[Clayart] wood firing/long story

Vince Pitelka vpitelka at dtccom.net
Sun Jul 3 13:22:51 EDT 2016

Hi Paul - 
Excellent post below.  I couldn't even estimate the number of wood-firings
we have done at the Craft Center of my 22 years there, and I do not remember
a single serious argument or personality clash occurring during a wood
firing, and absolutely no alcohol consumption (which is prohibited on campus
anyway).  The woodfiring experience has been thoroughly positive here.  Two
of my graduates this past semester, Natalie Novak and Catherine Lemaire
Lozier were both serious woodfirers and each fired our cross-draft
45-cubic-foot by themselves with only someone to spell them for a bit of
sleep in the middle of the firing.  I am sorry that they have graduated, but
so proud of what they accomplished.  

I was fortunate to be present at one of your firings and kiln openings in
October of 2007, and was impressed by the organization and sense of
community surrounding your kiln and firing.  It was a thoroughly positive
- Vince

Vince Pitelka
Appalachian Center for Craft
Tennessee Tech University
vpitelka at dtccom.net   

-----Original Message-----
From: Paul Herman [mailto:potterpaul at frontiernet.net] 
Sent: Saturday, July 2, 2016 2:02 PM
To: Clayart international pottery discussion forum
<clayart at lists.clayartworld.com>
Cc: mel jacobson <melpots2 at visi.com>; Dannon Rhudy <dannon at ccrtc.com>;
gerholdclay at gmail.com; Cyndy Shorter <shorthill at gmail.com>; Vince Pitelka
<vpitelka at dtccom.net>
Subject: Re: [Clayart] wood firing/long story


I am writing to offer a different perspective on wood firing than what you
have expressed. Your email seems to be a very cynical take on the whole wood
firing experience, and really uninformed about what is going on out here in
the larger world.

I will address one paragraph at a time.

First, it is indeed hard work and dirty sometimes, but not always expensive
if you are a good scrounger like me. Fighting and arguments? That doesn't
happen around our firings here, so that is not true about all wood firings.
That statement makes me wonder about the character of your crews.

2nd paragraph: Definitely, if you want to fire from a lawn chair and chat,
gas is the ticket for you. Wood firing includes plenty of hard work.

3rd p: If David Hendly is the only happy wood firer you know of, I'd say you
need to meet some more of us before you make any more broad and sweeping
statements. Though I imagine there would be no rancor if only one person is
firing the kiln. On second thought, I guess someone could get all rancorous
with ones self.

4th p: Yes it takes a lot of planning. Is that a bad thing in itself? "that
means...a truck, chain saw, wood splitter, gloves chaps, axe, and much in
the way of patience." Mel, I had all of these things but the wood splitter,
before I started wood firing. Especially the patience. The splitter cost
$1500, and now I use it to process my house wood, so it's a wash.

5th p: You ask "we have fights.  do this, do that, too fast, too slow,
should we stop, or keep going.  who the hell is in charge??????" Good
question, and I might add, "Why isn't SOMEONE in charge?" At our firings,
someone is in charge. Usually that is the person stoking the front, meaning
myself, Joe or Casey. There really needs to be a head honcho, and that
avoids petty bickering of the kind you describe. Decisions about how to fire
are not made by holding committee meetings.

6th p: You admit there needs to be a leader, but we manage to do that
without whips and guns. We can also fire with a crew of three, or even two
if necessary, and that is a 250 cubic foot kiln. Six is too many, no wonder
there is a traffic jam. Tell the other three to go take a nap, split or
carry wood, or rake the grounds. Or go cook something good to eat. Yes you
need a plan too. Is that so very difficult?

7th p: If some worker bee gets all pushy, refer them to "El Jefe" as they
call me. It's my alter ego, and means "The Chief." El Jefe has the power to
make them sit down, or leave altogether.

8th p: Hahaha, I do remember one very pretty young lady who came in heels. I
think someone suggested she bring"sensible shoes" next time, and we left it
at that. Pretty funny, really.

9th p: When people don't help out here, their pots tend to have a low
priority during loading of the kiln, and might not get in at all. Then they
are not invited to the next firing.

10th p: Overindulgence in alcohol can get your stoking privileges
temporarily revoked here at Great Basin Pottery. You've seen more drunks at
wood firings than sober people? Gee Mel, you are hanging out with the wrong
kind of crowds. We stay pretty sober during the firing, but at the finish,
*Bring me the single malt!" A no booze policy seems kind of draconian to me,
but we ARE dealing with adults at our firings, not immature little doodoo

Next few paragraphs you get all cynical, so I won't waste my time on them.
Suffice to say, your experience of wood fire is not universal. There are
many different ways to approach it, and many different rewards for the
potters. I like it, and my kiln is not too big.

