We have just finishing the unpacking and cleaning of our last firing.
It was a disaster!
We have had 2 other really bad firings in our professional life together. This was the third.
On all 3 occasions, it was the failure of a silicon carbide shelf that was the root cause. We unpacked the kiln door to find that the entire front stack of kiln shelves had collapsed towards the latter part of the firing. I’m presuming, during the reduction cycle, when the flames are so thick and dense that I can’t see the pots at the front of the kiln very clearly. We had heard a sort of ‘thump’ noise at some point and we looked at each other warily, but the firing continued OK. Quite slowly, but OK. Eventually finishing a few hours later than expected.
The unpacking revealed the full extent of the collapse. It was one big, solid pile of kiln shelves, props and pots all glazed together into a huge monolithic ceramic jumble.
I started at it gently with a paint scraper and gloves, but soon moved on to the skutch hammer and cold chisel. Bit by bit, I whittled away at it until I got the first of the three kiln shelves loose from the top and lifted it out, but all it revealed was more of the same underneath.
It took me all day to unpick the full disaster. I was going gently so that if there were any good pots in the pile, I would stand some chance of saving them. There weren’t too many, but just a few. So, as disasters go, it wasn’t the end of the world and there were just a few nice things, many of them shards, to keep me interested.
I spent the next two days fettling, chipping and grinding the pieces that had some qualities worth pursuing. I even got one pot out that I thought would have been a write-off, but it came away from its molten Siamese twin – joined at the lip. I spent some time on it and I think that it is quite interesting and has some lively qualities. I have decided that it will be good for showing in an appropriate exhibition. It’s unique. So, I’m chuffed. I think that I might put sugar in it. Because, as Nina Simone pointed out. “I need a little sugar in my bowl”.
All the pieces that I hammered out from the kiln floor as shards went straight into the ball mill for polishing and eventual use as polished, coloured, glazed, ceramic gravel for the pottery driveway.
The rest of the ruined rejects I dispatched with my quality control hammer. It’s the most important tool that I own for making my pots look good. This rubble is also headed for the ball mill. One or two hits in the right place and they are reduced to spectacular shards. I’m just another hit man really. Although i think that hit men get paid better? I must admit that they look so much more interesting and better placed as coloured road gravel than they did as depressing broken pots sitting in a tin next to the kiln.
Some of the surviving pots from the pile are quite good. They still need some more work, but will clean up quite well I think.
Just while I’m in cleaning mode, ‘The Lovely One’ bought an old cupboard from a garage sale to use as an extra storage place for all our preserves. We have our various vacuum sealed jars of summer excess, stored all over the house in various places, on shelves, under the floor, under tables. The pantry cupboard in the kitchen filled up years ago. We had been looking out for some sort of ‘dresser’ to put in the front room, but nothing suitably real, honest and rustic had turned up. Janine had been out and about looking for a bargain for some time now, but what she had seen wasn’t nice and was incredibly expensive to boot. I really didn’t want to have any chip-board, or Ikea, plastic veneered ‘land fill waiting to happen’ furniture in the house, so it was starting to look like I would have to build one from scratch myself. I have enough home-milled, wood stored away and air drying to do the job. But suddenly, this lovely old thing turned up just in time for $40
It was a ‘blue metallic over silver antique wash’ of a gem when she spotted it in an old laundry out the back of a deceased estate sale. It has been coated with many layers of paint over the years. Blue, silver, yellow, cream, grey, green.
I’m thinking from the ‘government green’ lowest layer, that it might have been from a school originally? So, now it will be back in an old school again.
What-ever its origin, it’s had many owners. The doors show the signs of having had a few different locks applied to them over its history. It has even had at least one break-in, where the wood of one door has been shattered and split around the place where the lock had been, but it’s all glued back together again now. We set to work on it with heat guns, scrapers and sanders. The distressed, half-way look wasn’t too bad, but rather sticky and rough. Besides, I knew that it was made from clear grained solid timber. I checked it out, inside before I agreed to buy it. It was also very solid. We had a hell of a time lifting it onto and off the truck. It was just too heavy for the two of us to manage. Fortunately we have a wonderful neighbour called Elizabeth, who was available to give us a hand with it. We have had it in the car port for a couple of months now waiting for just this time when we could get stuck into it. It wasn’t possible while we teaching the workshops every week. Once we stared to take the paint of it, we didn’t want to leave it out in the weather for very long. So two days of intensive work from both of us and it is now in the house and being filled. The clear grained, pale timber has responded very well to a coat of tung oil, and once hardened it will get a few coats of carnauba wax to finish it off. It has become a rich golden-yellow.
It’s hard to find furniture made from clear grained, knot-free timber these days.
A while ago we visited our friend and fellow potter and were invited to view a small cupboard that his wife had spent the weekend cleaning back from many years of neglect and multiple layers of paint.
“Come and see my wife’s restored cupboard”.
We were shown a very ordinary wooden cupboard. It wasn’t very pretty, but she had sanded and polished it for hours to achieve a very fine finish. We were invited to feel the smooth silky surface of the wood. It was velvety smooth, but the wood grain wasn’t very pretty.
“So, you can see now why I call this piece of furniture her ‘vaginal cupboard”?
“It doesn’t look beautiful, but it feels terrific!”
We are hoping that our weekends work will reveal something that both looks good and feels terrific.