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Published Aug 13, 2014

You don't have to own a wood kiln to wood fire your work, but it can be tricky to find a kiln firing group you're comfortable with and that meets your needs. The key to success? Ask a lot of questions.

 In today's post, an excerpt from the Ceramics Monthly archive, Dick Lehman shares a number of important questions for those who want to wood fire but don't have a kiln.- Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

PS. Be sure to check out the September 2014 issue of Ceramics Monthly for more of of Dick Lehman's thoughtful answers and solutions related to wood firing with others.

Site, Setting, Kiln, and Kiln Furniture

1. How is the kiln maintained? Is there junk falling from the ceiling? Are there drips from the ceiling or from silicon carbide shelving?

2. Is the kiln site well organized? Are the shelves and posts cleaned as part of the unloading process (or at least prior to loading?), or is it necessary to do a lot of cleanup before the loading can begin?


3. What is the wood choice? Does the firing use whatever is available or is the wood choice intentionally species specific and is the species specific to the desired effects?



4. Do pots arrive already wadded or does the wadding take place as the loading is happening?

5. Do people get to load their own works or have input on where they are placed in the kiln? How is the flame flow imagined? How loose or tight is the kiln stacked? What are the kiln's firing zones?


6. Is a stoking shift schedule determined in advance of the firing? Is there an experienced stoker on each shift? How are the shifts organized? How long are they? Is there any overlap between the personnel of successive shifts? Are pyrometers or cones used? Is a firing log kept or maintained? Do stokers have access to the records of past firings? What information is included in the firing log?

7. Are non- participants or non-shift people allowed to hang out at the firing? Is drinking alcohol allowed at the kiln site? If so, by whom and how much?

Completion of the Firing and Cooling

8. What is the closedown procedure? Is there a last large stoke? Is the kiln closed up all at once or gradually? How tightly is the kiln closed up? Damper closed? Chimney top covered? Plaster or wall-paper over all the openings and cracks? Is there a reduction cooling at the end of the firing? If so, how aggressively and for how long?

9. Is the loading scheduled for a time that all the major participants can attend? Are the works unloaded quickly or more methodically?

10. Is there time for conversation and record keeping about any observations made from this seeing? Is there enough time allotted to take all this in, or do people begin packing up their works immediately? Is there any other kind of shared evaluation among the participants? Be Prepared: A Few of My Answers

Wadding is glued-on in advance so that if my works get loaded then moved/relocated in the kiln, the wadding stays on the pots. I routinely place pots on pot sitters so that if there are ash/glaze runs, the pieces can easily be salvaged and they don't end up being stuck to the shelves. For pieces I plan to fire on their sides, I make a one-time-use tripod to which the pot is glued and secured. Both tripod and pot are bisque-fired so they will shrink together. Sea shells are glued to the tripods; pots are glued to the shells. Wadding on the bottoms of the tripods are glued making relocation in the loading easier and more successful. I make the tripod bases large enough that they keep other pots at an appropriate distance from my works.

Make sure to check out the September 2014 issue of Ceramics Monthly for the entire article, which includes more great questions to ask and for some of Dick Lehman's thoughtful answers and solutions related to wood firing with others