Thursday, August 27, 2009

It Patiently Waits.....

I haven't been worth a plug nickel the last 2 days! I either caught a bug when we were out of town for my father-in-law's 80th birthday, or I got a sinus infection from the dust I've been exposed to while building the kiln. I have been wearing a mask while grinding and cutting bricks (for the most part) but it's just a dirty, dusty job. I'll be glad when that part of it's over with!!

During my recuperation (when not napping or blowing my nose) I've joined a couple of discussion groups for potters who salt and/or soda fire. It looks like there are several other people "out there" in cyber land, who, like me, are at various stages of building a salt or soda kiln. It's interesting to read about their similar trials and learn some alternative solutions. It's encouraging to know that others are experiencing the same frustrations as I am, but keep plugging away at it. I don't think I've come across a scenario yet where someone claims their kiln went up without a few obstacles and problems that had to be worked out. I think if I did read about a kiln-building project without any problems, I'd have a little trouble believing it, unless that person builds kilns for a living!! For most potters, kiln building seems to be an activity that is only participated in every few years. And it probably happens this way for a reason. I'm thinking it's for the same reason that family's space their children a few years apart - you need that time in between so you don't recall how intense the "labor" actually was!!

I only hope that firing this kiln will be half as rewarding as being a mom is, and I hope my kiln turns out half as good as my kids have so far! I used a lot of trial and error in raising them, and somehow they survived, so that gives me yet more encouragement about my kiln building venture!! Although I'm not sure if kilns (and the pots we fire in them) are quite as resiliant as kids!!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Arch is done!

The kiln is really starting to take shape and look like a kiln!! I must apologize to my loyal reader for my former pessimism!! We're making great progress, I should be in the studio very soon!

I'm actually starting to feel a little nervous about producing again. The pressure's on.........will I be able to produce? More importantly, will I be able to sell?? Or is it all just yet another expensive hobby?

Here's what we did on the kiln yesterday.........

In this photo, we've are laying the last course of the arch bricks. Scott built the form out of wood using the kiln's measurements and some extremely complicated algebraic formula. (Of course any algebraic formula seems extremely complicated to me!) According to Jack Troy (kiln guru, he wrote The Kiln Book) a kiln should be as close to a perfect cube as possible. Of course it's a little off because of the shape of the arch, but we're about as close as we could get. In order to make the arch the correct curvature, we had to lay a row of straight bricks in periodically. They're the darker colored bricks. So the pattern was, 3 rows of arch bricks on either side, then a row of straights, then 4 rows of arch bricks and a row of straights, then 4 rows of arch bricks in the middle.

I found the whole arch process somewhat fascinating. The arch bricks have an ever so slight taper to them and it amazes me that they're all made consistently enough to fit together so perfectly. After all the
measurements and leveling and re-measuring, and pulling out bricks, and pounding on the wall we did, I thought the arch would take a long time to complete (and wondered if we'd be able to make it work.) I guess all the anal activities I just mentioned (and have complained about) the whole time actually paid off in the end, didn't they?!

The kiln is called a "Sprung Arch" kiln; it gets its name from the process in which the arch is built. The bricks are laid starting on either side and working towards the middle. In the above picture you can see that the final row of bricks in the middle looks as though it's not going to fit. That's how it's supposed to work. You tap the bricks down gently into place and the shape and weight of the bricks actually causes the arch to "spring" up off of the form ever so slightly. Thus, the bricks are now holding themselves in place because you can't use any type of mortar on the arch, it could filter down onto the pots when the kiln's firing and ruin them.

How did anyone figure this out? Like I said, fascinating! Ok, it ain't the pyramids or stone henge, but it's the First Wonder of My World right now. And totally makes me wonder how in the hell some of those real wonders were ever conceived, let alone actually built!!

Here's a shot of the arch after we took the form out. I think it's a work of art!!

In this picture, if you look at the back wall, you can see where we cut and ground bricks to fit under the arch. There's just a small sliver of space left that I'll probably fill with soft brick and mortar. Then a layer of soft brick on the outside for insulation.

Next step is to layout the door configuration and the spray the interior, the arch and the inside of the door with ITC, a chemical solution that will protect the bricks and give them a longer kiln life. Also need to finish the chimney and get the burners hooked up.

