wood-firing in Devon part one

I’ve just been on a week-long workshop in Devon, north Dartmoor, packing and firing two kilns with wood, one Sabine Nemet’s fast fire Olsen with soda, and the other Nic Collins’ big groundhog which he fires for about eighty hours. there were six of us and we camped in  Nic and Sabine’s little field. except for one of us, Pete, who prefers his comforts to camping. I feel the same way, after a week of sleeping with two hot water bottles, socks on, and a thick blanket wrapped round my supposedly okay for zero temperatures sleeping bag.


my tent is quite palatial, with much more room than a camper van – you can stand up in it, and it has a big porch area which extends into an awning. if it hadn’t been so cold at night, and I had had the forethought to bring a lantern, you could have called it glamping. Tilda’s car kennel went into the porch with a big blanket over it at night to keep her warm.


I chose the far corner of the field and faced into a big clump of lovely poisonous hemlock which was weird, as I wrote about it a couple of months ago without every having seen it. it is very tall, and less sculptural and lighter in colour than hogweed.


Nic has made a kind of open fronted big tent around or under which we had lunch depending on the weather. mostly under, in fact. in the evenings he lit a charcoal fire in an old lorry wheel, and we sat round it under canvas. they have a sort of rec room upstairs above the workshop with sofas, a fridge, a cooker, reference library and music centre, and the shower, but even with the weather as it was, it’s nicer to be outside.


glazing and packing were the first priorities, needing to be done as quickly as possible, but also needing finesse and patience. it took three days to pack the big groundhog, but the fast fire was ready to go on Monday morning.


to pack the back you actually need to get into the kiln. everything needs non-stick wads of clay and alumina to stand on, to prevent it being welded by ash and soda to the shelves.


by contrast my glaze firings are child’s play.


lunches were liberal and delicious. Sabine makes her own bread too, and enjoys catering for large numbers.


after lunch on Monday the fast fire kiln was lit and gradually got up to temperature. we worked in teams of two and stoked for shifts of four hours; my and Tim Bartell’s first shift was six am to 10 am on Tuesday.


by tuesday afternoon the temp was up to twelve hundred and sixty or so (according to the pyro, though this later proved to be a big under-estimate) and we started to apply the soda. it is soda bicarb mixed with water and heated to produce a liquid which can be squirted into spy-holes deliberately packed into the bricking up of the wicket.


it makes a speckled glaze which mostly gets onto those pieces directly in the way of the stream, but the residue influences the glazes on the rest of the firing.


living outside suits miss T, though she had to be tied up quite a bit when I was busy, as there are alpacas in the field next door, very intriguing for a dog that thinks she is a deerhound. Bryn the puppy is a deerhound, so there is a little worry there too.


the firing was finished late on Tuesday; the kiln clammed up, and we had to wait until Saturday to open it. but there was plenty else going on with the big kiln to fire.


Saturday morning and bated breath as Chris started to free the top bricks …. we made a human chain passing the bricks around to Sabine to stack.


some wonderful results, especially Chris’s big bottles with ash glazes. luce’s little teapot was a favourite. my bowl I didn’t feel was really right for soda-firing, but I got three bottles out which I like, especially this one.



the ash and the little bit of soda it got have made some nice green crystals and the runs of the glaze work very well with the clematis stem impressions. wood-firing is a different aesthetic from gas stoneware, it is richer and more complex.





  1. Interesting post, actually did not know you had one, I’m a bit slow on that front.

    When I started being interested in pots I was not that keen on so called ‘brown pots’, however the older I get the more I appreciate wood fired pots, especially how it changes the ‘dynamic’ of the outcome.

    From the pictures of your bottles I must take time to experience a wood fire, actually thought about this summer, Nic’s place is only a few miles away, however life got in the way of booking a slot.

    Can’t wait for part two, and I must read your other posts

  2. Thanks for posting this Jane. I’m still hoping to take part in a wood firing soon with a potter relatively local to me on Speyside. This has reminded me to get organised. Seeing the pictures of Miss T and Bryn has made me wistful. Our big deerhound Blue died last year and I’m desperate for a replacement. Lovely bottle by the way…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.