The Yanggu Porcelain Museum wood kiln firing

After we have spent out time in Seoul, we set off to travel up to the geographical centre of Korea, right up against the DMZ to a small town, or large village, called Bangsan. They have been mining porcelain stone here for centuries. The earliest written records of porcelain making in this valley date back to 1391. The ancient kiln site is now preserved under a roof, but still accessible. The site where the porcelain stone was stock piled and sorted ready for shipping to Seoul is still there, however, it has been desecrated by someone in living memory. I don’t know the exact details or circumstances, but what a shame. The Korea war raged up and down the country for a few years, back and forth. Maybe it was then? I don’t know.

IMG_2863

There is a very ominous sign post on the banks of the river just 50 metres from the back entrance to the Porcelain Museum. It looks to me to be a warning sign about land mines. I get out my phone and use the translation app to read the text. Sure enough, it tells me that land mines can still be found here exposed after floods or washed down off the hills after heavy rains. It tells me how to identify them and not to touch them. As If! I can only suppose that some small kiddies might pick one up if un-accompanied? We are so lucky in Australia.

Our trip up here took us all day on 3 different busses and about 6 hours with waiting for connections. We have arrived early, before the forum is due to start, as we want to put pots in the long wood firing that will be held in conjunction with the conference. The Museum has a couple of 5 chamber traditional wood kilns that are fired a few times each year.

We pack all day and work into the night. One of the residents potters living in the student accommodation village ‘Daewoong’ is in charge and is assisted by a visiting potter from Poland ‘Gosia’. Not her full name, but one that she feels that we can pronounce. The firing will go for 100 hours or 4 days, all through the forum and demonstration days.

IMG_2650

IMG_2662 IMG_2675 IMG_2678

On the days when we are not involved in the forum, we do a 6 hour shift in the stoking. Janine ends up getting in more time at the stoking than me, as I’m constantly involved with the translator and publisher, or if not with them I’m speaking at the forum. I turn up one day to find that it is a fully female crew on shift.

IMG_2754

As the firing progresses on to the final stages and the side stoking of the 5 chambers.

IMG_2741

 

 

 

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the (Porcelain) Forum

We are spending a few days in Seoul to do a little cultural sightseeing, visiting some of the Art Galleries and Museums, and searching out some interesting shops and small private galleries that show a range of hand-made objects, and not just ceramics.

It’s always great to be in a very different place and experience different cultures first hand. We are here alone without any real Korean language skills, just following our noses I can’t help but notice as we walk to the station that they seem to have chosen one of the most expensive way to wash their high-rise windows.

IMG_2419 IMG_2423

Two large cranes for a day, a Sunday at that, must cost a small fortune?

I’m more accustomed to seeing blokes abseil down the glass fronts of these big buildings, or stand in a mechanical hoist that is lowered down from the roof.

IMG_3217 IMG_2392

As we approach the station we see the first of the first of what is going to be a very common sight over the next few weeks. People make use of every space to dry their autumn harvest. In this case Chilis, and this is in the middle of the city of Seoul. Every spare bit of space is utilised.

We are very lucky to discover a very nice small shop that sells handmade ‘Jogakbo’ Korean patchwork fabrics and Korean paper lamps. We spend half an hour in there even though the shop is quite small. It has a lot of very interesting small things stashed away in intriguing little nooks and crannies. We really enjoy the paper cut-out lanterns, lamp shades and wall installations.

IMG_2540

IMG_2409 IMG_2411

Their patchwork seems to feature a lot of pastel colours and at times some very bright colours, but I’m rather drawn to the most simple unbleached, off-white, hemp and ramie fibre fabrics. Simple and restrained, they speak to me of tranquility, even though the surface is intrinsically busy. I see parallels in my life in this material. I’d love a large, wall-sized piece, but they are too expensive.

We settle on a couple of small things that are more in tune with our budget. One in pastels and another in a very restrained, if somewhat Piet Mondrianish style.

IMG_3002 IMG_3003 IMG_3004

IMG_3001 IMG_2383 IMG_2417

We dine in a little cafe just down a lane, not too far from our hotel. It offers just about the best hand-made, small production, Indian Pale Ale that I  have ever tasted, and it’s made locally too! Sweet, sour, bitter and spritzig, with wonderful fruity hops. The hops are so lively, that I suspect that it has been double hopped, late in the ferment. I don’t know much about beer making, although I do make beer at home myself, but I’m a complete amateur and just use a ‘Coopers’ kit. However, my son Geordie is right into brewing his own mash from basic grains, as is my friend David in Wales. He even grows his own hops in his garden.