16th P: Aging wood firers make you sad? Does Jack Troy make you sad? Did
your friend Nils make you sad? Think about it.

I don't think you are terrible Mel, but you are very cynical, and poorly
informed about the whole wood fire scene. For you and others here on the
list, I recommend that you subscribe to the little magazine "The Log Book."
It is international in scope, and publishes articles on all kinds of wood
firing, from kilns like David Hendley's Fast Freddie, to the large anagama
style of firing for 8 or 10 days. The Log Book can help expand your
horizons, and your mind.

Best wishes, and Bon Feu,

Paul Herman

Great Basin Pottery
Doyle California
potterpaul at frontiernet.net

On Jul 1, 2016, at 3:03 AM, mel jacobson via Clayart
<clayart at lists.clayartworld.com> wrote:

> wood firing/dictionary translation:  hard work, dirty, expensive, 
> frustrating, fighting, arguments.
> i have been around wood kilns for many years.
> my take is:  stay away.  watch a gas kiln fire from the seat of my 
> pink lawn chair.  chat with friends, watch the kiln fire, have a cold 
> drink.  chat `happily` with friends, pet my dog.  open a great kiln 
> full of happy pots.
> david hendley is the only potter i know that happily fires with wood.  
> no rancor...but, i think i will call karen and see if this story is 
> true.  (she is a fine woman, with great intengrity and she will tell 
> me the truth.)
> it takes a great deal of planning to pull off firing with wood.
> fuel is the prime issue with all kilns and you need good, well 
> stacked, well dried and abundant wood if you intend to fire with it.  
> and, you need a constant supply.  not just enough for a half a firing.
> that means...a truck, chain saw, wood splitter, gloves chaps, axe, and 
> much in the way of patience.
> add that up...about 20 grand.  low estimate.
> whenever we have fired the hay creek fabulous donovan palmquist wood 
> kiln we have fights.  do this, do that, too fast, too slow, should we 
> stop, or keep going.  who the hell is in charge??????  and these are 
> best friends firing the kiln.
> in most cases you need a crew of at least 6.  the leader should have a 
> whip and at least a smith and wesson model 10.
> the leader has to make all the decisions, the worker bees do what they 
> are told.  you plan ahead...keep to the plan.
> but, in most cases you have one worker bee that knows better.
> `come on, let's kick this kiln in the ass, load her up.`  kiln stalls.  
> you lose five hours of firing to get it back on track.
> the other issue.  the worker bees show up in heels and hose.
> polyester clothes that will explode if near a kiln.
> no gloves.  what, i have to do what???  i have to get up at
> 3 a.m.?  are you crazy?
> or, `i would love to help, but my dog is sick, take these 30 pots and 
> load them, i have a show coming up...i need a good spot in the kiln`.  
> sure.
> or, two of the worker bees drink too much, get loaded and fall into 
> the wood pile and pass out.  no booze at a wood firing.
> ever.  but, i have seen more drunks firing a wood kiln than sober 
> people.
> remember, wood firing potters lie to themselves.  `i love this.
> man, i am not tired at all after 42 hours of firing`.  `i cannot wait 
> to spend another 30 hours cutting and stacking wood.` so, it rains for 
> three days while i fire, it is fine.`
> remember, weather is about 60 percent of firing a wood kiln to the 
> end.  you can never tell what the weather will do.
> of course then there is the aesthetic.  snot and buggers all over the 
> pots. pots all turn brown.  potters make pots with `wood fire 
> form`...they all look alike.  one out of fifty has that racer quality.  
> the rest go in the dumpster.
> i realize that the screams of pain will now start.  `mel, you don't 
> know crap about aesthtics of wood, and you are mean.` `how can you say 
> such things?` well, i have been around the block, seen it, done it, 
> watched it and i have listened for years to folks that say...`man, 
> next time i will really fire this kiln better.`  i want this time.
> i want every time.  not 1 out of 5.
> and, the hardest part of the wood kiln experience is that the kilns 
> are far too big.  the potter is always chasing the kiln.  `i need 200 
> more pots to fill the kiln.`  `i need more help, and the family is not 
> going to do it again.`
> and nothing makes me sadder than an aging wood firing potter.  arms 
> are tired, legs hurt, and one more load of wood has to be cut, split 
> and stacked, covered and allowed at least a year to dry.  `i think i 
> will just pay that guy $300 for a full cord
> all cut and stacked.`   and, where do you find that guy that
> will do it for $300?.
> i write this post for those that think it is easy.
> the ones that have committed to it, they will stay commited, and will 
> think i am terrible for saying what i say.
> but, one has to go into the wood experience with wide open eyes. it is 
> not a picnic.
> mel

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