An Introduction to Wood Firing
with Alex Paton
Wood firing is a time honored labor of love. Without an established affection however, the experience can be overshadowed only by the labor. The nature of firing with wood is highly variable and the possibilities are endless. This can be both a blessing and a curse and while the sky is the limit, a careful separation from expectations must be maintained, especially at the onset of one’s wood firing journey. All this being said, the process of wood firing can be daunting and often times have a high bar of entry. Fear not however, as all of that is changing!
This introduction to wood fired pottery class is designed to facilitate an all encompassing but low stakes insight to the methodology behind the practice of wood firing. Through a four week making session participants will be encouraged to explore materials and make a wide variety of pots in order to take strides towards results that fit within their vision of what wood fired pottery means to them. At the end of the making session, students will then load and fire the baby train kiln at Sherman Ceramics in Wolfsville, MD.
This kiln is a great learning tool given its moderate size and firing duration. The kiln holds roughly 75-100 pots, depending on the size of work and space will be divided evenly between participants. The firing will be on the 5th weekend of the class session and will take roughly 36 hours to load and fire the kiln (Saturday morning through Sunday afternoon). Typically, workshop firings are divided into four hour shifts of two people in order to facilitate an intimate relationship with the firing process and allow maximum learning opportunity for all those involved. After the kiln cools for a few days, we will unload the pots as well as discuss results and formulate ideas for future exploration in the wood firing realm. The goal of this class is to leave students feeling empowered by the process of wood firing; excited both in the successes and failures of their pots, as often the most potent ideas arise from those that fell just short.
Week 1: September 13th at Washington Street Studios Pottery School
General introductory lecture on the basics of wood firing covering topics such as:
A brief history of the process and contemporary adaptation
Kiln design, specifically pertaining to the train kiln
Common materials used in the practice including clay bodies, slips and glazes
Basic kiln loading and firing methodology and strategies in order to achieve desired results
Types of pots that are required for a wood kiln to function at its full potential.
We will then devise a plan that suits the participants goals and begin making work for the kiln.
Weeks 2-3: September 20th and 27th at Washington Street studios Pottery School
Make pots! Participants will be prompted to make different types of pots to suit different zones within a wood fired kiln, as some spots require large, sturdy work and some are more suited to delicate or fully glazed wares. Demos will be provided to give inspiration in regards to making work geared towards the wood firing process. General throwing and hand building techniques will be covered in varying detail depending on the interest and experience of the students.
Week 4: October 4th at Washington Street Studios Pottery School
Wrap up the making cycle and begin preparing work for the kiln. We will focus primarily on slips, glazes and wadding this week. Participants will be encouraged to mix small batches of flashing slips and simple glazes to test, sourced from provided recourses. Wadding techniques as a means of decoration will also be covered.
Week 5: October 11th at Washington Street Studios Pottery School
Classroom is available to finish up decorating and wadding to prepare the pots for the firing.
October 14th - 15th at Sherman Ceramics
Load and fire the kiln. This is the culmination of all our total efforts thus far. Participants will load the kiln on Saturday morning and fire directly after until roughly Sunday afternoon. While everyone is welcome to stay for as long as they wish, the group will be divided into teams of two to stoke the kiln on four hour shifts. Instruction and guidance through the whole will be provided as desired however the value of learning through independent trial and error should not be forgotten.
Week 6: October 21st at Sherman Ceramics
Unload the kiln and discus results. We will analyze successes and shortcomings as well as devise a plan for future exploration and enjoy our beautiful pottery!