The Westcountry Potters Association (WPA) organises a Social Firing Day for its members most years, which couldn’t happen during the pandemic. So, after a break of two years, Tarka Pottery offered its venue with outside covered area and studio space for a 2-day Social Firing event.
John Watson is an experienced Raku firer who set up the kilns, reduction buckets and ensured that those helping with the firing had appropriate health & safety equipment.
This included leather aprons, gloves, cotton long sleeve shirts, safety googles and masks with a good smoke filter. The first firing in each kiln took around 1 hour, then once warmed up, the subsequent firings, take around 45 minutes or so.
There are a lot of factors to consider with raku firings, the weather can reduce or increase firing times!
The gas regulator is slowly increased towards the end of the firing and the top temperature is around 900 – 908 degrees, depending on whether glazed or naked raku pots are being fired. When the required temperature was reached, we made sure that the reduction bins were ready with a layer of sawdust and that a helper was on hand to add sawdust to create combustion, which then removes the oxygen to encourage the coppers in the glazes to come through.
The bins were covered in wet cloths to restrict the amount of smoke released. After about 15 minutes we opened the bins and lifted out the pots and some were placed in water to ‘quench’ or cool them down, then the fun of cleaning off any carbon happens!
A barrel firing was also available to fire some pots during the day with the assistance of experienced potter Tim Gee. Members who wanted to have a smoke fired pot were able to use copper wire, iron sulphate, string, scourers and even banana peel to their pots, to create a variety of effects!
The pots were placed on a layer of sawdust into which Tim had added copper carbonate, salt, kindling and logs. Pots were placed on top and the bin was left to fire for several hours. At the end of the day Tim lifted the fired pots out using tongs and the combustible materials had burned off! We are delighted with the results.
During the day we also experimented with Horse Hair Raku and Naked Raku.
Horse Hair raku uses horse hair, feathers, and sugar, burnt on the surface of the heated pots straight out of the kiln. As the materials burn onto the pots they leave behind smoke patterns and carbon trails.
For Naked Raku, you use a sacrificial slip to create a boundary between the pot and the glaze, then apply a sacrificial glaze over the top.
Once the pot has been fired and cooled, the glaze will peel away to reveal the crackle on the surface of the clay itself.