September 2012

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a bird in the hand…

On Sunday I started the first glaze firing since early summer; ending my firing hiatus through some of the hottest months

In the spirit of full disclosure, I wasn’t really firing the kiln so much as candling. In ceramics, candling refers to slowly heating up the kiln and ware inside the kiln in order to dry the work (if firing a bisque) and/or heat up the inside of the kiln. The term candling seems more appropriate to a gas kiln – you know, where there is an actual flame and all.

I refer to candling in the electric kiln as creating ‘thermal momentum’. That is, the process of building heat (and drying out work in a bisque) with the purpose of firing evenly and more rapidly the following day.

So then, on Sunday I was creating thermal momentum.

While I was loading the kiln on Saturday, I noticed the top element looked like it might be close to burning out. There was a small corrosive ulcer on the upper portion of the element. I couldn’t quite tell how far the decay had progressed. A little festering wound.

For a split second I considered replacing the element.

Installing a new element would involve unloading the kiln, dismantling the upper ring of the kiln to access the switch box, removing and then replacing the element, reassembling the kiln, reloading…. The day lost and back to where I started.

Yeah, that thought faded fast. However, as soon as I closed the kiln lid, a slew of proverbial warnings came to mind.

He who hesitates is lost.¹
A small leak will sink a great ship.²
Curses, like chickens, come home to roost.³ (I’m not entirely sure I know what that means)
An apple a day keeps the doctor away.² (this one doesn’t really apply)

The issue here is that the glazes for my utilitarian ware don’t allow for any wiggle room in the firing. There are no mulligans here. If the element burns out, the kiln won’t make it to temperature (about 2290° F). Then, I will be forced to re-fire the load to vitrify the glaze and clay – making the pieces functional.

The last (only) time I re-fired a load with these unforgiving glazes, I found the color to be off, the yellow glaze became too fluid (spoiling the drawn surfaces) and, my clear glaze blistered. Lost the entire load.

Perhaps I should have paid heed to those warnings and eaten an apple to boot!

Today (Monday) I am firing*. While I’m writing (9:30am), the kiln is at about 75% power. The affected element is still glowing (this is good). Praying my decision to wait on repairs wasn’t foolish. I have a deadline and past experience tells me this isn’t a simple replace/reload/re-fire fix. If things go awry, I will need to re-make the work. Too much pressure!

*The kiln reached temperature at 4:06pm  🙂

1) Joseph Addison
2) Benjamin Franklin
3) Florence Scovel Shinn


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