Hopefully I'll fire it up in just a few more weeks!!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Light at the end of the tunnel

Beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel....
We're in the home stretch now.....
Making some headway....

Today we finished the walls and put the arch form up to see how hight the top will be and make sure it's going to be square and plumb and all dat dere! Those 2 words, "square" and "plumb" have been a thorn in our side during this project, but I'm happy to report that, it's pretty durn close to being both.

Between now and next kiln building day Steve needs to drill some holes in the channel iron and do some welding so we can tie the 4 corners together. I need to clean and scrape the mortar from the inside to get it ready to spray with ITC. We still have a lot to do, but it feels like we're getting close to the point where I'll be able to start firing it.

In addition to the progress that's been made on the kiln, Steve and I built some ware shelves and al
most finished my work table last week. In the next couple weeks he will upgrade the wiring to the garage so I can start using my new electric kiln for bisque firing. We will have to figure out what we're going to do about propane, I think we'll have the local propane company install a tank on site for it. We have a small tank next to the house for a gas fireplace, but we would have to pipe it under the driveway to tap into it. That doesn't seem like a great idea. We're also going to need propane piped to the garage, my studio, so I don't freeze my li'l fingers off this winter. But that project can wait a few more weeks.

This is a shot from inside the door looking up through the arch form. Something about it makes me think of a cathedral. Or a prison where they put someone who's in solitary confinement. Remember Cool Hand Luke? But I digress.........(and I think of pottery as anything but a prison!! More like an escape!!)

In other news, the garden is producing a bumper crop. Things are a little late, due to the fact that we didn't move here until Memorial Day, but I've got veggies coming out my ears. The broccoli and lettuce is done for now. Well, I'm trying to sneak in a little more lettuce, we'll see if it survives the heat.

The tomatoes and peppers are just about ripe and I saw some cucumbers and squash making an appearance. And some late green beans should be ready soon!! It's my first garden that's been what I consider somewhat successful so I'm pretty excited (especially when my lack of knowledge and experience is taken into consideration!)

Here are some pictures I took the last couple days.

I may have planted a little too much broccoli. I ate and froze as much as I could and there were a few "heads" (?) left that are flowering. I pulled up all but one, it was kinda pretty and the bees seemed to be enjoying it. Here are a couple pictures; Broccoli Bouquet and Broccoli Landscape:

Butternut squash against a big, blue, Indiana sky.....

Some baby tomatoes at the top of my plant. I can't even count how many tomatoes are on it! I hope the vines don't break when as they get bigger, they're past the top of my cage now!

If you look closely to the left of the bloom, you can see a li'l baby cuke, all prickly and full of attitude!

And finally, I wanted to include a few pictures of my quest for baking the perfect chocolate chip cookie. During this kiln-building experience, I learned that Scott and I share a passion for said cookies. So, every couple weeks I've been baking a batch to earn some brownie points with him (and add a few more pounds to my already ample frame. The cookie dough ripples will compliment my beer gut!)

Last night (as I told Scott) I believe I came close to chocolate chip cookie nirvana. The ingredients were all at the right consistency, I got the oven temperature right, the size and thickness was perfect, the planets were aligned. So I took a few pictures of that too, 'cos #1) I have no life and #2) I have no life!

I hope your mouth waters a little and I apologize to Scott for this blog, 'cos it's basically pictures I already emailed him and stuff he already knew. Well, guess what, there ain't much else goin' on 'round here!!

Cookies cooling on the counter.......

Ultimate Cookie (I was trying to get a picture with the chip all melty and a strand of chocolate, but I let it cool a little too much. And I had to keep eating my photo subjects, so I had to give up before they were all gone!!

Just Add Milk!!!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Four more courses

We are making some head-way on the kiln. Today we laid 4 more rows of bricks. It's amazing the little things that go wrong or you forget to do, that can turn into big things. I'm so thankful to have some experienced help, or I can't imagine how things might turn out!! My help doesn't consider himself to be very knowledgeable or experienced, but he's much too hard on himself (and I know he's one of 2 people on the planet who reads my blog, so I thought I would take this opportunity to tell him that!!)