See,; ‘From Side-stoking in Stoke to Wwoof-ing in Wales’, on this blog a few weeks back.

For the rest of our trip here we only drink Fermented white rice wine, soju or whatever local Korean beer there is in the little village cafes that we frequent. Although when I take my friends Jun Beom and his wife out to lunch, he chooses us a bottle of soju made from sweet potatoes. A first time for me. Not that different in flavour from the rice originated equivalent. Or so it seems to my uninitiated taste buds.

The next two days are spent with our friend Miss Kang, she is only available on weekends now, since she got a full time job. We are lucky that she has the time to spare to see us. I am eternally grateful to her for being my translator and driver a few years ago. She was fantastic in that role. We have continued to keep in touch and are now friends. This is the 4th time that I have visited Korea and managed to catch up with her.

She drives us to Icheon a few hours away to visit a common friend and see his new gallery. Icheon is a pottery town. It seems to be almost exclusively involved in the business of making and selling pots. After lunch we go for a walk to visit a few of the other workshops and galleries. There is a small ceramic festival on today in a new part of town where a new pottery suburb has been built. It’s so new that not all the streets are tar sealed yet and not all the allotments have been fully developed. The festival/ street party is to get the community involved and make a bit of an advertising splash. As this area is so new that they need to make themselves and their whereabouts known to the wider community.

Miss Kang takes us to one gallery/workshop where the owners name is ‘Mium’. They have built their workshop and gallery as a square shape with a square courtyard in the centre, with square windows. Miss Kang explains to Janine, using her phone, that the Korean letter ‘‘ is a plain consonant and is pronounced ‘mieun’, so they have used this as a central motif, not only in their work, but also in the design of their workshop.

IMG_2478

IMG_2479 (1)

Next, we are taken to a Master Moonjar Maker. He has a fantastic workshop and gallery too. He is firing his wood kiln today. We can see this from afar, as it is very smokey. We are introduced, and it is expained that we are here to take part in the Yanggu Porcelain Museum, Special Annual Porcelain Forum. The potter, Cheol Shin, looks amazed for a second, then shakes my hand. He tells me, through translation, that he is very pleased to meet me, and knows that I am coming to Korea, because he will be one of the speakers /demonstrators at that forum too. What an amazing piece of synchronicity! He is a really nice guy, so friendly, but without Miss Kang and Jun Beom to help us, we wouldn’t know.

IMG_2425 (1) IMG_2428

IMG_2430 IMG_2432

Apparently, he made 1000 large Moonjars, before he was prepared to call himself ‘Master’. I believe that he is certainly entitled to give himself that title now.

IMG_2435 IMG_2436

IMG_2437

Next, Miss Kang and Jun Beom take us to the local HaeJu Ceramic Museum. We meet the Director, Mr KiHwan Um. He seems a rather eccentric kind of fellow. I like him. After some polite social introductions and an exchange of name cards, an explanation of our mission here and my past research, he shows us around and gives us a special personal tour of the exhibits, but more importantly, the stock rooms. There are rows and rows of old and new pots. He just happens to have a collection of Song dynasty pots in his collection. Amazingly, we are expected to handle them and comment.

IMG_2454 IMG_2457

IMG_2458

IMG_2466

IMG_2467

We end our tour in the international section. He asks if I have any images of my work with me. I regret that I don’t, as I wasn’t aware that I’d be coming here, this is just a fluke meeting. I do have a few images on my phone though. I show him what I have of my show at Watters Gallery last year. I am suprized when he asked me, through Miss Kang, if he can obtain one of my Australian Native single-stone porcelain bowls for the Museum. I’m flattered.

Before we leave Icheon, we bump into a couple of Australians, Tony and Gail,  who have come here to do a week-long, hands-on workshop in Onggi making. There are apparently 5 Australians here for the workshop. Lucky them.

I love Korea. I am always happy here. We’ve only just arrived and I havent even left yet, but I’m already thinking of ways to come back. It’s a funny thing.

