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How Do I Fire My Pot?

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

You will need a kiln to fire your pot. One commonly asked question is, can I fire my pot in my oven at home? The simple reply is, no, you cannot. The reason for this is that a clay pot requires firing to around 1,000 degrees centigrade in order to transform clay into ceramic. Control of temperature rise is crucial to the process of firing and the cooling down. The control of the temperature requires a thermocouple and a programmable pyrometer. In stark contrast, even though an oven has a temperature setting it will have no temperature rise and fall control. Also, ovens are poorly insulated in comparison to a kiln. Slow temperature rise is essential. During the beginning of biscuit firing, the last of the atmospheric water is driven out of the clay. If it is heated too quickly, the water turns into steam while inside the clay body, which can cause the clay to burst. Similarly, if the pots cool too rapidly they will crack.

The first firing for all pottery is referred to as a biscuit firing which is generally lower than the subsequent glaze firings. As described in my blog concerning the variety of clays available, the glaze firings termperature can be anywhere between 1060 degrees centigrade up to 1300 degrees centigrade. The average domestic oven has a top temperature that usually does not exceed 240 degrees centigrade.

There are many types of kilns which are usually described by the fuel that is used to heat them. For example, gas, wood, oil and electricity. The most common fuel in an interior setting would be electric and gas. Oil and wood are usually found in exterior locations.

For the beginner, small, single -phase kilns are available which can easily be plugged in to a domestic socket. These, generally, use up to 1-4 kW. Larger kilns, up to 9KW can be purchased but it is advisable that they are hard-wired into the fuseboard. The beginner should look out for secondhand small kilns that are priced in the hundreds. A new kiln will set you back thousands.

Do I need any other equipment apart from the kiln to fire my pots?

The potter will need to purchase kiln shelves specific to their kiln on which to stack the ware as well as kiln props to separate the shelves at different heights to accommodate the ware.

What happens if I can’t afford to buy my own kiln?

Kiln shares are becoming increasingly popular and can often be found in community art centres.

How do some people fire pots without a kiln?

Firstly, firing pots without a kiln is a dangerous process and is an activity not for the faint-hearted. However, it can be done. Personally, I would purchase a small kiln as described above. However, for your information, this is how it is done.

The first step is to dig a hole. Make sure that the circumference of the hole that you dig is clear of leaves and twigs by about 4 metres. This is to ensure that you don’t end up with two fires on your hands.

The depth of the hole should be the length of your arm to your elbow. The width should be large enough to take about 3 pots with space around each pot. Next, you need to dry out the hole by burning a material such as sawdust inside it. Then place your pots on the edge of your hole as the sawdust burns and this will start to heat up the pots. Keep rotating them so that the whole pot feels the heat. Next, add wood to the fire and it will now resemble a camp- fire.

Once the fire is established, using tongs, spread the wood so that the centre of the fire is revealed and then carefully place your pots in the middle of the fire. Now place more wood and twigs on top of the pots, covering them completely. Your pots are now inside the camp-fire.

Let the fire burn until it burns itself out. Now wait patiently for the pots to cool. When the pots have cooled, using the long tongs again, pull the pots out of the fire pit.

The pots should now be ready to clean. To accomplish this, use water and wire wool to clean off all the ash and dirt.

At this stage you can go on to glaze your pots or simply use them as they are.

These general instructions are just a rough guide for the curious and I would urge you to discover specific instructions from an expert before undertaking your own clay pit firing.

I’m always keen to offer as much advice about throwing and all things pottery as I possibly can so, please comment below and ask any questions.

Also, join for free my ‘Beginners Pottery’ group on Facebook, where I often post helpful tips and where you can pick up tips from other potters at all stages of development in their practice.

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