Pit firing perils

The first and last try at pit firing for me. Craig, a man working in the area, was using an excavator for another job and luckily he was around to quickly dig a hole. It turned out to be oversized so I back-filled it by hand to make it less dangerous. People were worried about me falling in and not being seen for days. A pit doesn’t need to be all that deep as a fire needs oxygen to burn and if it’s deep, there is less of that. (Wish I’d realised this before).

Using red bricks on the base, bits of wood and off cuts had been saved over the months with this pit firing in mind. As clay bricks have already been in a kiln, I was assuming they would not explode when fired again. However, I used the same logic with some clay pipes (for air) and roofing tiles, and I was wrong. They all cracked with audible glee. The pieces to be fired were ones which are not the best, so this was always going to be more a test piece, a bit of fun.

Once deciding to pit fire rather than use a kiln, restrictions of size went out of the window. Poseidon is almost life size which sounds fine until it comes to moving him.

You Tube is a great teacher and after watching several videos on how to pit fire, a cautious start of some dry wood was set on bricks. It was allowed to burn down; filled with the clay pieces; and more wood added in an attempt to bring up the temperature. Hoping to protect the delicate greenware, an old garden pot and some tiles were used to part-cover the sculptures which were topped off with more wood and some charcoal pieces. Loud cracks and the odd piece of bombed clay flew over my head as the fire intensified. The summer sun beat down but there was no escaping it as a close watch was needed in case of fire. It would have been good for the pit to reach over a 1000 degrees C. A previous piece was stoneware fired (1250 Degrees C) and this survives heatwaves and hard frosts alike. An old metal lid was used to keep in heat before topping with more clay. This was where I started to fail. It was very hot, and I am unaccustomed to shovelling heavy clods. Needing to lie down and cool off, the job was half finished but I’ve a feeling even if a thicker layer had been applied, the hoped for temperatures would not have been reached.

Pit firing greenware pottery I recommend watching this video from 2:15. Andy Ward makes it look easy. It is not. It was fun but dangerous and, for me, the results were poor. No doubt experience would improve the outcome.

The weather forecast for a cloudy day followed by rain was wrong so we basked in hot sunshine all day. By the time the pit had been covered in more clay soil, I was a sooty version of a beetroot. It was hot work on a hot day but there’s no moaning; it is always fun to try something new.

Being 5 foot 1 inches tall, 55 years old and with arthritis in my knees, reaching into a scorching fire pit with delicate clayware is probably not the best. However, life is best when mixed up a little and trying something new turns us all into children once more. There is one small section of blown clay on the piece below. That will be going into the sitting room fire come winter hopefully to smoke, like the rest. There’s something of the Phantom of the Opera going on at the moment. Apart from that, there’s only one piece which I like from this project; the horse’s head.

Icarus will have feathers added once re-fired and repaired.

Would I recommend trying pit firing? Of course. As long as safety is kept in mind (and it’s probably best to do with another present), this was so good to do. Will I be doing it again? No.


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