 

 

Coals to Newcastle

Here we are building a kiln in Stoke on Trent! What could be more strange than for us to travel from Australia to Stoke-on-Trent to build a kiln?

The staff and students at the Clay College are all really great and we all get along really well. We are billeted with staff member Richard Healey and his wife Lucy – who is a chef. WOW! Great food all week. A really lovely couple. It must have been a bit stressful for them to have a couple of total strangers in their home for 2 weeks, but we got along very well. We had a great time. I hope that they have recovered.

They live in an amazing old house called the ‘Flax Mill’, that has its own little stream and pond, on a site that goes back well before the English civil war. A decisive battle was fought right here on these grounds. There is a monument in the adjoining paddock. This is some kilometres out of Stoke, and is the site of our kiln building experiment. Lucy is setting up a cooking school on site and Richard has his studio, where he makes blue on White contemporary hand painted and thrown porcelain. Beautiful work. If I lived locally, I’d be enrolling.

<http://richardheeley.com/index.html/home.html&gt;

IMG_1582

IMG_6415 IMG_6417

We spend a week in the construction phase, mostly laying bricks, Then I give a master class on kiln building at the college on the Saturday. This is open to the public and is fully subscribed – which is pleasing.

IMG_1748 IMG_1750

IMG_1617

All the students flat-out, hard at work bricklaying!

Janine and I spend the Sunday at work on the kiln by ourselves, cleaning up, but most importantly doing a lot of the welding on the steel bracing that will be necessary to completely support the kiln structure while it expands during firing. It’s a lot easier to do this welding while there isn’t anyone else around.

IMG_1679 IMG_1672

Janine and Grace volunteer to get into the firebox and throat area of the kiln to wash the floor of the kiln with alumina kiln wash. A shitty job. Thank you!

The packing and firing goes pretty much to my expectations, although Janine did overhear some chat about people expecting to have to fire for 40 hours. When I was asked what to expect in terms of firing time I said that I expected to fire for around 12 to 14 hours. If everything goes well. However I don’t know anything about this wood that we have to use for this firing. So it might take a little longer. As it turned out the firing lasted for 13.5 hours and the results were good for a first firing. I left them with the recommendation that they should plan to fire the kiln again a second time, as soon as possible, without me being there to advise, while it is all still fresh in their minds.

IMG_1682 IMG_1688

IMG_1695

The firing can be very clean when using a down-draught style firebox like the Bourry box that I have developed to a such a sophisticated standard. When it comes to side stoking the main chamber, there is inevitably going to be some smoke and this needs to be managed carefully. However, when the time comes to drop the last remaining butt ends of the sticks into the firebox. There is a brief moment of quite intense smoke as the amount of fuel outweighs the available oxygen for about 1 or 2 minutes.

IMG_1704 IMG_1708

IMG_1717 IMG_1706

IMG_1756

While we are in Stoke, we make time to go to the local Museums. First we take the tour of the Gladstone pottery Museum, which was good, an excellent experience. The working conditions of their employees must have been horrific back in it’s hey-

day. A time long before any thoughts of OH&S in the minds of the factory owners and government.

IMG_1734 IMG_1738

DSC03419

IMG_1739.

For me, brought up in Australia, it’s really interesting to see actual bottle kilns. There weren’t that many of therm here in Australia. I am of an age where i was able to see the old ‘Fowlers’ Pottery in Marrickville in Sydney, before it was torn down. I ended up with a truck load of dense fire bricks from their old bottle kiln and they are now incorporated into my wood fired kilns here.

We also spent a long time in the city museum where we saw a really extensive ceramics collection. Amazingly, it is here that we finally find a collection of pots made in the Plymouth Pottery Works by William Cookworthy from the Tregonning Hill, Sericitic, weathered granite.

IMG_1726 IMG_1732

IMG_1728

This is the best collection of Cookworthy work that I have seen. The V&A has nothing and the British Museum, only has one piece.

After the unpacking of the kiln, I get a nice little wood fired cup out of the firebox area.

A sweet little thing to remind us of our working holiday trip.

IMG_1952

9 Months of Summer has Finally Ended

We have just entered winter here and the hot spell has finally ended. Only a month ago it was still 30oC. Now the cold has at last set in and the weather has finally realised that it ought to be winter. The days are short and the nights long, we light the fire in the kitchen stove every night now. It cooks our dinner and heats the hot water tank as well as us in the kitchen.

