Painting with Fire: Recipes and Techniques for Soda Firing

Two Recipes for Soda Firing

soda firing

I can get lost in the sumptuous surfaces of Gail Nichols’ soda fired work. The way she skillfully “paints” her pots through the atmospheric firing process is fascinating and the results are breathtaking–from the rich dimpled textures to her trademark “soda ice” blue hues. Though I have never participated in a soda firing, it rose to the top of my “must do list” after reading Nichols’ book . Now, I just need to find someone willing to share their soda kiln (sigh). In today’s feature, we bring you a couple of Gail Nichols’ recipes and techniques for soda firing.–Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

Please note: The following techniques and recipes are for fuel burning kilns and should not be used in electric kilns.

soda firingSoda glazing was once hailed as an alternative to salt glazing, but has proven to be much more than that. The choice of vapor glazing is now primarily one of aesthetics, with soda’s potential extending far beyond that of imitation salt. A contemporary challenge is to explore what soda has to offer in its own right, and to set aesthetic directions for this new ceramic process.

Salt Firing and Soda Firing Tips and Techniques

Find helpful tips for salt and soda firing when you download this freebieSalt Firing and Soda Firing Tips and Techniques.


For the Gail Nichols Soda Mix, add 9 U.S. fl. oz. of water per 1 lb. (600 ml of water per 1 kg) of dry mix. Wearing gloves, mix the dry ingredients thoroughly, then add the water all at once. Stir until the mixture begins to set, then break it into small pieces.

soda firingLight soda ash is required for the setting process. A wet mixture of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and calcium carbonate will not set; neither will a mixture using dense soda ash. Sodium bicarbonate is not an essential part of the soda source, but it makes the wet mixture less caustic. Sodium bicarbonate is also inexpensive and readily available in the supermarket or from a bakers’ supplier.

soda firing

As this mixture breaks down in the heat of the flame, water vapor is released along with the vaporizing soda. Water vapor helps to carry the soda through the kiln chamber, enabling good glaze distribution and evidence of flame movement on the work. Water vapor also appears to assist with soda dissociation and glaze formation.

soda firingThe choice of kaolin used in the Basic Soda Slip largely determines the color of the fired surface. Soda glaze quality is highly reliant on materials used, especially clay. It is important to become familiar with locally available clays and their responses to soda vapor. Developing and working with slips is a good place to start with such research.


Soda ash dust is an irritant to the nose, throat, and lungs. In combination with lime, it will form sodium hydroxide (caustic soda), which can cause alkaline burns. Wear impervious rubber gloves and a NIOSH (National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health) approved respirator mask. Chemical safety goggles are recommended for eye protection, and long sleeves and trousers should be worn. These precautions apply to all preparation and handling stages for the calcium/sodium mix, including handling the firebox residue, which is high in sodium hydroxide.

**First published in 2014.
  • Tatjana L.

    Could soda glazing be used in a ceramic factury with gas kilns? Will it contaminated the other peaces in the Kiln and the Kiln?
    I am a designer in a ceramic factury and allways on the look out for samething different.

    Tatjana Liepe

  • Elena Victoria R.

    bizcochada la pieza ???? cómo se aplica??? para lograr efectos. gracias y saludos

  • Jake H.

    This may be too late, but I thought I’d give my input.
    I’ve been soda firing for several years now, and I love the way my porcelain looks in soda. I’ve only had moderate success with dark stoneware, but those can always be covered with a flashing slip. I like the way Bauer’s flashing slip reacts to soda. Shinos don’t work as well in soda unless you reformulate them. If you have (or can get access to) the Complete Guide to High Fire Glazes, by John Britt, there are several good glaze recipes in there. I particularly like the way the Currie 10 Teadust glaze looks on the inside of my bowls.

  • Deana E.

    I’m about build a soda kiln. I’m hung up on what size to make the burner ports in relation to the kiln size any suggestions?

  • Do you think it will work in pitfire. Drum in the ground with

    stacks of wood on top, covered with corrigated iron. Itensive heat,

    I normally get beautiful colours by using copper and coarse salt,

    I also tried the above with a saggar in my kiln but the chloride ‘eats’

    my elements. I tried bicarb but without success. Help! and thanks.

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