[Clayart] kiln shelf question

vincepitelka at gmail.com vincepitelka at gmail.com
Sun Jan 22 12:32:05 UTC 2023

Hi Mel - 
That is a very interesting question.  I will ask my son if he knows when kiln shelves were first used in Japan.  I have a black and white picture of an old Noborigama in Shigaraki with large amounts of both kiln shelves and saggars stacked up outside the kiln.  I have another image from Japan showing glazed pots loaded on round kiln shelves supported by a single wheel-thrown refractory pedestal in the center, with a circle of pots around the outside of the shelf, another wheel-thrown refractory pedestal, another shelf, etc.  This one is a color photograph, so it is recent, but it might represent a system used very early, for the simple reason that it would have been within the grasp of any potter able to formulate a fairly refractory claybody that would support the pots and hold up through repeated firings.  The round shelves in the image are thicker in the center, maybe two inches, tapering to one inch towards the outside, which would increase their strength and durability.  They would only have to support a single row of pots around the central pedestal, and thus would not have to be the kind of "exotic" mullite, kyanite, or high-alumina clay shelves we have today.  You can see the throwing marks on the central pedestals, and thus they are hollow, and a slender vase, jar, or tumbler could be placed inside, so this system could be quite efficient in terms of use of space in the kiln.  

You know the following, but some readers might not.  It's easy for us to assume that saggars are a more primitive method of supporting pots in kilns before sophisticated refractory shelves were available, because saggars seem to waste so much space in the kiln.  But before the advent of gas, oil, and electric kilns, the only way to get a very clean glaze surface unmarred by fly ash in a kiln fired with coal or wood was to enclose the pots in saggars.  All those gaudy porcelain late Baroque urns and vases that came out of Sevres, Chelsea, Meissen, etc. were fired in saggars.  All those perfect Song Dynasty celadons and Ming/Qing Dynasty copper reds were fired in saggars.  All of the finest glazed Islamic pots from Persia or Turkey were fired in saggars.  
- Vince

Vince Pitelka
Potter, Writer, Teacher
Chapel Hill, NC
vpitelka at dtccom.net

-----Original Message-----
From: Clayart <clayart-bounces at lists.clayartworld.com> On Behalf Of mel jacobson
Sent: Saturday, January 21, 2023 9:50 PM
To: clay art <clayart at lists.clayartworld.com>
Subject: [Clayart] kiln shelf question

I have been searching for some time as to the first kiln shelves used in kilns.

We know all about saggers, and there use, even up to modern times, including now. But, where did the kiln shelf come from?

We know the Greeks used a sort of hearth, shelf with holes in the bottom of the kiln.  there is information on stilts of various sizes and configuration.  We also know the early SW Indians used a natural clay "hearth" But, what about the kiln shelf?????

I have been talking to both Bill Schran and Arnold Howard, but no luck.

website: www.melpots.com

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