Now that it is cooler and a lot safer, we have started holding our winter wood firing workshops each weekend.

IMG_1111 IMG_1115

IMG_1032.jpg IMG_1110

We have also done one overnight stoneware firing in the big wood kiln as well.

IMG_1067

DSC03120

This firing was absolutely average at 15 hours, We sometimes finish in 12 to 14 hours , but at other times it goes for 16 or 17. So this is smack in the middle of our range. Lots of good pots and interesting crystalline wood ash glaze surfaces, combined with a lot of grey-ish flashing effects that we don’t often see. Possibly because the damper tile broke at the end of the firing and jammed not-quite-closed. I had to get up on the roof and put a kiln shelf on top of the chimney to finish sealing it off at the end of the firing. This changed the cooling cycle a little from the usual.

It’s all part od life’s rich texture. I’ll tell myself that when I’m up to my arm-pits in Ceramic castable, making a new damper tile.

Wood Cutting Working Bee

We have recently had 3 big dead eucalypt trees removed by our local arborist. One was struck by lightning, and the other two were killed by mistletoe. We paid the minimum, to just have them dropped to the ground. We took it on our selves to cut them up and remove all the blocks to storage and seasoning.

IMG_0655

IMG_0674

We spent several days cutting up al the logs into small sizes, such that we could manage to move them. Janine and I spent a week whittling away at the big number one log and   finished the first tree by ourselves, but then had the wonderful assistance of some friends and pottery students for a day.

We have been so lucky to have these people volunteer their help for a day and come along to give us a hand in shifting all the logs that Janine and I had spent the week cutting up. It’s a huge task to lift and load several tonnes of wood and then shift it and stack it for seasoning.

IMG_0738IMG_0739

This is all very vigorous work and we sweat copiously in the heat. The larger, straight pieces were all cut to kiln size ‘hob’ length, while all the scrappy, small or bent pieces were all cut to 200mm. length for splitting for the house kitchen stove. The main central log was over 600mm dia. So it was too big to manage at ‘hob’ length of 700 mm. So I cut it to 200mm. just so that we would be able to manage the lifting and stacking. I rigged up a couple of planks , so that we could roll the bigger lumps up onto the truck to be carted to the wood shed and splitter.

IMG_0744IMG_0750

This should keep us going for a few years in the kitchen stove.

All the smaller dia. logs were cut to ‘kiln hob length’ of 650 to 700mm to suit the fire-box of the kiln, and then stacked for seasoning. A year or two should do it.IMG_0752

There is about 7 or 8 tonnes in this load of 19 stacks about 1200mm high.

 

Firing on Sunshine

We have had our new Tesla battery for a couple of weeks now and we have just done our first electric kiln firing on sunshine.

We have had 3 kW of solar PV panels on our kiln shed roof for over a decade now, but we have only recently managed to get our hands on a new PowerWall 2 lithium battery, after being on the Tesla waiting list for over a year. The battery is working perfectly, just as we imagined, and now allows us to run our house and pottery almost totally independent off the grid. We had decided to stay connected to the grid however, as we generate far more solar electricity than we use ourselves most of the time, and up until recently we got a very handsome rebate payment for the power that we sold.

Now that the generous rebate program has ended, it is much better for us to store our daytime solar electricity excess and use it ourselves at night, instead of paying the premium cost of buying back ‘green’ power from the grid at night.

Of course we don’t have to buy ‘green’ power. We just choose to, because we made a decision 13 years ago to remove ourselves from the coal economy. Which we have done. We are of the belief that global warming is real and that it is man-made. Burning coal to make electricity is a very big part of the problem, and green power is going to be part of the solution. It’s affordable, it’s here now and it’s the future. In addition to going solar, we have also declined to use concrete slabs in our building construction and we choose to drive the smallest fuel-efficient car that we could afford.

When we put the first Australian made solar panels on our roof 11 years ago, we didn’t do it to make money. We did it for ethical reasons. However, as it turns out, we paid off the panels and made a slight profit over the decade, because we were paid one or two thousand dollars a year for the power we sold to the grid, but we also didn’t have an electricity bill for that decade. A saving of many more thousands of dollars. These original PV panels still have another 15 years of full productive life in them, before their output starts to decline. I’ll be long dead before they stop working. We recently added another 3kW of PV at the same time as the battery. As I intend to buy a fully electric car as soon as they become available at an affordable/reasonable price.

