Tips and Tools: Budget Wood Firing

 

1 The outdoor kiln pad at the Morean Center for Clay in St. Petersburg, Florida. From left to right: wood shed, anagama kiln, train kiln.

 

Planning a wood firing? Shocked by the price of wood? Check with your local dump, arborists, and cabinet makers to see if they can help out.

I am the Artist Programming Manager at the Morean Center for Clay in St. Petersburg, Florida, where we have an anagama kiln, a train kiln, and an Olson fast-fire kiln. We burn through a lot of wood when firing these kilns. Exactly how much wood, and how we pay for it seem to be common questions when I talk with other wood-firing studios and artists. As we talk about the challenges of acquiring wood, I have found that it’s interesting to see how much the approach for finding and affording wood varies from one part of the country to another.

Here in Florida, wood is not needed as a heat source the way it may be in other parts of the country. Most of the retail wood is sold to restaurants for barbeque in face cords, not in full cords. It is therefore incredibly unusual to the wood suppliers when I tell them that I need 10 full cords. They tend to look at me like I’m crazy. Vice-versa, when they quote me $300 for the cord, it’s my turn to look at them in astonishment. We learned pretty quickly that it will be a rare day when we purchase wood for our kilns.

Local Arborists

To combat this problem, we initially developed relationships with local arborists. This was a great relationship for a while, as arborists pay to get rid of their trimmed trees at the local dump, so we worked out a deal that they could bring the wood to our studio for free. We could call an arborist, find out what type of tree would be cutting down and ask that they cut it to size and deliver it to the studio. Unfortunately, the other tree trimmers and lawn-care businesses eventually learned of this arrangement and began dumping all of their trees and oversized trunks throughout our parking lot and property, forcing us to end the agreement.

2 Slat wood from a local cabinet maker’s shop.

3 Free wood at the city dump.

4 Wood shed at Morean Center for Clay stocked with free wood from the city dump, cut to size for stoking.

 

Local Dump

Knowing that the arborists’ wood was going to the dump, we decided to look into this as a potential resource. The city dump takes all of the wood directly from the tree trimmers and the arborists. As it is going to be made into mulch, it doesn’t contain any nails or other unwanted byproducts. This works great for us as the city allows us to pick through the wood before it is mulched and we can select the type and size of wood we need for free. To round out our wood supply, we also work with a local cabinet shop to obtain their run-off pieces of slat wood, which we use for side stoking. This dried hard wood is delivered to us in 3-foot bundles, which is perfect to saw down to the lengths we need. With just a little bit of research and networking we were able to find two constant sources of free wood.

the author Matt Schiemann is an artist, educator, and manager for the St. Pete Clay Artist-in-Residence Program at the Morean Center for Clay in St. Petersburg, Florida, www.matthewschiemannpottery.com.

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