The Potter’s Tale

Although I post this bit of autobiography near Halloween, you might not read it until much later. In any event, I suppose I’m just feeling the spirit of the season…

Years ago I apprenticed to a potter who had a gigantic, 65 foot long, five chamber “tepugama,” or “split bamboo,” style wood burning kiln (which is far superior to the “anagama” in every way – for potters who live in these particular weeds I’ll just leave this one out there).

This was a life defining time period. Kilns like these are both a delight and an extreme challenge to operate. Over half a year’s preparation can go into each firing. All that scheduling. Thousands upon thousands of pots. Cords upon cords of properly cut and stacked wood. All that scraping and cleaning of kiln shelves and kiln furniture.

The excitement builds. The fire is lit. It won’t go out for the next several grueling days. Overnight stoking shifts are the best, though – after all the party people leave, it’s just you, the fire, the kiln, and the stars overhead. Magical.

For all the physical labor involved, potters easily get hooked on these kilns. It gets to the point where one begins to hear (and think) disparagements about electric kilns. So small. So predictable. So simple. Just press a button.

…That was me at one time…

There can be appreciable heat differences between the middle, and the top or bottom of a decent sized electric kiln. And even then, some low temp glazes are sensitive to being too close to, or too far from, the elements. And you have to keep an eye on those pesky elements. And those pesky relays. And those pesky thermocouples. What if they fail in the middle of a firing? What if the power suddenly goes out? Oh, and my Skutt kilns pull over 60 amps at their peak. So proper wiring and grounding are sort of important.

…Still, what could possibly go wrong…

There is a realization that eventually hits every former wood firing potter who uses electric kilns for a living; Whereas firing a big wood kiln is truly like a waking up a fire breathing dragon, firing an electric kiln is like walking past a really mean neighborhood dog.

…Still, what could possibly go wrong…

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