Fall Barrel Firing

Somehow this whole summer slipped away before I was able to get the rest of the pots, that I had ready to barrel fire in the spring, through the process. This past weekend my husband and I packed up the barrel and burnt it down to great results. All the new pieces are up for sale here.

I took some pictures, documenting the process a bit, that I have to share too. If you’d like to know how I create my barrel fired pots here’s a step by step.

My barrel fired pieces start off at the wheel like all my work. Here is a link to a video I shared on Kayci Stanley Ceramics facebook page of me throwing a pot for the barrel firing. After the piece is thrown and dried up a bit I clean up the bottoms by hand and add my initials. Some pieces get burnished and some don’t, here is a link to another video on my facebook page showing me burnishing a pot.

Once the pots are completely bone dry, to prepare them for the barrel, I put them through a very low bisque fire to cone 018 in my electric kiln.

That terracotta was so orange after the 018 bisque!

After the pieces are bisqued sometimes I wrap old scraps of wire around them in random patterns, wrap them in dried sea vegetation, or wrap them with (dried) sea salt soaked cotton fabric or string. If I have done any carving in the pieces before hand I usually fill in the carving with underglaze before the firing as well.

Once the pots are ready we get the barrel ready. My husband is forever the tinkerer, always making improvements. We started out firing in a straight burning barrel, he put some holes in it to help the air flow.

Our barrel fire last summer (2018)

This year he added a door in the bottom to help us light it more efficiently and a smoke stack up top to help keep the heat in and smoke us out less.

Barrel (2019)

To stack the barrel my husband gathered a bunch of branches and sticks that had fallen off the trees in our yard. He also chopped some larger logs that we had into more manageable pieces. We used the sticks and the logs to stack up the bottom third of the barrel, leaving room to start a fire by the door.

On top of that we put a little saw dust, a layer of newspaper, and a thicker layer of saw dust on top of the newspaper.

I mixed into the saw dust a mixture of copper carbonate and salt, along with some dried sea vegetation and walnut sawdust. I’ve put nails and other scraps of metal, coffee grounds, banana peals, and grass clippings into this saw dust layer in the past. This layer of sawdust is the bed the pots lay on, so whatever is put around the pots here will create the atmosphere in the barrel that results in the surface decoration on the pots. I’m still experimenting with adding different things to this layer and seeing what I get. I think all this sea vegetation caused more orange this time around and made some lovely patterns on some pieces. I know nails have left pretty rings in the past and coffee grounds create a rich brown color.

Once the sawdust bed is ready the pots go in. I try to give them room. I don’t like to crowd them too much.

We covered the pots with a little more newspaper and sticks.

Last we topped it all off with sticks and logs.

Tony started a fire with sticks and leaves and paper inside the door at the bottom of the barrel. It took a while to get the fire to spread throughout the barrel, it always does.

After the fire was cooking, we closed the door and let it burn down. It smoked the rest of the afternoon and died down into the evening.

The following day we were able to go out and open it up once things had cooled down. I carefully pulled the pots out of the barrel and wiped them off. I then applied a thin layer of protective wax on the outside to finish them.

We’re getting better at this process. There was a lot of color in this firing, purples, reds and oranges. I’m happy with the results. We won’t be able to do this again until the spring, but I think we’re both looking forward to experimenting more.

I always find myself picking a favorite from every firing and this piece has caught my eye this time.


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