I just spent a week at Barn Pottery with Nic and Sabine on their woodfiring course, there is so much to tell I am splitting it into parts. this is about packing and firing Nic’s kiln.


first of all we were camping in Nic and Sabine’s field below Moretonhampstead and overlooked by Dartmoor. this is magical in itself, despite a lot of rain. they have a canvas shelter rigged up with sofa and chairs, a huge camp fire, barbecue and hot tub (and a comfort room above the pottery with shower and cooking facilities) and living mostly outside for the week is quite addictive. the stream gurgles past, the crows caw, the robin trills, the ravens cronk, and the alpacas next door make extraordinary noises.


saturday morning we were glazing our pots and starting to pack the kiln, here Nic is explaining how the shelves need to be arranged.


my pots ready to go in, plus a lot of Mel’s beautiful faceted ones next to them. I didn’t bring nearly as many as last year.


this is the new kiln, Nic calls it the mongrel. it’s about a third of the size of the one we fired last year, much quicker to pack and easier to fire. in fact one large pot was left out, but what we brought was about right.


for tall burly blokes like Cliff packing it means lying down. obligingly the tall/burly chaps didn’t seem to mind, although it was still rather warm from the previous week’s firing.


Nick getting rather hot in his oilskins. the weather was fairly wet. packing pots in a wood fired kiln means every piece has to be safely placed on non-stick wads of clay dipped into alumina, a long drawn out and fiddly process.


under the rear sidestoke holes a few privileged pieces are placed to catch the embers from the stoking. these should end up fairly gnarly with ember residue and ash.


Trish making a pea-sized wad. here the packing almost done.


all ready. I wonder what this looks like now; I won’t be there for the opening and unpacking, I’ll be relying on kind friends for photos.


we bricked it up and were happy to be able to start the next morning, a day early. it poured with rain in the night.


first the chimney tiles had to be opened up but only partly, and side stoke holes clammed to prevent draughts


the firing always starts with two little fires outside the stokeholes – in the rain that morning. gradually they get pushed inside.


and the pieces of wood get longer.


the woodsplitter is a constant necessity, a job that needs full concentration and teamwork.


we stacked the wood in the rain, trying to keep it covered.


sensible Rodey asleep on the sofa in the shelter.


there was a reason for Bryn being on the table …


she got a better view of the neighbours. the sun came out too.


by the second day we were side stoking


heavy black smoke pours out with a thin red flame after stoking.


by the time you had put the quota of wood in the fire was answering back and I wore a mask for this job.


so did Ben


as things got hotter the pieces of wood got longer


on the third afternoon and evening several kilos of charcoal were gently thrown into the rear sidestoke holes.


resulting in pretty fluttering pink and blue flames


some of the cones can be seen through the side stoke holes but the ones at the front need to be checked looking over the top of the firebox. the embers have to be raked down first.

1last stoke

our last morning’s ritual, a cooked breakfast/brunch, had to be delayed while the firing was finished, everything had gone so well. cone 12 down side and front, cone 11 flat at the back and 12 softening.


Niklas dressed up in his fireproof outfit


to cap the chimney after a last full stoke, and allow the kiln to cool in reduction.

1cooling in reduction

it doesn’t look much like cooling, flames issue from every orifice.


relaxing while waiting for a delicious pile of bacon, sausage, fried egg, black pudding, fried bread, hash browns, and tomatoes cooked by Sabine. a real treat for the firing crew. Ben and I had a very short shift – started at ten am, finished by eleven thirty. some of us had been up half the night.


it was all fair though, Ben and I did our night shifts earlier in the firing.


the rest of the day was not spent entirely relaxing, there was Sabine’s kiln to finish, more of that in the next post.