So now with everything in place, we have just completed our first electric kiln firing using our own solar power, firing through the day on sunshine up until just after lunchtime and then into the afternoon on a mix of solar and battery, then ending in the evening mostly on the battery power. Yes, it works. You can fire on sunlight. The future has arrived!

Below you can see a graphic of our power usage though the day.

IMG_0522

The high blue spikes are the electric kiln switching on and off. The golden-yellow hump in the middle, above the line is the solar panel output from the roof. The green areas below the line is the battery being charged up from the solar PV panels in the morning and corresponds perfectly with the yellow solar area above the line, up until noon. The solar panels are both firing the kiln and charging the battery up to noon.

After 12 noon, there was some cloud that came over and the solar output dropped down. By about 3 pm. the PV panels no longer generated sufficient power to both fire the kiln and charge the battery. After 3pm the clouds cleared and solar output increased again and fired the kiln with the assistance of the battery. From 4 pm onwards, the battery fired the kiln with assistance from the solar. Solar production ceased at about 6.30 and the firing finished at about this time also, more or less solely on battery power.

The small zigzag ripple on the base line is the household usage, mostly this comprises the fridge compressor switching on and off. I should also point out that I was also working in the kiln factory throughout the day and using some very heavy 3 phase sheet metal machinery, welders and plasma cutter. This is included in the blue spikes. The lower line of blue spike peaks is the kiln alone, and the higher level of blue spikes is the kiln and the heavy electrically powered machinery working at the same time.

The following day, the PV panels charged the battery back up to full power again by about 1.30pm. Solar output is shown in yellow. The battery shown in green is being charged below the line. Once the battery is fully charged, the solar output is then switched to sell back into the grid for the rest of the day. Shown in white below the line. Household usage is shown in Blue above the line. You can see that we run a very energy-efficient household. The blue spikes represent the toaster and jug in the morning, then the washing machine and then me using the heavy 3 phase welders, and sheet metal machines intermittently in the kiln factory through the day.

By way of explanation, I downloaded this screen shot at 3.30 pm, so that is why the graph suddenly stops.

 

IMG_0521

From this brief explanation I hope that I have illustrated that it is possible to live a ‘normal’ life, carry on working and fire an electric kiln, all from a solar array and a lithium battery.

Food for thought?

Some technical details;

The battery is a Tesla Powerwall 2 lithium-ion battery with a 15 kWh rating.

The solar array is 6 kW. Made up of 3kW of 11-year-old BP solar panels made in Sydney, and 3kW of new ‘Tindo’ solar panels made in Adelaide. In both cases, we paid a premium to purchase Australian made panels to support Australian industries and Australian jobs. If there had been a comparable Australian battery. I would have bought that instead.

The Tesla Powerwall 2 lithium-ion battery is 15 kW/h rating. Made in the USA. The closest Australian contender was ‘ZPower’  also from Adelaide, but at almost 3 time the cost, it was out of our price range. All these things will change quickly and dramatically over the next few years. Watch this space. You can be sure that whatever will replace our battery at the end of its life in 15 to 20 years time, hasn’t even been thought of yet, never mind being built!

The kiln is one that I made myself. It is a half metre cube 500mm. x 500mm. x 500mm.  constructed out of light weight RI bricks.

 

latest little wood fired kilns

I have just finished and fired the latest little wood fired kiln prototypes.

DSC02915

These two new kilns are a slight improvement on last years model. The big difference is the increased volume. The big kiln is built in 2 parts. This new bigger kiln is 50% larger than the older model. When fired with gas burners, the 2 part design allows the top to be taken off and the lid placed on the lower section. The lower section can then be fired with gas burners and it can be used as a small test kiln. Alternatively, the top section can be replaced and it can be fired as a small production kiln.

In wood fired mode, it must be fired together, as the bottom section is the fire box and the top section is the chamber.

DSC02922

DSC02924

I’m very pleased with them. The bigger kiln got to stoneware, cone 10 down in reduction in just 2 1/2 hours. If I can fire it this fast, then it can be slowed down and fired as slow as you like, with plenty of power in reserve.

I’m taking orders for this kiln now.