Three Helpful Tips for Operating a Sustainable Pottery Studio


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With kilns fueled primarily by fossil fuels and materials mined from the earth, it is challenging to have a sustainable pottery practice. But there are definitely things that can be done to lessen your impact.

In this post, an excerpt from the Ceramics Monthly archives, Maggie Furtak gives some very practical advice for those who are hoping to build a more sustainable pottery studio. What’s great is that these ideas not only lessen your environmental impact, they also save you money! –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

P.S. For more ideas on being green in the clay studio, check out this article on sustainable ceramics in the CAN archives! 


 Steps to Take for a More Sustainable Ceramics Studio

Kilns

Get a model with the thickest brick you can find. The extra insulation will pay for itself. Consider buying a kiln rated for higher temperatures than you need. It will sail easily through glaze firings. Use the smallest model that meets your needs, so you never run it half full to meet a deadline.

If you need to replace a cracking kiln lid, upgrade to thicker brick on the new one. Reuse the old lid stacked between the bottom of the kiln and the stand to make a double bottom. You may need to drill some holes for your vent system. For my kiln, a thicker lid and double bottom reduced electricity use by 14% and glaze firings now finish two hours faster.


Green up your studio!

More and more, artists are interested in producing work that’s not only beautifully designed and produced, but also environmentally friendly and socially responsible. Sustainable Ceramics covers all the factors to consider when going ‘green’, from fuels and alternative firing technology to energy-saving methods, sustainable ways to collect and use clay itself, and ways to deal with waste materials and save water. Harrison suggests simple and achievable methods by which to reduce the carbon footprint of ceramic art, and offers examples throughout of potters and clay artists who reclaim, reuse and recycle in their work. Sustainable Ceramics is an essential resource for any ceramicist, studio or school wishing to reduce the impact of their practice on the environment. 

Many neighborhoods experience voltage drops during times of peak energy consumption, which will slow down your firings. Ask your utility about off-peak hours. Starting your kiln early to beat energy rush-hour can result in shorter firings and thus save energy. I start at 6am for best results. Weather is also important. Air conditioners, space heaters, and electric radiators are energy hogs. Plan ahead to avoid firing on especially hot or cold days. Take good notes and use the patterns in your kiln log for future planning. Your data set will save energy and yield consistent, predictable firings.

Water

Water can be reused almost infinitely in the studio with some planning. As a side benefit, your sink won’t plug up with clay. Fill a bucket with clean water and throw pots. When you’re done, clean your tools in the bucket, and tip the sludgy water into a big tub to settle overnight. In the morning, siphon clear water from the top for throwing, wiping down shelves, cleaning tools, etc. Repeat! If you just need a little water, dip a sponge in the clear water at the top of the tub instead of siphoning. When the clay sludge in the tub begins to accumulate, recycle it into new clay.


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2 A second-hand electric kiln runs efficiently with regular element changes, a new 3-inch-thick lid, and double bottom. Firing to cone 6 takes 70 kWh and just over 7 hours on average.


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3 Throwing water poured back into the tub at the end of the day will settle by morning to restart the studio water cycle. For every 100 pounds of clay you throw, you’ll get about 20 pounds back by recycling trimmings and throwing water.

**First published in 2017

Comments
  • Conall O.

    Thank you. Great ideas.
    I will especially look into renewing the elements in my kiln. Adding to the floor may cost kiln space, but it sounds like it will be worth it.

    A few additional ideas I picked up from other potters:
    – I build mostly large pieces, but they leave much space around them in the kiln, so I also make some smaller pieces to fill the space.
    – I place a layer of ceramic fibre on the roof of my kiln to enhance its insulation (wearing a dust mask when moving it).
    – I reduced my bisque firing of stoneware from 800c to 700c.

    And just this week I saved some energy (and a lot of money) by sending my kiln temperature controller back to the manufacturer for repair when a supply shop had advised I would need to buy a new controller!

    C

  • Rusty M.

    Great tips!
    As I understand your write up on using the old lid. You are suggesting putting the old lid outside of the kiln, not inside as Conall described?
    Thank you
    Rusty

  • Conall O.

    Yes, it is on the outside-top that I place the inch-thick layer of extra ceramic wool (I don’t have a spare lid).

    Judging by the photo, I am guessing Maggie is using a type of kiln where you can add layers. My kiln is a fixed body, so that is not an option – thus the layer of wool on the outside of the roof.

    Some time ago I also placed an extra layer of ceramic wool under the floor bat, but I guess it is well squashed at this stage, so will have lost most of its insulating value.

    C

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