There are easier ways to make a pot than by wood-firing. It’s a lot of hard work, long hours, and unpredictable results. Despite all these “negatives”, there is something that draws me (and many others) to the hard labor.
I fired in electric for many years. Firing in electric kilns is not without it’s risks or heavy lifting. Yet there is a comfortable predictability with electric once your glazes are dialed-in. Electric also has the advantage that it can be done solo. But there is something missing for me in the world of electric. Even firing with gas doesn’t quite hold the mystic and glory that wood provides (although I prefer gas over wood for firing dinner ware to reduce the breakage and warping factor).
When prepping for a firing I often get overwhelmed – the kiln takes lots of pots. But as I get closer, I get excited by the group dynamic. I just love the community atmosphere of wood-firing. You can’t fire a wood-kiln alone (at least easily) like you can electric or gas. You need more then two hands and two sets of eyes to get through a wood-firing. One of my favorite examples of the community of wood-firing was highlighted in a Thanksgiving day NPR story two years ago. The story was of a Miami Valley potter who fires for 36 hours. He has a crew of 40 helping him. Most aren’t potters, but customers who want to take part in the process of making the pots they will eventually buy. Not many crafts can replicate that kind of customer participation.
Another draw is the labor. Ok, I don’t enjoy cleaning kiln shelves, mudding the door or cleaning out the kiln. Yet like the joy a cyclist experiences when reaching the summit and seeing an amazing view that is made all the sweeter by the work done to get there, the work that goes into firing a wood-kiln seems to make the pots more beautiful. Maybe its that primal connection to our ancestors. Maybe its the sweet feeling of sore muscles from hard work as opposed to laboring in an air conditioned gym. Either way, I get satisfaction from having to give up some blood and sweat for those pots.
The partnership with the kiln and the faith involved in the process and the flame, is also a huge draw. When I open the peep-holes and the flame leaps out searching for oxygen, I know I am working in tandem with another living, breathing being. That’s exciting. And while I get that rush a bit from firing with gas, the wood kiln has a way of leaving its mark on the pots that gas doesn’t do for me. Being able to see the direction the flame came across the pot is mesmerizing. And then there is the ash. The beautiful ash that lands on the pots and melts into wonderful colors and patterns. I can only do so much to influence that and the rest is up to the kiln. For this recovering control junky, leaving such a critical part of the making process (surface decoration) up to the kiln is exhilarating, even if a bit frightening.
I am asked if the results are worth the work. In my opinion, yes. There is a subtle beauty to wood-fired pots that I don’t find elsewhere. The variations in surface can’t be replicated from one firing to another, much less by hand. Each piece is unique no matter how identical they were coming out of bisque. I even find my wood-fired pots look and feel more alive than my other pots. In the example below, this pot is not glazed. Yet the surface is so rich. So yes, the result is worth the labor.
It is this love of wood-fired pottery that has led me to dedicate every Wednesday on this blog to wood-fired pottery. I try to find potters that may not be well-known; potters who are dedicated to the process. Don’t miss a single Wood-fired Wednesday, subscribe to my blog now.
I would love your thoughts on wood-firing.