Monday, March 29, 2010

Sacred Fire

Burning our chametz - left-over wheat and grain produce - on the morning before the Pesach holiday this evening. Note remains of the Succot lulav [palm stem] used to start the fire,forming a link between the two festivals. The burning is a physical sign of an inner process,letting go of our harmful desires and habitual attachments,rather like the anagama. Happy [and kosher] Pesach!

Friday, March 26, 2010


View through the firemouth
Pulling out a ring to check progress [it looked good]
Meir style: anagama with red plastic chandelier

A wonderful shift at Meir's anagama: the kiln had reached 1300 degrees when Ohad and I pitched up around 11.30 last night to take over from Meir,who was visibly wrecked [but happy] after a long hot day's stoking and went off to catch some sleep. It took us an hour or so to find the rhythm of the kiln [it often takes 3 or 4],watching the pyrometer rise and fall as the hungry kiln devoured its load of wood and the roaring reduction flame jets on top of the kiln subsided before sliding open the door and tossing another load of 7-8 pieces of wood. The temperature dips as the new wood initially soaks up heat, then starts to climb slowly back up as the wood starts to deliver it's hot hydrocarbons,sending long orange flames coursing through the kiln to and out of the chimney 10 meters back, while the mineral ash carried on the draught settles and melts like flakes of snow on the pots,gradually over the 4 day firing building up layers and patterns of glaze. After a few minutes we stoke long, skinny logs though the first 2 windows on either side to start drawing the heat back through the kiln, then barrow more wood from one of the many mounds of different woods (eucalyptus, olive,cypress) stacked by type and size around the kiln pit down a precarious ramp , ready for the next stoke. When our attention drifted from the kiln [various interesting late-night guests] it would respond by dropping 20 or 30 degrees,but a couple of mindful stokes would bring it simmering back up to a boil,the full unbelievable blast of heat greeting you as,wrapped,goggled and gloved you step up to deliver its next meal,right on time.
Seven hour of this,stoking every 15-20 minutes,leaves you slightly stunned but wonderfully attuned to the huge kiln,so that now,half a day later,as Shabbat draws near,I can still feel that low roar and crackle of the fire and the presence of the smoking,flaming,breathing dragon.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tel Hai Anagama

While dancing at two weddings may be inadvisable,it is possible occasionally to stoke at two anagamas,which is what I'm doing: just back from a stint at T.H. for a quick sleep before heading out to Meir's for another midnight shift- interestingly,cone 9 going down in both kilns more or less at the same time,although both pyrometers,as usual,are wildly inaccurate- the 700 reading on the kiln log from Tel Hai turned out to be 1260,while Meir's kit read 1100. My views on pyrometers are by now well documented.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

First Night

Yasha and I took the first night shift with Meir's kiln in Pardes Hanna from midnight 'til seven this morning,burning small logs just outside the air passage beneath the firebox - not really firing the kiln,just warming it up and driving off any dampness left in the mainly-unbisced pots.We gradually moved the fire into the air passage,reaching 150 degrees or so early in the morning,to the accompaniment of a dawn chorus of Pardes Hanna dogs and cockerels,then started to throw small logs onto the grate in the firebox itself.Meir and Rachelli took over to start the real work of the firing;we drove back to Tsfat and I got a few hour's sleep,surprisingly weary after a sleepless night but a fairly relaxed shift. Tomorrow morning I'm off to Tel Hai,where the anagama firing started this afternoon and should be reaching serious heat by the morning,then [after another rest] back to Pardes Hanna for another night shift,also working with a much hotter kiln. It's just as well that Shabbat comes right after all this strenuous activity.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Anagama Fashion

The age-old dilemma - What to wear to the firing? Combining sartorial elegance,protection and innovation with a surrealist twist - this year's eyegear.Most protective glasses and goggles are too pale for the full force of a 1300 degree fire,and welders' glass [when you can find the right grade] is awkward to handle and has a restricted angle of view. This year I lashed a one-piece polycarb lens pirated from an old pair of sunglasses to the inside of some comfortable but not-dark-enough goggles by drilling 3 small holes through each and threading some wire through: double darkness power,stability,and they even fit over my regular glasses.Sort of.
See you at the firing! [Or not,if I'm wearing these].

