Raku firing beads and pendants can be problematic. This is a bead rack that you can easily make in your studio and reuse in several firings.
Over the years I tried various methods for firing beads in a raku kiln. Aside from keeping the beads separated during the firing process, there is also the problem of the beads cooling during transfer from the kiln to the reduction can. This simple bead rack that you can make in your studio helps to solve both of those issues.
Forming the Firing Rack
Start by throwing a bottomless cylinder on a bat. I keep the walls thick (3⁄8 inch) in hopes that doing so will make them last through a few firings. Keep the diameter of the ring no larger than the length of your bead rod. I use commercial bead rods that are 12 inches in length and can be purchased through a ceramic supplier.
Other options to consider when making your bead rack:
- Make multiple rings the same size to allow the option of stacking them on top of each other in the kiln.
- When the clay ring is still on the bat and pliable, run a wire under the ring and squeeze it with the palms of your hands to form a square. A square shape may fit more easily into your kiln.
- Experiment with the hole placement to suit the size of the beads or pendants that you make.
- Consider adding some extra holes to fashion a basket-type handle made of high-temperature Kanthal wire. The handle will make the ring easier to lift out of the raku kiln.
When the ring is leather hard, remove it from the bat. Using a hole cutter, line up the bead rods as a spacing gauge, and punch holes all the way around to support the bead rod (1, 2). Test them out and adjust the holes, if needed, so that the rods will match up and insert easily (3). They don’t have to be pretty because these racks don’t last beyond the raku process. I clean up the holes just enough so that they are not sharp. When the ring is completely dry, fire to bisque temperature.
Make your bead rack out of whatever clay you use for raku. I have always used cone-10 stoneware for raku firing. While I have never high fired beads on this rack, if you use the appropriate clay and bead rods, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work in either an electric or gas kiln.
Due to the stress of raku firing, the bead racks will last approximately three firings. Sometimes they only make it through one. If used in a traditional high-fire kiln (electric or gas), the rack should last significantly longer. In both raku and conventional firings, the racks are placed on a kiln shelf.
What I like about the bead racks for raku firing is that the heat from the ring ignites the combustible material in the metal can quickly, giving much better results (4). The beads on their own cool off too quickly on their way to the can and take too long to ignite the combustible.
the author Michèle Hastings is a potter in Seagrove, North Carolina, where she and her partner, Jeff Brown, have a studio and gallery that is open to the public. To learn more, visit www.gypsypotters.net.