Kilns!

December 31, 2008

I have no heat or hot water in my apartment so huddling under the laptop and writing about kilns seemed like a good option to start the day in lieu of a proper hot shower.  

Happy New Years Eve to everyone!!  I install in less than a week and I’m horrifically unprepared so I doubt I’ll be doing anything special myself, but get out there and ring in the new year!  Have an extra drink of bubbly on my behalf!  The high tonight in Boston is supposed to be 10 degrees (it’s snowing right now with expected accumulation of 4-6 inches) so in some ways I’m perfectly OK with staying in and working tonight.

Holidays aside, things are a bit hectic–I have an impossible amount to do in a very short amount of time, and I may have already resigned myself to just not having as strong a piece as I would like.  At this point I feel more like a spectator than an actually conscious decision making creator of things.  What I can get done, will get done, what I can’t, won’t.  I’m just sort of watching to see how it all plays out in the end.  It’s a shame the piece had to change so drastically mid-way through my production time line.  If I had known this was how things would work, I would have planned it all very very differently.  I have so many ideas about how this piece could be really great, but no time to actually execute any of them.  Sad.

With such a short amount of time left until the opening, I might try to write a quick entry every day to catch this guy up to where the actual process is.  This kiln entry is technically from the 22nd–right before I went home to Virginia for a couple days of holiday break.

Kilns!  A mobile phone visual essay:

The Bottom Shelf, pieces loaded vertically on their edges, leaning against kiln bricks

The Bottom Shelf, pieces loaded vertically on their edges, leaning against kiln bricks.

I've tried several different layouts but setting them on edge is definitely the most space efficient

I've tried several different layouts but setting them on edge is definitely the most space efficient

The electric kiln line up.  All the gas, raku and soda kilns are in another part of the room.

The electric kiln line up. All the gas, raku and soda kilns are in another part of the room.

So yeah, tiles on edge in the kiln is easily the best way to cram a bunch in.  Unfortunately, they’re still so big that they don’t fit particularly efficiently and the whole round kiln full of rectangular objects thing doesn’t really help.  This firing was the first time I tried loading them vertically and that was both good and bad.  On the one hand, it fits the kiln slightly more efficiently than loading them horizontally–there’s about 75 in this kiln and if I had done them all horizontally, I would have only been able to fit… oh… 40 or 50 maybe.  The huge (and fairly important!) drawback is sagging.  When loading them horizontally in the past, they may have sagged a little, but it wasn’t all that noticeable.  The 8 1/4″ height seems to be about as much as the porcelain can handle–once they go vertical, the 10 3/4″ height is too much and they warp pretty dramatically.  You can actually see in the second photo, especially the piece on the top left, how curved it is.  Those were all fairly flat when I loaded them!  So it’s kind of a toss up… quality vs. quantity is continuously the big question with this project.  I think on my next load, I’ll try the biggest electric kiln and see if I can fit 3 shelves horizontally rather than 2 vertically in this medium size one.  Hopefully that will solve the problem…

And for those of you that don’t really know what I’m talking about, clay bodies go through a final plastic stage in the kiln while firing.  Porcelain is especially susceptible to this.  For example, if you make a figure with an arm sticking out, you can usually get away with firing it without a support under the arm if you’re firing at lower temperatures and using anyclay body other than porcelain.  If you put the same figure in the kiln made of porcelain, when it’s at its peak temperature, the porcelain actually becomes viscous again and will succumb to gravity, bending the arm downwards if it’s unsupported.  This is always a big problem for people making plates or wide bowls in porcelain.  You have to be really careful about the structural integrity of pieces that are going to end up fighting gravity in the kiln.  Nothing is worse than working really hard building up a beautiful gravity defying piece of ceramic and then taking it out of the kiln only to find it has slumped and all that hard work was for nothing.  So that’s basically what’s happening here.  These pieces have too much surface area with no structure so they just slump, giving every single tile a nice bow to it…  Typically, an easy way around this is to just fire the tiles totally flat, but that is unbelievably wasteful of kiln space and just not worth it in this instance.

We’ll see how the next load in a larger kiln goes…

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s adventure: Cracks!
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