[Clayart] fuel/ and well researched

mel jacobson melpots2 at visi.com
Sun Jul 3 18:40:46 EDT 2016

every potter faces the fact that fuel is the most important
aspect of making pots.  we all use fuel, and great deal of it.

availability of fuel is a major factor in the selection process.
what can you get, how much will it cost, and can you afford it
visa vi cost of production/cost of fuel and your time factor??

in the history of making clay vessels fuels like wood, dung, grass
or palm fronds were the major systems  for making pots.  it was easy to
pick up, no fuss in storing it, and it worked just fine.

the great kilns of japan and china were fired with red pine, cut in
two foot lengths, and split into small sticks.  historically women
cut and worked with fuel, and they tended the fire.  it was a place
of great power.  those that controlled fire, controlled the tribe.

there were 150 meter long hill kilns in china two thousand years ago.
fired with pine or other such wood...the average temp inside the chambers
was like cone 11-13.  it was a very hot kiln.

natural gas is a very new system for firing pots.  and of course the 
kiln is very new.  i imagine propane/butane have only been around for 
under a
hundred years. 

again, the most important factor in selection is:  what do you have 
close to you.
what is the cost, how much work does it add to your busy pottery day?

at this point in our lives here in the united states, natural gas is 
plentiful, does not
pollute very much and it is very easy to get.  in many cases it comes 
right to your
house.  (i put a line to my garage by myself 55 years ago.  it still 
serves me.)

every house has an electrical line coming to it.  the destruction of 
`kiln envy` has made
it possible to fire your ware in an electric kiln and in a very 
reasonable, clean and non polluting
way.  it adds almost no work to your production schedule.  it is affordable.

wood is the most difficult firing method.  as i have said, it takes 
amazing planning,
and real leadership to make it happen.

the number one drawback to wood is that you need a very rural setting 
for your pottery.
there is almost no way for you to fire a wood kiln in a big city.  it 
creates gobs of smoke.
(even at our farm in rural wisconsin, people will stop and ask what we 
are doing...`man, that
is a lot of smoke.`  we wait for someone to complain to the county.  if 
that happens...no more
wood firing.)  we can all as potters,  tell folks that smoke is good for 
us, burning is better
than rotting...it is really a wash...but...who listens to us?...no 
one.   it there is gobs of black smoke
you have a problem waiting to be dropped on your head.

even with 50 acres of woods we still have trouble getting perfect wood.  
we are able
to get slab lumber from a mill near us...but, even that can be crap.  
about one out of five
bundles will have wood that does not burn.   and for us, cutting down 
trees and splitting
cords of wood is out of the question.  and do not deny that.   it is 
like driving your motorcycle
at night at high speed and say...`no deer can hit me.`  wanna bet.

the `eastcreek kiln` of nils lou fame has really solved some of those 
problems.  cindy hoskisson
has brought high school kids into the mix of people working with the 
kilns.  they love the chain
saws, splitting ax` and the boys tear into it.  they never stop.  of 
course they live in rural oregon
surrounded by the greatest wood pile in the world.  but i do remember 
nils telling me that
it still cost a lot of money to fire that huge kiln.  but that kiln is a 
teaching institution.  cindy
runs it as a learning experience.  they glaze a lot of the ware that 
goes into that huge kiln.  she does
not tolerate failure, or people that want to fire a different way.  
cindy is the kiln master.
no one else....well except for her daughters.  cindy is up to over 150 
firings of that kiln.
(we all laughed at nils stories at his memorial show...nils loved to get 
people organized,
jobs laid out,  then he would sneak up to his house and sleep the night 
through.  make a big
show in the morning of throwing in wood...and head up to the house and 
hide out.)

vince's wood kiln is a teaching institution.  it is experiences that 
many pottery programs cannot
duplicate.  and, i am sure there is little fighting...he runs a very, 
very tight ship.  as one would
expect.  vince does not tolerate fools very well.  and, as i say...that 
is the only way a wood fuel kiln
can be operated.  the professionals do not take chances, do not do silly 
things and know that the
work involved cannot tolerate failure.  what is the cost and time and 
fuel to lose 400 pots.????

i am sure we will always have lovers of fire.  i am one, i know what it 
is.  committed wood
firing potters will not change.  they love wood firing.  it is in the 
dna and will not be
moved.  i know that.

but, if you are running a business, or even a vital hobby...fuel 
availability and cost
is critical to your bottom line.  it should be studied and considered.

the one aspect of budgets at hopkins high was no one ever looked at the 
electric meter.
if they did, they would have soiled their pants.  we never mentioned the 
cost of firing.
i would bitch about money for repair, clay, glaze...but, we never talked 
abut fuel cost.
tight lips.  the electric meter was for the entire school, not the art 
(i even hate to put that concept in writing for fear some principal 
reads this and
rats us out.)

discussions about fuel, cost, availability are critical for clayart.  it 
is a professional
topic.   i have very thick skin.  one can blast me, i really don't 
care.  important
topics often come at us with controversy.  it is just fine.  i kick back 
hard too.

think of the cost of a wood fired kiln.  it is in the many thousands of 
i admire anyone willing to take on that debt.  but, with debt comes 
to pay it off.  that is the hard part.  i have seen wood kilns plowed 
under with
a tractor.  several.  thousands of dollars down the drain.  all for an 
unrealistic dream.

dollar for dollar, and for the best work ethic, gas works very well.
and, so does electricity. 

from: minnetonka, mn
website: www.melpots.com
clayart:  www.melpots.com/clayart.html
melpots2 at visi.com

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