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For the love of wood firing

By Lisa Talbot

Flames in the firebox

Who would have thought that poking some old untreated pallet sticks into a box of bricks could be so transformative?

I confess that I already had some clue as I had done many wood firings at Ross Mitchell-Anyon's place in Whanganui about a quarter of a century ago. 

Not only was it transformative for us as potter people but also for the pots that we committed to the fire...Firstly it transforms the pottery - the plain clay slips that were dipped and sprayed onto our pots will transform into images that show where the flames flashed and licked our work on their path through the kiln. The sprayings of soda will transform into just visible metallic sparkles, adding their own sheen of soda magic to the walls of the kiln as well as our pots.. Secondly, it was transformative for how it took a group of acquaintances into a hard working team of new-found friends who held and stoked the fire for many hours.

Eight of us gathererd on the first day to meet each other, get the orders from our fire master Alex, who told us that she was very intense and we had to do what she said when she said it. She is not that intense in person, at all, but then again, we did all do what she said when she said it because she was so knowledgeable and skilled, we didn’t dare deviate from her well thought out plan. She ran a tight ship where we all worked together as a team to run the kiln. To my fellow wood firing team, I salute you, it was a pleasure and a great joy to work along side you all.

Maybe in the next firing I’ll try going rogue. Just in the interest of science, to see what Alex might do.. 

There is a whole new community that formed out of this three days of hard and focussed work. Preparing, stacking and firing the fast fire phoenix kiln at the Waikato Society of Potters. I now know a lot more about my fellow clay friends, where they live, how they got into clay, what they love about working with clay, their favorite clay people and pieces and even their dietary preferences (hot tip for newbies: It’s worth joining in a wood firing just for the snacks alone as there are many fine cooks amongst us and they crack out their best work to chow down on around the kiln). 

In short, this is the best thing I have done in Hamilton since I arrived here in March last year. 

At the time of writing this, we have just sealed up the kiln, we don’t get to see what happened to all of our pots until next Sunday afternoon when we crack the kiln open. Come down to have a look at whatever epic success or epic failure appears out of the kiln, it really is magic! Maybe we have some delightful pieces to enjoy or maybe we have weeks of grinding kiln shelves ahead of us. Either way, I’m a happy camper and I am very grateful to our fire master and our team wood firers for an epic three days of hard work, well spent, in good company. 


(With wonderful input from Alex and Victoria)

Alex and Larry make passing the tape look arty, akin to Michelangelo’s sistine chapel painting…

Alex and Larry stand on 2 sides of the bricked kiln. Alex passes tape to Larry

The rain was a nice respite between the hot work of stoking.

The rain was a nice respite between the hot work of stoking.

First stack complete in the morning of day 2

First stack complete in the morning of day 2

All of the work that we committed to the fire.

All of the work that we committed to the fire.

Mid soda action

Mid soda action


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