[Clayart] Fire in the firing kiln

Deborah Thuman via Clayart clayart at lists.clayartworld.com
Thu Feb 12 09:28:12 EST 2015

At the local university, there's a Blaauw kiln. Never did like that kiln. Anyway, it is a huge sucker. Only the graduate students fired kilns. As far as I knew, only three undergrad students - including me - ever fired kilns. And so the grad student loaded the kiln, shut the door, pushed the appropriate buttons, pressed START. A while later, there were flames shooting out the edges of the door. 

Some genius had installed that kiln so the control panel was on the side of the kiln closest to the wall. Close as in you better not gain too much weight or you will never be able to fire the kiln because you will be too large to fit into the slither space and press buttons. 

No one knew then or knows now where the shutoff for the gas is. Best guess: it's under a locked wire cage. No one knew or knows where the key to the cage is kept. Plus, you need a wrench (no one knows where that is, either) to shut off the gas if you can manage to get inside the locked metal cage. Even the fully manual gas kilns outside have no main shutoff. Gas shutoff for each kiln was BEHIND the kiln. The area around the kiln was considered a wonderful place to store all sorts of combustibles. Best manic episode I ever had was just before I fired one of the outside kilns. I picked up each piece of wood which was strewn around the kiln and tossed it as far as I could.  I was told if I saw a kiln fire, run and don't stop. 

But wait! There's more. There's a fire department on campus. Good, right? Maybe. There was no way to get from the fire department to the art building without going off campus and then coming back on campus via a road that goes nowhere. One night, a sculpture student got hungry and wanted to make toast. Student used a torch to make the toast and that set off the fire alarm. The art building is an antique - meaning it's considerably older than I am. If OSHA ever went through that building, the place would be condemned. It's a toxic waste dump.

So... the alarm is going off and we all leave. And wait. And wait. And wait. Eventually, the firetruck with two firefighters arrived. They parked. And stayed in the truck. I could see through the art building windows that two campus police officers wearing NO safety equipment searching the building for a fire. After the police found no fire, the firefighters left. 

So what happened to the Blaauw with the flames shooting out around the door? The antidote was: grab a pair of heavy duty gloves and push on the door. That should close the door and eliminate the flames. Then, while pushing on the door, reach around and make sure the door was properly fastened closed. 

And that's what I learned in school. 

My kiln? It's in a metal kiln house that Jim built. There's about a 1 foot gap between the top of the walls and the roof. There's one of those whirly things in the roof. The kind where when the wind blows, the whirly thing whirls around and sucks the hot air out of the kiln house. 

There's a lever to control the gas on the floor of the kiln house, right inside the door. Doors are open and held open with a handy cement block when the kiln is being fired. There's a shutoff at the regular house (which is on the other side of the patio across from the kiln house and there's an outside shutoff). There's a shutoff at the propane tank. So far, thank you God, there hasn't been a problem. 

Deb Thuman
debthuman at verizon.net

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.” 
― Eleanor Roosevel

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