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How To Fire Pottery Without A Kiln

 

The art of creating pottery at home is becoming more prevalent. Many people are turning their hobby into a business venture or simply as a way of creating unique gifts for their family and friends. One of the main issues to consider when creating pottery is how to fire it. This article looks at how to fire clay without a kiln, which may not always be readily available.

 

Raku Firing

Raku firing is a very traditional form of firing pottery. Although it can create elegant and colorful pieces of pottery, this method can be complicated to get right and requires a lot of space in order to achieve the desired end results.

Raku firing requires a bisque or biscuit fire and a large pit area to create enough heat to fire the pottery to a high enough temperature.


How does Raku Firing Work?

The best place to create a Raku fire is outside or in a well ventilated area. It must be an area that is safe for creating a fire, away from other flammable objects and children or animals. 

The first element in the process is to create a bisque fire, the traditional name given to the first firing of pottery before it is glazed. Most Raku firings use a barrel to house the wares, as they have a few openings that you can use for access to the pottery once it has been fired.

The barrel must be placed near to the fire with the pottery placed carefully inside. The fire should become hot enough to heat the barrel to between 760 to 980 degrees celsius. The difficulty with the Raku technique is that it takes a long time for the barrel to achieve this temperature, with the barrel essentially acting as the kiln.

Once the pottery has been fired to the temperatures required, it needs to be removed using tongs and safety gloves and immediately plunged into cold water or sawdust to cool it. Once cooled, you should use a cleaner to remove the carbon from the glaze. You should then allow your product to sit and dry thoroughly for a number of hours before decorating.

 

 

Pit Firing

Pit firing is also known as smoke firing and is a very traditional method of firing clay. For unglazed, natural looking pottery, this is a perfect method but it can also be used for glazing if needed. As the name suggests, pit firing takes place in a hole or pit.

The important consideration for pit firing, as with Raku firing, is that it requires a well ventilated area, away from other combustible materials. Again, it should also be created away from children or animals who may inadvertently fall into the pit.

The negative of using pit firing is that it is difficult to achieve a consistent heat. This can lead to a more fragile finished piece or uneven glazing.

 

How does Pit Firing work?

As with Raku, Pit Firing requires a fire to be built. A hole should be dug in a well ventilated area but with protection from the wind. The fire can be built using wood chips, coal or paper and should reach temperatures of between 980 to 1100 degrees celsius. Some people use a charcoal grill as their ‘pit’.

Once the pit fire has reached the desired temperatures, the pottery must be placed in the heat and kept there for between 12 and 24 hours, depending on the desired finish. This will largely depend on whether you are looking to achieve a natural or glazed finish.

Once you are satisfied with the finish, and the pottery has become hard, remove it carefully with tongs and set it aside to dry. You could also leave it to dry by leaving it in the fire until it has burnt out.

 

 

A Kitchen Oven

This is the most modern method of firing ceramics without a kiln. It is obviously not a suitable method for firing ceramics on a larger or commercial scale but is a useful alternative for using as a hobby or as a solution for beginners.

A kitchen oven is ideal starter equipment as it allows you to experiment and to learn different techniques before considering a more sophisticated piece of equipment.

The major downside of a kitchen oven is that it does not reach the temperatures required for glazing. The low temperatures can also mean that only certain types of clay (such as salt dough) will work when fired in a domestic oven, and even then the finished product may be brittle.

 

How does a Kitchen Oven work for firing pottery?

As kitchen ovens can only achieve certain temperatures, it is best to use clay that can be fired at a low temperature (around 120 degrees celsius). Place the finished object in the oven for around an hour at this temperature or for up to 3 hours for thicker or larger projects. Do not over fire the clay in the oven, as it may become too hard and brittle.

You can paint directly on to the object using an acrylic paint once it has cooled but unfortunately the pottery cannot be glazed as the oven cannot reach the temperatures required to hold the glaze in place.

So, the answer to the question, can you fire clay without a kiln? Is in simple terms, yes. However, the alternative methods of firing pottery without a kiln all come with difficulties. In the main, this is due to the inconsistency in terms of the heat created. There is little control over creating an even temperature and in the case of a domestic oven, the temperatures are not sufficient to create glazed pottery. The Raku and Pit Fire methods also take a considerable amount of time to achieve the desired results and can be dangerous if not controlled properly.

If you are looking for a better controlled solution for firing your pottery projects, then Soul Ceramics supplies a range of electric powered kilns, perfect for both hobbyists and commercial ventures. We can guide you on the most effective solutions for your needs and help you to create consistent and quality finished products time after time.

 

Additional resources on pottery

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