All my wood fired work is fired at the East Creek anagama in Willamina, Oregon. I have fallen in love with the process of wood firing this kiln, and wanted to share a peek into the process with you.
A bit about the anagama and its history from East Creek's website, eastcreekart.org:
"The anagama kiln (Japanese: 窖窯) is an ancient type of pottery kiln brought to Japan from China via Korea in the 5th century. An anagama (a Japanese term meaning "cave kiln") consists of a firing chamber with a firebox at one end and a flue at the other.
The East Creek Anagama was built in 1983 by Oregon artists Nils Lou, Tom Coleman, and Frank Boyden with the mission to bring ceramic education via wood firing to the west coast. The first of its kind built west of the Mississippi, the kiln and 20 forested acres on which it sits were owned and managed by Nils Lou. When Nils died unexpectedly, the kiln and property were in limbo. Thanks to a community effort, East Creek Art, LLC, was established with the purpose of continuing the East Creek educational mission and the rich tradition of making."
The anagama can take 2-3 days to load, with a minimum crew of about 8 people. It is then fired for 5-6 days and nights, with 24-hour supervision by a crew of 3-5 people at a time. The crew takes 8 hour shifts to feed the kiln a mixture of fir and oak, and chop wood (lots and lots of wood.)
The kiln then cools for two weeks for maximum crystal formation, before unloading over the course of 2 days. The unloading of work typically takes one full day, and then there is a lot of manual labor: grinding glaze and wadding off shelves & kiln posts, consolidating & raking wood remnants, etc. which takes a about two days to complete.
Then we all go home and clean up our own work, which usually consists of grinding off any wadding stuck to the bottom of our pots - or any other weirdness that happened in the kiln - with a dremmel.
Here's a little photo series of the process:
A group of eager potters looking at the kiln before unloading (pre-pandemic, remember being close to people?)
Inside the anagama, getting ready to begin loading
Tables of bisqued work waiting to be loaded into the anagama
It takes a crew of about 6 people (during covid times) to load the kiln. Approx. 2 people do the hands-on kiln loading/shelf stacking, and they communicate with a messenger who sits in the kiln towards the front. The people leading the load will call out the types of pots they need for any given space in the kiln, and the messenger will call those needs out to ~3 runners outside the kiln. The runners go find the types of pots the loaders need, and pass them to the messenger, who passes them to the leaders of the kiln load. It's a massive group effort.
Inside the anagama, mid-load. Getting close!
The usual view during a side-stoke shift, spent loading thin pieces of fir & oak into one of the side ports of the kiln. There are two on both the left & right side of the kiln, and one person is appointed to stoke for each side.
The other angle of a side stoker's view.
And of course, we watch the fire, which informs how often we stoke the kiln, and how much wood we use at any given time.
Front stoking the kiln. It gets to be about 2800 degrees F, so opening this door reveals quite the inferno.
A ton (or tons) of fir, waiting to be chopped smaller and burned in the kiln.
Wood waiting to be chopped.
A very full stack of front-stoke wood. It is not usually so well stocked up at the front!
Taking a break at the creek after a shift.
View from the creek.
Just opened the kiln and admiring the results waiting to be unloaded!
Just a tiny fraction of the literal thousands of pots after one anagama firing. We unload them onto a series of tables, arranged in roughly the same order they were unloaded, so we can learn about what happened in each area of the kiln. Then we do a lot of hard clean up!
Then we bring our pots home, and grind off anything stuck to the pot that we don't want to keep, before posting online to share with you all.
I hope you enjoyed this little peek into the wood firing process! It's quite the labor of love.