It’s summer time, and to me that means it’s time to pit fire! Last weekend we were able to finally fire the first of the pots I have been stock piling all winter. I’m really happy with the results we achieved. I learned a lot and ended up with some awesome pieces. I just finished putting all the pots up for sale and you can check them out here. Just like the firing we did last year my favorite piece is a collaboration between my husband and I. I created the pot and he wrapped copper wire around it to create an eye catching design.
Pit firing is a very old method of finishing pottery. Probably the oldest method. and there are different variations of the technique that different potters use today. I’m still refining the process for myself, but I enjoy this kind of firing immensely and I’m seeing good results.
After I create the pots I bisque fire them to cone 018 (around 1320°F-1350°F) in my electric kiln. This is actually a pretty low temperature which keeps the surface of the pots more porous, but still hardens and drys the clay out in preparation for the pit.
After the pots come out of the bisque it’s time to prepare the pit. We fire in my father in law’s fire pit. We dig it out extra deep, somewhere between 2 and 3 feet. Then we make sure the bottom of the pit is free of any rocks and is as dry as possible. I started a small fire to dry out the bottom this time because we dug the pit out the day before we fired the pots.
Next I covered the bottom of the pit in a thick layer of saw dust. I mixed 1 part copper carbonate to 2 parts salt in with the saw dust. I’ve heard of this mixture being called “magic dust”. It helps add color to the pots. A lot of the reds and pinks are created because of it.
After I got the bottom of the pit prepared I placed the pots in with other colorants scattered around and under them. A few of the things I’ve used for colorants are coffee grounds, iron nails, dried grass clippings, cobalt carbonate and steel wool. When the pit gets really hot, these colorants create the reds, pinks, oranges, browns, yellows, blues and other interesting effects on the pots surfaces. The way the pots are placed in the pit has an effect on them as well so I put some on their sides and some sit more upright. It’s fun to play around with 🙂
On top of the pots I put a good layer of news paper and other bits of junk mail. This helps protect the pots and get the fire burning.
After the paper layer it’s time for the wood. I’m so thankful that my hubby not only enjoys splitting wood, but is also really good at it. I would have a very hard time doing this kind of firing with out him.
He made a lot of small pieces of wood for me out of much larger pieces 🙂 I stacked the wood carefully and as even as I could on top of the paper layer in the pit.
Then we lit it on fire!
Once it’s on fire it’s best to not breathe in the smoke. We let the fire burn down and check the process every hour or so. It gets really exciting when you start to see the pots peaking through the ash. After the fire burnt down all the way I got my first glimpse of how things turned out.
We covered the pit with a metal cover that my husband fashioned to let things cool slowly and keep the dew off over night. The next day it was time to pull the pots out 😀 My husband and I always call these moments Christmas. Pulling the pots out of the pit, or out of a glaze fired kiln, is just the best! They were barely cool enough, but I just couldn’t wait.
I cleaned the ash off the outside and insides of the pots with a clean rag. Then I brought them home and polished them up with some furniture wax to create a nice finish and protect the pots from the moisture in the atmosphere. If you’re interested in how I finish the pots up and how to care for them over time please check out my pit fired pottery care guide.
I can not wait to do this process again. I have some very cool pots waiting in my studio to be pit fired and am expecting even cooler results next time around. I am planning at least one more pit firing this summer, but I would love to get 2 or 3 more in before the weather gets cold. I’m almost ready to do another mid-range glaze firing as well so keep an eye out for that in the coming weeks. As always thanks so much for your interest and support <3