The Sasukenei Smokeless Kiln: A Wood Kiln that Produces Little Smoke and Great Results

Wood firing is done by a relatively small number of potters because wood kilns are labor intensive and sometimes not practical for highly populated locations due to air quality regulations. But what if you could get the results of firing in a traditional anagama kiln in a quick-firing, compact kiln that produces very little smoke? I’m thinking a lot more people might give wood firing a try.

In today’s post, an excerpt from Japanese Wood-Fired Ceramics, Masakazu Kusakabe and Mark Lancet explain the concept behind the Sasukenei Smokeless Kiln. Plus, we’ve thrown in a couple diagrams in case you’d like to build your own. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.


The Sasukenei Smokeless Kiln features several unique characteristics. The finished pieces are of a quality associated with a much longer firing than in a traditional anagama kiln. The kiln fires almost effortlessly and quickly climbing naturally, sustaining high temperatures and achieving dramatic wood-fire effects in 24 to 36 hours. As the name implies, the Sasukenei Smokeless Kiln produces virtually no smoke during firing.


Kusakabe first became interested in smokeless firing when invited to build a kiln for Burnaby City in British Columbia, Canada. One of many requirements for the kiln was that it could not produce smoke, since the kiln was sited in a very populated area. Kusakabe met the challenge by producing Umbu (piggyback) kiln, a large, double-chambered, smokeless kiln.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The Sasukenei Smokeless Kiln begins with two features employed in the Umbu kiln: a large bourry box and a large chimney typically associated with bigger kilns.

The large bourry box is a double-chambered, downdraft fire box that burns efficiently. Wood is stoked in the top chamber and rests on a grate above the second chamber, which catches the ash and embers from the firing. Air drawn down trough the burning wood results in a fire that burns upside down.

The Sasukenei ware chamber is compressed and measures slightly larger than a cubic meter. The ash and firing effect also are compressed, and the results are dramatic and beautiful. Kusakabe’s insight here was that rather than spread ash and firing effects over a large kiln space to produce good wood-fire results, he would compress the ware chamber and concentrate ash and firing effects on in small chamber for dramatic wood-fired results.

Some of the subtleties found in larger kilns with longer firing cycles are less likely to occur, but the Sasukenei Smokeless Kiln concentration of ash and firing effects produces work so inundated with natural ash glaze that it appears to have been fired over 10 days, rather than the actual day and a half. In addition, work fired under the bourry box and in the flues leading to the ware chamber exhibits qualities unique to the Sasukenei Smokeless Kiln.

Click to enlarge

The short firing cycle of the Sasukenei Smokeless Kiln makes it an ideal kiln to use and learn, develop and experiment with wood-firing. Since the kiln’s typical firing lasts only one-and-a-half days, the kiln consumes less wood and requires fewer people to fire it. It may easily be fired 10 to 20 times a year.

By comparison, the Dancing Fire Wood Kiln typically can be fired three to five times per year due to its firing cycle, wood and crew.

Another difference between the kilns is that the Sasukenei Smokeless Kiln ware chamber is less than 25 percent of the size of the combined ware chambers of the Dancing Fire Wood Kiln. The opportunity to fire more frequently and the range of effects unique to the Sasukenei Smokeless Kiln compensate for the size differences.

The ease of operation, stellar results and smokeless firing combine to make the Sasukenei Smokeless Kiln one that lives up to its name. Sasukenei is a work from the dialect spoken only in Miharu, where Kusakabe lives. It translates as “No problem!” or “No worries, mate!”

Comments
  • Hello,

    One thing – the name of the city in which this was built is Burnaby – those who live there (or close by like me) care about this sort of thing – especially when the mistake makes the city named after the goofus in Hello Dolly!

  • Sorry Louise! I corrected the spelling! – editor.

  • Would it not be wonderful if it really worked. My Husband is prepared to give it a go. It may take a while, however, I will inform you about the progress. Speak to you then. Erika

  • Sounds really valuable for us who live in suburban areas! Does the book contain plans and information on firing? David

  • I am potter that lives in the city limits of Jackson, MI, and this is a answer to my prayers. I have wanted to start firing with wood for some time now but was too concerned with smoke. Where can detailed plans be obtained? The pictures in this article are great but I would love some more instructions and possibly a materials list.

  • Yes David, the book actually goes into a lot more detail on this kiln and another kiln (the dancing fire kiln). In addition it has guidelines on safety, working with local regulatory boards, wood fire recipes, and a step-by-step guide through the six stages of the wood firing process. You can download an excerpt here:
    /bookstore/japanese-wood-fired-ceramics/

  • HI, I am a friend of Kusakabe in Japan, and I have fired his sasukenei kiln with him several times. It’s a really great kiln which gives you very good results resembling those of an anagama but I have to say that it does smoke when doing the side stoking towards the end of the firing, for reduction in the main chamber.

