Tim Willey

Adaptive Construction - Open Firing

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Open Firing

Using an Adaptive Technology for Contemporary Practice
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Open-firing, sometimes called bonfire firing is a fascinating branch of ceramic technology and one which I have been concerned with for many years.

These days, I’m more concerned with it’s validity in contemporary practice rather than its nostalgic or ’back to earth’ connotations (as tempting as that is!). My view is that open-firing technology is remarkably sophisticated and something we can learn from and hopefully, carry forward.

We were lucky enough on Derby’s studio pottery course, where I taught, to have a large outdoor area where we built numerous wood and salt-fired kilns.

We would introduce ceramic technology to our first-year students by building simple firing structures, ranging from basic bonfire and pit firings, through to reconstructed Romano-British up-draught kilns and although these firings rarely exceeded 1000c, they provided a delightful insight into the effect of fire on clay.

In a sense, open-firing has always been challenging, as without a very slow preheat, most open-fired pots would spall (blow up) in the earliest phase of firing. Even with high amounts of opening material such as grog and sand it was still a rather tortuous and worrying affair.

However, over the years it has become clear that the key to successful open-firing is not just about mixing clay and grog, but an understanding of fire management, clay minerology and particle size distribution. It is something, that on a purely empirical basis, numerous pottery-making cultures have understood and applied for millennia.

Note: Open-firing is dangerous, so I always wear PPE appropriate for hot working.
You’ll find some of the results of my work with the Firing Stack in ‘Tales from the Wood’ and also on my Instagram feed.