I make my work on the potter's wheel. The first step to throwing a piece on the wheel is to center it in the precise center of the wheel.
The second step is to open a small hole down the middle of your clay, then widen it out to form a flat bottom.
Once you have a hole, you apply pressure to the walls and pull the clay up.
I use a tool called a rib (originally an animal rib, but now they come in wood, metal, and plastic) to shape and smooth the pot.
I use several different slips that are formulated to react to the fire. or "flash" in the wood kiln.
I use stencils cut out of newspaper to resist areas of the piece while applying layers of slip and screenprinting.
I screenprint designs with colored slip on to sheets of newsprint. I can then wet the paper and transfer the image on to the leather hard clay.
Handles are attached at a stage called "leather hard." The pots need to dry out entirely before they go into the first firing to avoid blowing up. Even bone dry clay can be soaked in water and turned back into useable clay if things break before they are fired.
Tyvek is a paper made of fibers. This makes a strong stencil that can be used again and again. I use these stencils on bisqueware - putting down a field of color, placing the stencil on it, and wiping everything that isn't a triceratops away with a damp sponge. I'm a runner, and marathon bibs are a good source of tyvek.
All pieces first get fired to about 1950F. They go through a chemical transformation and come out as ceramic rather than clay. At this point, they can never break down back into useable clay. They can be broken, but the shards will not decompose and will last for thousands of years. The earliest ceramic pieces found date back to 24,000BC
Even though the wood kiln creates a natural ash glaze on the pots, I put a liner glaze inside the pots to make sure the interior surface is smooth to make cleaning it easier.
Because the ash from the wood glazes everything in the kiln, the pots and shelves would stick together. We separate everything in the kiln from each other with wadding - a mix of clay, sawdust and sand - that resists the ash and can be easily knocked off the pots after the kiln is unloaded. We also sometimes use sea shells that leave a beautiful scalloped pattern on the pot.
Getting glaze to melt depends not just on temperature, but time. Holding for hours just under the temperature you want can cause glaze to melt. Because of this we don't really worry too much about the temperature in the kiln, but instead rely on pyrometric cones that melt the way glaze melts. We formulate our glazes to match specific cones.
The materials we use in glazes are natural minerals dug from the ground. Trees, over the course of their lives, soak up these minerals into themselves through the water. As we burn the wood, these trace metals float on the ash, hit the hot pots, stick to them, and melt - creating the glaze. The fire flows through the kiln like water, depositing ash on the pots as it goes, creating the marks and ash drips that are so distinctive to wood firing.
We climb into the kiln to load the pots - working our way forward, then bricking up the door.
We stack pots on top of each other, separating them with wadding. This saves space in the kiln, but also creates the opportunity for the fire to flash around the wadding.
Flame really does flow like water. As we load the kiln, we try to keep a good deal of space between the pots and visualize the path the flame will take through the kiln so we don't create cold spots.
After a few hours of warming up the kiln, the fire is sucked backwards through the kiln as the chimney starts to draw.
We leave a small hole in the door to stoke the wood into the kiln and cover it when we aren't stoking. Once the kiln is hot, the wood bursts into flame in our hands as we throw it into the kiln.
We stoke the kiln every 10-20 minutes around the clock. Firing times vary from kiln to kiln - some kilns fire off in 24 hours and some take weeks - but we generally light the kiln Friday evening and fire until Sunday afternoon. There is something special about spending the early hours of the day alone with a kiln, much the way potters have been doing it for thousands of years.
One of the things I love about woodfiring is the community aspect. You need a team to fire the kiln. I love bringing groups of students out to fire the kiln and fall in love with the process.
We normally use about 2 cords of wood per firing. That's a lot of splitting and stacking.