Sawdust Firing!

Bananas & Barrel

What is sawdust firing?  It's a low temperature firing of pots and sawdust to get black and gray carbonization patterns burnt into your pots.  

The ware from most low-fire alternative or primitive firings is non-functional, that is, the clay is semi-porous and weaker than fully vitrified stoneware.  Why do we do it?  Because it's gorgeous.    

How is it done?  In this case pots are pre-bisqued and dipped in a fireclay slip to semi-resist the smoke, and are then layered in a special barrel with sawdust.  ("Special" means "cheap").  The sawdust is lit from the top with some newspapers and a lighter.  Once it is burning away nicely, the barrel is covered and left to smolder for the rest of the day and night.   


And there it is:  A big smoking barrel in the back yard.
In a brilliant display of pyrotechnics... this elaborate setup will send little wisps of smoke out teeny holes for over twelve hours.  


Before smoking, boneware pots are burnished with terra sigillata and bisque-fired.   


On the morning of firing, the pots are dipped in goo and dried for a couple of hours.  Some get plant leaves before dipping for an additional carbonization effect.  


While the slip dries, the next very important step is to prepare bananas for roasting.  We are very green at ESP.  The bananas are yellow.  


And then the pot lasagna begins with a three to four inch layer of sawdust and the first layer of pots.  


In-between each layer is a piece of chicken wire to keep the pots from falling on each other as the sawdust burns away.


Layer 3.  


And last, but by no means least, the 4th layer of... bananas!  And some newspapers to ignite the sawdust.  


FIRE!  


And marshmallows


And... this is what it does until the next morning when the cover is pulled.  But in the meantime...


Roasted Bananas!!  


Overnight the sawdust burns down and the next day, like Christmas morning (coal is good!) we get to pluck the crusty beauties out.  


Sweet...


Next we give them all a good scrub to get the crust (ashes and remains of fireclay slip) off.


After drying, vases are sealed to be water-tight.


White terra sigillata over white stoneware


White terra sig over white stoneware


Unsig'd porcelain


Green terra sig over white stoneware


Oxalis (shamrock) leaves on unsig'd stoneware


White terra sig over white stoneware.  The browns (and some mysterious streaks of green) are all from the firing.  


back to ESP blog