Also, since he reads my blog, he took my last somewhat whiny post seriously and encouraged/forced (?) me to become more involved in the process. Beeeeeg mistake!! I'm not known for my accuracy. So, the corner that I laid the brick on somehow got itself "out of plumb." Luckily Scott and Steve were able to fix my faux pas without having to remove al the bricks and re-lay the whole corner and side!! That was a relief 'cos we already re-did a row where we had miscalculated something, I can't remember what now!
Building a kiln sure requires lots of calculating (and re-calculating!!)

Since neither Steve or I have every built a kiln and Scott only builds one every few years, it's hard to remember all the little things that are actually pretty important. We almost forgot to put the burner ports in. (yeah, those are pretty important!) But we did remember!! We have a few soft bricks in spots that should probably have hard bricks. They'll just need to be replaced sooner. We remembered the salt ports, but after we got them in, Scott realized that my burners will block be blocking them. Steve thinks he can take the "elbow" out of the burners or modify them so they won't directly block the salt po
rts. Now we have to be sure to remember to put the spy holes in next week when we lay the next course.

Scott is extremely dissatisfied with the brick joints. He feels that too many of them are lining up, they're not staggered like they should be. The boys told me I don't understand. Apparently, as a woman, I don't take pride in my work, at least not as much as they do. (Ahem!!) I told them I think I'm more concerned with functionality than perfection. I don't think perfection is possible! And even if it were, well, it's somewhat fleeting. Bricks will shift, crumble, etc. etc. I know, it's better to start out with it square and plumb, but I don't know if it's worth loosing a lot of sleep over. So, ok, I'l let them think it's a guy thing......or a perfectionist thing......or a perfectionistic guy thing. But I started looking more closely at pictures of kilns in Fred Olsen's book, The Kiln Book, and I noticed that most of the kilns that are pictured in it look as though they were built by human beings. It's probably the same as the reason why I like hand-made pottery in the first place. It's not perfect, it's not machined, it doesn't look mass produced. Same with my kiln! I know that some parts of it have to be as accurate as possible, but as long as it does the job for me, it doesn't have to be 100% perfect!!

I was sitting on the deck drinkin' a beer thinking about how lucky or blessed I am to have reached this point in my life! I'm doing something I've always wanted to do, I'm living on the farm I always dreamed about, and then I have the audacity to make my last post whiny and bitchy when I should be extremely thankful for what I have and what I'm able to do right now!! Reality check!!

Even if I get to the end of this project and it turns out that I'm not good enough at
pottery to make a go of it, at least I've given it my best shot. I'm learning a lot in the process, and not just about kilns, but about myself, my abilities, my limitations, and my attitude (which occassionally needs adjusting!)

happy, muddy gal!

"You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don't try."
Beverly Sills

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Kiln progress, or lack thereof and ensuing excuses

I have neglected my blog! I knew it would happen eventually. I was doing pretty good at updating it at least once a week, but I got caught up in some other things.

Making a photo book for my father-in-law's 80th birthday has kept me occupied most of the last month. I used so I could do all the layout online and everyone in th
e family can order a copy if they like it. I enjoyed the process, looking through all the old photos, seeing some I had never seen before, and seeing some I hadn't seen for years!! It brought back a lot of memories, I hope it does the same for my father-in-law. But it was a bit of a daunting task, and projects like this always cause my obsessive-compulsive persona to raise its ugly head. That means that many late nights were spent on the laptop with me cursing and groaning my way through hundreds, maybe thousands of photos, trying to narrow it down, trying to make sure I included everyone equally and didn't show any favoritism. Trying to figure out the graphics, trying to figure out what to put on the jacket, on the cover, I got carried away with the project, which is what I tend to do in this situation. But, I finally got it finished and I'm having one printed right now, which should arrive next week, just a few days before the big celebration. I'm sure I'll find several typos and other mistakes when it arrives which will drive me nuts, but at least I did it and didn't just say, "Oh, I was going to put together a book of photos for you, but I didn't have time." Nope, I did it!! Yay me.

I've also gotten a little carried with facebook. I think I've been using it to fulfill my
blogging desires, in a faster, easier way. (instant gratification?) I've uploaded photos and I can check on friends and relatives and share my tidbits of wisdom in a few minutes. I have a sneaking suspicion that tidbits are really all anyone wants to read any ways. Who has time to wade through this incoherent rambling of what's rolling around in my head?!

