Several weeks ago I went to do a sawdust firing with Jenny Barton (Enigma Pottery), whose classes I attended a couple of years ago to refresh my ceramics knowledge. It was the first time I’ve tried sawdust firing and a one-off session, so, in the weeks prior to doing it, I spent a good amount of time reading up on the process. Sawdust firing, if you don’t know, is a low-fire technique similar to pit-firing, but done in a brick built kiln or some kind of metal container (which is what I used), rather than a hole in the ground. The kiln is packed with sawdust and other combustibles, which surround whatever it is you’re firing. Amongst this, other materials can be included to create different fumes which produce different effects and colours on your work. This might include salt (and anything salty!), oxides, dried plant matter, different woods, different metals, etc… Once you’ve got everything in, you set light to the top of the sawdust and let it burn away slowly. There’s no glaze involved: the look of the finished ware is entirely dependant on the chancy business of how the materials in the kiln burn. So, for some time, I was walking around looking at everything, thinking, ‘Will that burn?’ and ‘What will it bring if it does burn?’ I got a bit fixated..
I’m mad about the results. I feel I can enthuse more because there’s so much chance involved, so I can’t claim that much credit. I had been pretty apprehensive about what would happen in the firing. I feared that everything would just get oxidised and turn black because there’s so little surface area on a bead. Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing studio ceramicists whose work is largely focused on using and adapting the blackened surface that can be achieved on sawdust fired ware (and, the wholly black beads I got are lovely); I just wanted to try all the things at once and, hopefully, get lots of variety. So I was pretty thrilled to discover all these rich colours and subtle details as I cleaned the ash away from the beads. Thrilled to the point of thinking, ‘Oh my goodness! I just want to do nothing but sawdust firing all the time for the forever now!’
One thing I did contribute was a hell of a lot of burnishing. I feel a little giddy when I reflect on the hours which I spent rubbing away at these pieces. And then, once they were out of the firing, there was a whole heap of polishing and waxing. It’s crazy time consuming, but the finished surface is so nice.
(Just perfect for Autumn, hey?)
In my reading around the subject, I discovered a way in which I can actually carry on doing sawdust firing on a smaller scale – which pleases me very much! I had been in two minds about it, but now it seems I’ll be able to make more, I’m ready to part with some of these. I’m still havering on pricing, given how long it took me to burnish and polish some of them. There are also some more kinda matt sawdust fired beads which I didn’t burnish and they will be cheaper.
Which means it’s update time! And I’ve just finished a large load of my regular fired, glazed beads too. I’ll share some pictures of those here in the next day or so, once I’ve got some taken, and I’ll confirm details of the update. It will be next week some time. In the meantime, here’s some more sawdust fired lovelies…
Oh, I haven’t included a link to the bead shop! Here’s one now!