Thursday, April 13, 2006

Tree Trimmin' and Kiln Carving - First Day of Vacation

After dressing this morning, I went into the garage to get some tree trimming tools.

We have an extendable pole, with a wicked saw blade on the end, as well as a small branch cutter. The cutter has a rope trailing from it, with a handle on the end, so that when the pole is at full extension, small branches can be snipped off by pulling the rope.

I've often thought that if the neighborhood is ever overrun by orcs and goblins, that this tool would make a great weapon for the back row of fighters that are keeping the bad guys at bay through a doorway.

Anyways, I carried the thing across the living room and through the back door to prune branches off the pine tree that looms over the cinderblock raku pad. The tree is actually up an embankment from the pad, with a four foot tall railroad tie retaining wall in between. I took out the lowest overhanging branch, and half of the next branch up. This gives over fifteen feet of clearance between the top of the kiln and the remaining branches.

My next job was to go into the kitchen, with a ruler, and to go through all of our tupperware lids. I was looking for a round one that was a little over four inches, so I could trace around it to make the flue hole in the lid of the kiln. An orange one measured four and a half inches.

I placed the lid on top of the kiln, and traced around it with a carpenter's pencil. Removing the lid, I realized that it hadn't been properly centered, so I rubbed out the pencil line with my finger, and then repositioned the lid. I then used a ruler to center it. It wasn't necessary to have the hole in the very center of the lid, anywhere would do, but I am going to have to look at the hole every time that I raku. Julie is very good at eyeing things, and getting them perfectly centered, but I have to measure every time. I retraced the lid, and set it aside.

I used a utility knife with a fresh blade in the handle to cut into the kiln brick of the lid. Kiln brick is soft, not like the hard brick that you would find in your fireplace. Its like a pale yellow, dense styrofoam, which is why it insulates better than hard brick. My blade cut in about three quarters of an inch, and I tried to keep the blade perpendicular to the lid as I moved around the kiln to complete the circle. Next, from about a half inch inside of the circle, I cut at an angle towards my first cut. Brittle chunks of kiln brick broke off. This created a sloppy v-shaped grove inside the circle. I used the knife to cut out as much of the inside of the circle as possible. Lowering the inside of the circle allowed me to repeat the cut around the outside of the circle, making the cut deeper.

Eventually, I was close enough to breaking through the two and a half inch kiln brick that I was able to use an awl to bore the rest of the way through. This allowed me to get a hacksaw blade through the lid. I had wrapped some masking tape around the blade, to give me a handle to work with. I used the blade to cut chords across the circle, and then to cut around the circle. Each time I reached a cord cut, a chunk of kiln brick could fall away, and it was easier to manuever the hacksaw blade.

I finished the flue hole with a fine rasp.

Julie helped to flip the kiln over. I used masking tape and a bungee cord to hold the lid shut. Holes had to be created in the floor of the kiln so flames from the firebox could enter the kiln. We marked where four two and a half inch diameter holes could be bored, and then drilled pilot holes with a quarter inch drill. I used one of those can shaped hole cutters attached to the drill, with a quarter inch drill bit as central guide, to create the holes in the floor of the kiln. The kiln brick was thicker than the height of the can that I used, so, after going the first two inches, I set the drill aside, and used the utility knife to cut away part of the cylindrical plug that filled the hole. That allowed me to re-insert the can-saw contraption, and finish boring the hole.

The one snag that I ran into while making the holes was that after boring the first one, the quarter inch drill bit fell into the kiln. I could retrieve it by flipping the kiln back over, but I would have had to get help doing it from Julie. Instead, I pulled a magnet off of the kitchen fridge, taped it to a piece of twine, grabbed a flashlight, and went fishing through the new hole in the floor of the kiln. Once I retreived the drill bit, I put a piece of masking tape around its base before reinserting it into the canister saw. This ensured a tight enough fit so that the bit didn't fall out for the remaining holes.

The last thing I did was to whittle three peep plugs out of some of the scrap kiln brick. These will keep flames from spitting out of the side of the kiln.

I'm off shopping for a propane tank, then its off to a hardware store to get it filled, and to get a metal trashcan for a reduction chamber.


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