
This is all silica, you must protect your lungs — mix outside if at all possible.
Must be fine particulates appropriate filters.
Pay particular attention to the t-shirt.
I freakin’ love this Enginerd shirt one of my sisters got him.
A detail view of the first pass of the kiln cement. Notice the framework as well as the board and bricks. We are filling to create a sound, firm surface. After this initial layer was (quickly) put down, as in any cement work, you need stabilizing mesh, wires or rebar to keep tension across the concrete. Since the area isn’t that wide this heavy gauge wire was all that was needed.
After some initial curing time, the framework that held our cement lip in place was released. Using an oscillating multitool a cut was made to free up our wood before it truly bonded with the cement.
Thin slices of vinyl was placed over the lip to protect against dinging as the wood was gently removed.
Keeping the work clean with minimal damage was the aim.
“Don’t forget to clean the tools!”
Yeah, I got distracting by documenting, but I was going to get to it. Really I was.