  • I am confused on what makes this kiln different from a John Neely designed Train Kiln. Trains have been used in Utah (usa) as well as Australia (Steve Harrison) for decades.
    These kilns do smoke. Just maybe not as much as an ineffecient anagama.
    This design seems to have a taller chimney, probably for use in its original canadian location at higher elevations.
    There is however SMOKELESS anagama type kiln research ongoing….in the past few years by Australian Ray Cavill.
    Many University kilns in America and Australia have been shut down due to smoke pollution.

  • I am a ceramic tech at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts in Burnaby BC and helped to build the Ombu kiln. (Ombu is the correct name)
    I have fired it smokeless over 40 times. On the rare occasion that we get smoke we have eliminated it by tossing in a cup of water with the stoke. It may be because of the good draw from the tall chimney or that the second chamber acts as an after burner. The diagram shown is of the sasukenei kiln. The Ombu has 2 chambers with the chimney in the centre of the two. The flue from the first chamber passes under the second chamber and the flame then passes over the second chamber into the chimney. Jack Troy and Robert Barron are coming to fire it with us next week.
    I would be happy to send diagrams to anyone interested. I also have a powerpoint presentation on the building of the Ombu.
    For those local viewers there is an exhibition called “Out of the Ombu” presently showing work from the Ombu at the Maple Ridge Art Gallery in Maple Ridge, BC

  • why can’t kilns be heated with charcoal? This is a very hot fire, and produces little smoke when the charcoal is fully heated. has this been tried? ewsartist@embarqmail.com

  • “I would be happy to send diagrams to anyone interested. I also have a powerpoint presentation on the building of the Ombu.”

    Dear Linda, an Ombu kiln diagram and would be really appreciated and nice. Thank you so much!!

    dezzalarsen@yahoo.com
    dereklarsenceramics.com

    Do you stack work/pots in the 2nd chamber???

    I think you are right…there are ways to use a second chamber as a reburn chamber to burn the smoke clean, a gas burner in the botton of a chimney can do this …sometimes. This technology is used in modern wood stoves and furnaces.
    I do not think the chimney has anything to do with the lack of smoke. But with that tall of a chimney i am sure you have pleanty of draft.
    I work out of a 5 chamber noborigama, and it is smokey.
    someday we will all have to go smokeless,
    Thanks from Japan!
    -D

  • Dear Linda,

    I would love to get copies of the diagrams and PP presentation. I am in a location that allows recreational fires but this looks like a great way to fire without POing my neighbors. Thank you so much. Bill

    wsempel@aol.com

  • Linda,

    Please include me on your list for the Ombu diagrams and the PP.
    Thank you very much.

    Ron T.

  • Linda,

    Living in France I can not order the book, so this is a very good altrnative.
    Besides one is only allowed to have small kilns and fires, so this kiln sounds like a good alternative.
    Please include me too in your mailing 4 the diags and graphs

    Would it be an idea to redimension the kiln into a somewhat smaller size? One qubic meter seems like a bigg one to me.

    thanks

    cornelis.robat@neuf.fr

  • Hi Linda,
    Another request for any info you can share about the Ombu kiln including the powerpoint presentation on the building of the Ombu.
    Thanks very much for the offer.
    Joan Scot,
    Gore, Quebec

  • Hi Linda,
    Another request for any info you can share about the Ombu kiln including the powerpoint presentation on the building of the Ombu.
    Thanks very much for the offer.
    Joan Scot,
    Gore, Quebec
    Sorry forgot my contact info
    joanlizscott@gmail.com

  • Hi Linda, Looks like you will be busy emailing kiln diagrams as well as your upcoming symposium! I searched the Shadbolt Centre webpage for a photo of the kiln but no such luck, however the center looks amazing!
    good luck with your upcoming firing and I really appreciate your sharing this diagram!

  • Linda,
    please include me on your list for the Ombu diagrams and info. I have been looking at building a wood kiln but the smoke offending the neighbors has been a concern. Thanks

    Richard

    richmausolf@yahoo.com

  • Please forward Ombu diagrams and power point to bill(a)strayclay,com we may be looking into a would kiln and this one or the Sasukenei are great size and smoke less…

    Thanks

  • I’m wanting to build a new kiln and would like to see the Ombu kiln diagrams and power point on it. Would you send a copy out to me as well?
    Thanks
    Dan

    danbutkowski@gmail.com

  • I would like to see the pp and the plans/diagrams for the Ombu kiln.
    Thanks
    Janice

  • Hi Linda,
    You have sparked a flame for our pottery. My highschool art students and I would also appreciate diagrams and PPT. Thank you for time and helping to keep this art form so interesting and fun!

    Anna

    annalane@mac.com

  • Yet another request for the power point and diagrams. It’s very generous of you to share this info.

