Fire It Up Series: Methods and Techniques for Firing Pottery
Firing your clay piece is often the most nerve-racking yet exciting step in finishing your project! There is always something that could go wrong, such as a piece with an air bubble that ruins all of your work being fired with it. Are we making you anxious yet? Even though things can go wrong when firing ceramics, a lot can go right!
At DiamondCore® Tools, we get pretty fired up about firing — so much so that we’re inspired to launch a new blog series! Stay tuned: The Fire It Up series from DiamondCore® Tools will describe various methods for firing pottery and explain techniques that can help you achieve different textures and colors on your ceramic projects.
Oxidation Versus Reduction
Oxidation firing is when there is an ample supply of oxygen in the kiln while firing. During this process, the oxygen molecules attach to the pottery and interact with the glaze and the clay surface. While the piece is firing, the oxygen has high electronegativity, which attracts electrons from the glaze and clay, causing them to oxidize.
Reduction firing happens in the opposite environment when the amount of oxygen in the kiln is restricted. Because of this, other gases — such as carbon, hydrogen and carbon dioxide — build up in the kiln. This changes the oxides in the kiln and the clay, altering the color and texture of your pottery pieces.
Methods for Firing Clay
As mentioned above, different methods for firing clay will create various textures and/or colors on your pottery pieces. Now let’s examine some of the common and unique ways to fire your pottery to create amazing finished ceramic projects.
Electric kilns are the most common way to fire your pottery. They are typically less expensive, and their built-in digital controls make them easy to use. Electric kilns are lined with insulating bricks and, depending on what style they are, can either be loaded from the top or from the front.
To fire your work, the coils surrounding the pottery heat up. This ensures that the pieces inside are heated evenly. Electric kilns are reliable and are pretty simple to use, especially since you can set the kiln to fire your pieces on a schedule.
Gas kilns are not as common as electric kilns but are still used today. They can be used for salt or soda firing, which can create different textures and colors compared with pieces fired in an electric kiln. The flames inside the kiln can be adjusted to change the atmosphere in the kiln, in turn, adjusting the color and textures of your pieces.
Wood-burning kilns are less common today, but they are one of the oldest methods for firing pottery. These kilns are usually built by the potter with bricks or adobe to look like igloos or small caves. Even though this seems like the easiest and most DIY way to fire your pottery, it is labor-intensive and can take a team of people multiple days to complete a single firing.
Even though this method takes so long, it is the most organic of these firing methods and the finished ceramics often have a beautiful, rustic look.
Now that you know the different kiln styles for firing your clay, we’ll examine some different firing methods you can use to finish your pieces. Firing your clay using these techniques can give your pieces unique, personal looks.
Soda firing is when you put baking soda and sodium carbonate into the kiln as it reaches a temperature of about 2,350 degrees Fahrenheit. When both of these elements are introduced into the kiln at this temperature, they will vaporize and disperse throughout the kiln. This vapor then adheres to the pottery within the kiln, creating a highly textured glaze. Because the vapors are unpredictable, the finished look of your pieces will be a beautiful surprise!
This type of firing gets a bit tricky, so be careful! Raku firing involves removing the pottery from the kiln when it is red hot. The piece is then placed in a container with paper or sawdust which catches fire, creating an oxygen reduction environment that can yield unpredictable but unique results. This cooling process can be completed a number of ways and can even create a crackle design on the finished pieces. No two of these rugged, earthy designs are the same.
Sawdust firing involves a kiln that you make yourself with bricks or stones placed together. You then pack the inside of this “cave” with sawdust, place your pottery on top, then put more sawdust on top of the pieces. This type of firing can take time — up to 36 hours!
The pieces that come out of this firing method are usually smoky black or other dark colors. Once the pottery is finished, a natural glaze or wax can be applied.
We recommend firing your pottery using the methods and techniques you are most comfortable with. Once you get more skilled, you can try different firing methods that will give your ceramic pieces a look that is unique to you. Make sure that you take the time to fully understand each process and how each firing method will affect your pottery in the kiln. This can require a lot of patience, but it will be worth it to see your finished piece coming out of the kiln with all that hard work paying off!
Do you have questions about safety or choosing the right firing methods for your desired results? We’re here to help! Leave a comment below, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch with our team via social media. We’re on Facebook and Instagram!