When we first began this pit firing adventure we knew virtually nothing. I did some research, mostly on the internet. I remember that it was around January 2000 that we agreed to teach a hand building and pit firing class the following September, so an anniversary of sorts is advancing.
Most pits are dug into the soil, digging a pit. In fact many of my searches brought up fire pits and I read about those, too. You never know when something will be interesting. Not here, though, for pottery, but now we have a new project and two spots for fire pits.
We started with a small hole in the ground, perhaps several inches. We do live in a geographical region that has wasy too many rocks and bedrock is exposed everywhere. Living on a coral reef with tons of granite boulders left by the last ice cap means very little soil, and what is there is in between the stones. We already knew that. Me, a retired dairy farmer and John a serious gardener, had years experience with those rocks. So, we started with a small hole, maybe 3 inches deep, and built a small structure with hard bricks. Then we followed one set of instructions, filling it with mostly sawdust and some wood and the pots. We lit it, stood back and watched, and periodically we put more sawdust over everything, adding sticks, too. We wanted to keep that fire going. Soon, we were done. We covered everything and waited impatiently for everything to cool.
Nothing had broken. There was a lot of blacks and some browns and tans. Smokey stuff. But the colors we were looking for were missing. We had treated the surface with coppers and other suggestions to get colors. But we hadn’t achieved what we were looking for.
After many weeks of trial and error John designed an above ground pit using soft bricks. We got more colors, we think, because we built more of a fire over the pots, instead of sawdust ‘smoking’ the pots. We learned that hotter meant more colors. We learned how to bisque fire pots (under fire them a little) to help them withstand the thermal shock, and prevent breakage. We were using our modern mind to refine the primitive process of pit firing. We were having fun.
So today, I find that someone built a similar pit out of bricks. And had great results. Tia Studio is a great site with lots to enjoy. I was pleasantly surprised to see something we created, created by someone else. There are no new ideas, and I think maybe now we will see more and more of these. Not that we started it, but that we picked up on the development of this as it occurred in the world.