    Thank you.

    odayt@pacificu.edu

  • And again a request for the power point and diagrams.
    Thank you so much, and…, keep up the good work!

  • I finally have my own house and land and would love the power point and diagrams for the Ombu Kiln as well. Thank you for your generosity!
    frenchfly17@gmail.com

  • Hi Linda,

    I would also appreciate receiving the diagrams and the PowerPoint presentation. Many thanks. Carol

    cam723@sonic.net

  • i too, would like the essentials on building this kiln. and any additional information regarding scaling it up or down. thanks in advance!
    atb,
    richard

    richardsan@mac.com

  • Hi there, I would appreciate the information for the building of the likn. I live in suburbia and this may inspire me to do some smoke free alternative firing. My club pulled down its anagam and have never rebuilt due the white ant relocation. A small salt kiln was built instead. thanks
    inadvance for the data.

    maybankscp@hotmail.com

  • Dear Linda,

    Please include me on your list for the Ombu diagrams and the Power Point presentation.

    Many thanks for your generosity!

    Liz

    emostello@yahoo.com

  • Hi,

    looks very popular – any chance of putting the Ombu diagrams on this site to save all those emails?

    Andrew

  • I have ordered the book, but would also be appreciative of the diagrams and the PowerPoint presentation.
    Thanks You, Richard

  • Yikes! I forgot to include the email for request for diagrams and powerpoint (for Richard)
    Thanks again for informative article
    rfraser@newnorth.net

  • Linda, I’m interested in the information also. Thank you Orv

  • hello linda, please include me in the exceptionally long list of interested people. we have built a version of the train- this kiln design is interesting as it resembles as has been said, the train. and deserves comparison. thank you in advance.
    bart fetz

  • Sign me up too! I’ve been dreaming about my own wood kiln for some time, and really like the idea of a smokeless wood firing, obviously many others do too. Thank you in advance for sharing this info with all of us who prefer to keep our neighbors on good terms. 🙂

    Power point & plan info would be awesome, thanks!

    tigerlilysls@aol.com

  • I would also be very interesting and grateful to see the diagrams and PP of your Ombu please!

    Thank you for your kind offer!

    Best regards, Kim Nygaard

    kimonito2@yahoo.co.uk

  • Hi Linda~
    If you still have the time to send out your kiln diagrams and power point presentation, that would be terrific.
    ~A potter in north eastern BC

    farrows6@xplornet.com

  • Linda,
    I feel awful adding myself to this list but since you didn’t offer your e-mail address to us…. Greg Schultz
    gregssa @ gmail.com (please remove the gap to prevent SPAM bots)

  • Hi Linda,

    I bet you never imagined the response to your offer of Ombu diagrams and ppt! Please add me to the list. Thank you!

    David

    david_clay@mac.com

  • Linda,

    I’m so excited! I live in Queens, NYC,NY where I have many kiln limitations. This might work. Please send the diagrams, PP and anything you think is necessary to build this beauty! May the Kiln Gods shine on you. My email address is wizbicky@verizon.net

    Thanks,
    Wiz

  • Please send me the diagrams of the ombu and the ppt. I live in MN and have dreamed of a wood kiln that would smoke less.

    gilby@comcast.net

    jon

  • hi linda

    Please send me the PP presentatios and the diagrams of the ombu kiln. Many many thanks!

    Diane

    chen-kw@att.net

  • Linda,

    Can you also send me a copy of the PPP and diagram of the ombu kiln. This would be very exciting to build and use.

    Thanks.

    Donna
    potterybydonna@aol.com

  • Shalom Linda,
    Could you email me the diagrams and PP?
    Many thanks in advance,
    N from Israel

  • If you could add me to your list of people that you send the diagrams and PP I would appreciate it. I live in a subdivision where smoke would definitely be a problem.

    potterskorner@msn.com

  • Hi Linda,

    Your Ombu kiln sounds like the answers to my prayers. Could I be added to the list for the diagrams and PPP? Thanks in advance.

    Alan @

    alanwmaitchison@yahoo.co.uk

  • I would love to build an Ombu Kiln. Will you please add me to your list for diagrams and ppp?