Friday, March 19, 2010

Wadding:The Video

Rachelli [mainly] demonstrating the art of applying wadding [alumina,kaolin] to pots for the anagama; if you don't wad pots,the melting ash from the fire sticks everything to its kiln-shelf. Stacks of [usually] bowls leave marks inside the pots,but these are often easily tidied up,can often form part of the decoration and story of the pot,and are part of the aesthetic of wood-firing.The picture shows the front of Meir's anagama,with just the last/front stack of shelves to be loaded. Yesterday we finished loading,today is for building the brick door [or wicket in old potterspeak],tidying up and preparing for next week's firing. Click to view.


Hayne Bayless

We had a great time showing Hayne and Mara around for a couple of days after the handbuilding workshop Hayne gave at Neot HaKikar in the south. Click the title to see his site and fine pottery.

Hamada's Wheels

There aren't too many videos of Shoji Hamada around: Here's a short but evocative one of his wheels. I gave them a spin [when no-one was looking] when Sydney and I visited Mashiko on our epic Japanese trip four years ago,cherry-blossom time. Click on title...



From Meir's vast selection of seasoned local woods,waiting to heat and decorate our pots next week in his anagama kiln.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Benjamin's Bowls

My son Benjamin has been hard at work in his pottery class at Santa Cruz,California: not yet fired,but not bad,eh?

Cones and Rings

Cones to check temperature;rings to check accumulation of ash. Lots of them to spread throughout the big kiln.Rings:brown Tzemach clay [3 pinches on top] and K117 [5 pinches],cones 8,9&10 [for the hot front,we made some cone-pads with 8,9,10,11&12,the last bending at 1320 degrees,which should be quite hot enough.]

End of the Day

Meir got to put his back-belt on,a few early biggish pots found their perches,a couple of my pots have already insinuated themselves [e.g. far right] towards the back of the kiln [we start loading from the back/chimney end and work steadily forwards towards the front/fire-chamber before bricking up the door].

We Load

Day 2 of loading Meir's kiln - a sticky sharav day,the inside of the kiln the coolest place around,the calm,thoughtful rhythm of loading a big kiln,interspersed with frequent visits by potters bringing their pieces for the kiln and signing up for firing shifts,friends,children,animals.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Lemon Tree

Our lemon tree took a while to get going,but seems to have hit its stride,judging by this specimen [regular-sized lemon for scale]. We've been eating lemon everything for months,the tree is still full of fruit,and there's a new crop of buds just waiting to open. What a treat.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Falling Shelves

We noticed this sad state of affairs fairly early on in the firing,but too late to do much about it: I did manage to sneak in a small prop to support one of the shelves,but it didn't make much difference. All our cones were gone,also the rings,so we had to fire and salt by the seat of our pants,which turned out to be pretty reliable; when I opened the kiln yesterday afternoon cone 10 looked to be down,everything got well salted,and the mayhem was not as widespread as expected - quite a few stuck pots were salvageable,some had even held their ground and were unaffected by the fall,and the back [& larger] half of the kiln was fine.
I'd assumed that my foolhardy shelf placement had caused this collapse,but discovered that one of the props on the [permanent] bottom shelf had given way. Inevitably, the most interesting pots were a couple that fell off their shelf right into the fire-mouth,irrevocably welded together [and to the kiln] but with really nice colour and salt effects.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Jiggering Plates

We're firing the salt kiln (blogging from iPhone ),Shir is jiggering away, and I'm not sure if anyone's jiggered on YouTube before;maybe you've never witnessed this intriguing ceramic art,which I learned and practiced at Robin Welch's studio in the 70's - a halfway stage between mold and wheel , especially suited (as here) to plate- making. There's another video to be watched at the click of the title...


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Anna Carmi @ Tel Hai

Anna Carmi explaining to a rapt bunch of students why you should never sell on consignment. A day of lustres,decals and raku [often combined]- the smellier side of ceramics.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Cane Handles

Today felt like the eye of the storm,with Purim behind us [unless you're in Shushan] and raku [with Anna Carmi,Tel Hai,tomorrow],salt [with Sydney,Yesod,Wednesday] and anagama [loading with Reb Meir,Pardes Hanna,Thursday] ahead. Not much point getting clay out,so I turned the bundles of cane I cut last week into handles. I made a quick video,which I hope will prove instructive and maybe encourage you to make your own tea-pot handles. I managed to add a voice-over this time,as well as numerous entertaining transitions. I haven't actually run the movie through to see if it makes sense,but will post it anyway and check it later.Click on the title to see it on Youtube.

Later: I see that the video needs some more editing- I'll try to get to it in the next couple of days.
Tues p.m. - second version is up and running.

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