Saturday, March 31, 2007

Loading Monstro

Monstro is the name of the gas kiln that I bought before Julie and I were married. It is an Olympic Kiln, a 2831G. I had had a gas line run out to the back of my first house in Phoenix, when I bought the place, and was going to have the kiln on the back porch by the pool.

Monstro was the name of the whale in Pinocchio.

Monstro followed us through every move that we made together, and was never fired. Our friend, Ronnie, has a studio where she teaches, and she set up a slab in back for Monstro to live on, and piped it for propane.

Today, Julie and I went to visit the studio. We brought with us a box of five bowls that were all thrown about nine or ten years ago, in the studio of the house that we had built together, and have been carefully packed for the two moves since. The bowls were thrown with cone ten clay, and were always meant to be glaze fired in Monstro.

Some day.

The largest of my bowls is big enough to use as the basin of a sink, if I had trimmed the proper sized hole in the base for plumbing. Ronnie suggested that I try making a few sinks, and see if we can sell them.

Ronnie had bought a huge hunk of beeswax this morning from one of the few bee keepers in the area that hasn't lost all of their bees to the egg mites. She melted it in an electric fry pan, and we took turns setting our pieces into the melted wax to coat the foot of each piece to keep the glaze from sticking. The wax had never been filtered, so there was bits of debris (including a few former bees) that stuck to our pieces.

The glazes had been mixed in five gallon buckets. Ronnie has worked with them before, and had fired samples of most of them on different pots, showing the effects of overlapping the glazes on top of each other. Cone ten glazes have a different composition than the cone six or the raku glazes that we've got in our studio. They fire to a higher temperature, and since the kiln burns gas, the potter can control the atmosphere inside of the kiln for the final stage of firing, to cause a reducing atmosphere to pull oxygen out of the glazes. This is how gas firing can be used to get purples and reds that are impossible in an electric kiln.

Most of our bowls were too wide to fit into the buckets. I would use a big measuring cup to pour glaze into a bowl, then rotate it as I poured the glaze out to coat the insides. The bowl would go outside onto an improvised table to dry out a bit, then it was brought back, flipped over, and I would pour or ladle glaze over the sides of the piece while letting the excess run back into the bucket. The inevitable finger prints on the rim and sides, where I accidentally pulled the partially dried glaze off in handling is patched by dipping a finger into the glaze bucket, and painting over the marks.

For some of the pieces, after I had a base coat of glaze, I would to to the other glaze buckets, and cup some glaze into my hand, and splash it across the inside or outside of the piece. The glaze chemistry will interact during the firing, to produce variations in the glaze surface.

Two of the bowls were glazed with 'tessa', which is a brown glaze that breaks black across the trim lines of a bowl. The brown surface isn't a solid color, but is more like a temoku plum, with the pixelated iron crystals on the surface.

Two bowls have a blue rutile glaze overall, one with jmod red on the rim and splashed inside, the other with a series of splashes across the inside and outside of the bowl.

The last bowl has an experimental glaze, oatmeal sky, splashed with jmod red, rutile blue, and tessa.

Ronnie glazed a number of her pieces as well. She is in a lot of shows, and having a kiln for her own use will aid in her business.

Julie, Ronnie, her husband Tom, and myself worked at loading Monstro when the pieces were dry. The kiln shelves are half circles of high fired clay, about twenty-eight inches across and an inch thick. They are very heavy. The hardest part was laying the first few shelves at the bottom of the kiln, which is done by leaning over the top rim of the kiln. I wasn't quite tall enough to pull it off, but Tom has a little extra height that allowed it to work.

In a glaze firing, the pieces can't touch each other, or they will fuse together. There also needs to be gaps between the pieces so kiln posts can be inserted to support the next level of kiln shelves above all of the pieces on the lower shelf. The bottom most layer was a series of soup bowls, the kind with handles. A set of four inch posts supported the next set of shelves, which I was able to help put in place. More of Ronnie's pieces went in, and Julie and Ronnie worked at arranging the pieces to get as much in each layer as we could.

Loading got easier, as the height of the shelves climbed in the kiln. You didn't need to bend down so far to place a piece. My two smaller bowls made it in the third layer. We were starting to run out of room in the kiln, because my three biggest bowls were going to take up a lot of space. Two of them were six and a half inches high, and the third was seven inches high. The two shorter pieces, when put on the same level, spanned so much space in the kiln that we could not get enough kiln posts in to support two more half circle shelves; there was only enough support for one. With a quarter inch to spare at the top of the kiln, we were able to get my tallest piece onto the last shelf. Ronnie went back into the studio, and glazed a couple more smaller pieces to nestle under the curve of my bowls at the top of the kiln.

We shut the kiln, and used an extra shelf to cover the vent hole in the lid as a damper. Tomorrow, we fire.


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