    Thank you-

    amy

    amy001@gmail.com

  • Hi Linda

    The ombu kiln sounds interesting. I would appreciate it if I could get the PP presentation and the diagrams of the ombu kiln from you. Thanks in advance!
    Cheers
    Ed

    spinningpots@shaw.ca

  • Hi Linda I hope its not to late to put my name on the list to recieve the PPP and diagrams, its sounds great. i live in Australia.
    Thanks alot
    Jude
    crazyjude80@hotmail.com

  • Dear Linda If you are still sending out powerpoint and diagrams, I would love to have a copy. Thank you so much.
    Sylvia
    seva@modempool.com

  • Hello Linda.
    I live in Russia, I have my house and really want to build such a furnace. Please include me in the list of those who sent you diagrams and your wonderful PPT furnace. Thank you in advance

    Elena

    artpressfoto@yandex.ru

  • Dear Linda,
    I live in Chile, and I would really appreciate if you can send me the diagrams and PPT if you are still sending them out.
    Thank you,
    M. Ines

    mvera@unab.cl

  • Dear Linda, I can’t believe I found this information. I am very interested in building this kiln. I would appreciate any plans, materials list, or information on this kiln.
    Thank you for your time,

    Eric Mott

  • Hi Linda,
    I would be greatful for your information as well.
    Thank you so much

    John Hughes

  • Dear Linda,
    I live in Spain, and I would really appreciate if you can send me the diagrams and PPT if you are still sending them out.
    Gracias, Thank you,
    phyllumdos@gmail.com
    Emilio

  • Hi Linda: I would also like to be onthe list for information and diagrams for the Ombu kiln. I live in Seattle, and we have many anagama and other wood fired kilns, but mostly in the country. This kiln sounds great for an urban setting. I would enjoy coming up to BC to see your kiln and program in Burnaby. I teach at Seward Park Clay Studio here in Seattle. Would it be possible to come up thre some time with some of my wood firing friends?

    Thanks Bill william@willdesign.org

  • Hi Linda
    Don’t know if you are still sending out diagrams for the smokeless kiln, but I sure would appreciate them if you are. I’m building a wood kiln in the back yard this spring, and I think the neighbors might like a smokeless kiln a lot more.

    thanks!
    Jamie Guggina
    jguggina@coolpots.com

  • Hi Linda

    I’d also like to be on your list for information and diagrams for the Ombu kiln.
    I am getting back into clay after a 20 year break and would love to be able to fire in a more environmentally friendly way. I teach Art in the interior of BC and would love to come see the kiln some time if at all possible. Are there tours?

    thanks

    Bryon

  • PLEASE, do not post your email address on this page. Posting your email address online makes it available to anyone who wants to use it. The comments on posts are not secure. Linda, I suggest you post plans online somewhere and then provide a link to download. A great idea would be to post them as an attached file in the forum: /community/index.php
    Thanks, and remember to practice safe online socializing!

  • I have a couple palets of hard brick laying around, and I want this kiln in the worst way, I have talked to a few people that have one but no one can tell me how many bricks roughly it takes to build it. Any anyone built this kiln and kept track of the bricks?

  • That all depends on the size of your brick. You can practically count it out from that basic diagram as it’s posted in inches which correlates to your brick sizes easily.

  • Hi Linda
    THis looks very interesting. I would love a copy of the ombu kiln imformation & diagrams if you are still offering.
    Thank you
    David Todd
    otter@otterrafting.com

  • Hi Linda, Have just come across this article and was wondering if it is still possible to get a copy of the ombi kiln information & diagrams. Thanks Lorraine

  • hi Linda,
    wow,so many wanting these plans for the ombi kiln.Please add me to the list also.I would like both diagram and info please.Petra!

  • Hello Linda,
    The offer of plans and building of the OMBU kiln would be happily received. Does the offer still stand at this time? regards,Joan

  • Dear Linda,
    The offer of plans and building of the OMBU kiln would be happily received. Does the offer still stand at this time? regards,Joan

    If the PPT is also available I would love to receive that also.
    joanlizscott@gmail.com

  • Linda,

    I just found this article and your kind offer. I am leaving for Kenya on Jan 8, 2012 (4 days from this post) and plan to build a kiln and teach pottery at a small village there.

    Could you please send me the plans as soon as possible? This sounds like something we would be very interested in building!

    pdevore34@yahoo.com

    Thanks,
    Paula

  • Linda,

    please add me to your mailing.
    i would love to build such a kiln in italy in a small village.
    so please send me the plans and the PPP.
    many thanks

    jorisjan@mac.com

    ~joris (the Netherlands)

  • Linda – I don’t know if you are still sending out plans and the PP for the OMBU kiln. If so, I would love to recieve the information. I will be building a wood kiln this spring and this looks like a really nice alternative to the Olson fastfire I was considering. I have been looking for plans for a Bourry box kiln that would be easier to fire and this looks like a really nice design. If you are still sending plans, and have time to email them to me at weststevenr@yahoo.com I would appreciate it. Thanks!

  • Hi Linda,
    Same here. I would love the power point and any other information you may have on the Ombu kiln. I am interested in wood firing. wvienneau@gmail.com .
    Thank you,
    Wade

  • This is exiting and good for mother nature!

  • If you are still sending out these kiln plans and information, I would be very greatful to have them. My e-mail address if b4thewheel@hotmail.com

    thank you very much

    Regards,
    Leland Hall
    Before The Wheel Pottery
    La Pine Oregon

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