I really need to update my kiln progress. I noticed in a previous post I mentioned that I was surprised at how quickly we seemed to be progressing. I guess I shouldn't have said that because the last
few days I've been restless because I'm ready to start potting and it seems like it's going to be awhile. The kiln itself is going up at a steady pace, but I need to start getting the studio set up and organized so I can start making some pots. It's my own fault, really. I've been procrastinating because it means I'll have to carry a bunch of junk into the house and figure out where to store it. And I'll have to buy some kind of storage units for the garage and I've been trying to avoid spending a lot of money. And we do have a lot of other projects going on, plus, of course things always come up with family and friends. Excuses, excuses!! I'm going to try to focus next week completely on the kiln and my studio. (I'm taking a big chance stating that because I feel like I might jinx myself.) But we'll give it a whirl.

I also saw in a previous post that I thought I would only need one more session to get al
l the bricks cleaned up. Well, as usual, I underestimated the time and effort that project would require! I was grinding bricks yesterday and still have more to go!! We had enough to get started laying them so I quit grinding them. It's such a hot and dirty job!! I was trying to grind in between helping Steve put up roof sections. So I'd just get going on the bricks then he would need a hand so I'd have to remove the goggles and mask and go help him, then back to the pile, put on the goggles and mask and grind a little more. I wonder if the goggles and mask are really helping all that much. I figured out the goggles weren't fitting properly when a chunk of brick flipped up and somehow landed inside my goggles!! The mask was preventing me from fitting them snugly against the bridge of my nose. So if a big chunk can get in, how much dust must've been getting in?? I don't want to think about it.

So this is where we're at as of this morning......

The roof is almost "done." We'll cut out sections for the chimney as it gets high enough to warrant such measures!

This is how far the walls have progressed. We're using 2 1/2" hard brick on the inside (those are the bricks I purchased used, that I've been cleaning and grinding.) The outside is soft brick. They're 3" tall and are making it "fun" to line things up. Every so many rows you need a "header" course (I think that's what it's called.) It's where you lay a row of bricks that spans both walls to tie them together. Since the outer and inner layer of bricks aren't the same size, it took us 5 rows before they actually lined up. (You do the math, it's too algebraeic for me!) And now that we're finally there, they weren't actually lining up, but at least they're purty darn close! The soft outer layer seems to be just a tad lower than the inner layer. So we're going to try to compensate with a thick layer of mortar on the soft bricks. Hope it works!

It feels like we've had too many instances of figuring out how to make something work. Not only with the kiln, but with the kiln shed as well!! But it will eventually least I'm hopeful that it will!! Only time will tell!

I feel as though I've not been as involved in the process as I'd like to be. It's my own damn fault. I'm letting myself become a little intimidated by my husband and my friend who are both involved in the process. It's a good thing they're both involved, or I'd never be able to accomplish this thing, BUT, they're both a little anal (which is probably a good thing in the long run) and we're all somewhat competitive, so I'm afraid I'm going to do something wrong and I find myself hanging back and doing the grunt work rather than rolling up my sleeves and really getting into it. They probably think I'm being a lazy bum but that's not it, really. I think I'd be more involved if I was working with just one or the other of them, but the fact that there are 3 of us working together does make the situation start to have a "too many cooks spoil the broth" kinda flavor.

Of course this is the first kiln I've ever built and the first kiln shed too, so maybe it's not such a bad idea to stand back and let the guys go at it and learn from what I see them doing. Being a wife and mother, I'm used to doing alot of grunt work, and to be honest, I don't really mind doing it. I absolutely hate to stand around and do nothing, so if I can be productive cleaning and sorting bricks or handing tools to someone, well.....somebody's got to do it, right?! And then when I build my next kiln, I'll feel more confident about being more hands-on, right? That's the way I look at. Plus, if there are any major problems down the road, I can bask in the smug satisfaction of knowing that "it wasn't MY fault." Hmmmmm, perhaps that's my main motivation for keeping a low profile!

So, I suppose I need to get my butt out of this chair and get out there and do some organizing in the studio. Scott's coming out tomorrow to help us lay more brick. I'm sure he'll be stunned at what little progress we've made this week!! He's a trooper!! Yay Scott.