In the Studio: My Kiln Gerstly

I am still setting up shop here in Nelson and hope to be in the studio making this week- thus far set up has been my main goal (check out this post for a bit of that). So as for in the studio for this week I think it is high time to show you all a bit of what I did this summer. I built a woodfired soda kiln. I built it out of some staple standard kiln building things and some unconventional stuff I had to scrounge from around my property (check out my “ode to building supplies” post). I guess the best way to do explain what happened is in the old step by step. Just keep in mind when you’re creating and learning things are rarely this clear.

1) Get things to build a kiln.

I started out with: 70 odd soft kiln bricks, a roll of superwool/fiberfrax (a highly refractory fabric) and well that was it really, they were the staples.
Then I found: Many semi circular cement blocks, steel beams, chicken wire, old furnace shaft metal, drainage pipe, cement floor pavers, metal house siding and some clay!

2) Design a kiln

with the things you’ve got that meets your demands and desires. In my case what I wanted was a downdraft soda kiln.  My goal was to make a kiln that could get to cone 6 (1200 degrees Celsius or so). At first I wanted a woodfired and propane fired kiln. I planned to start with propane and finish with wood in the same firing but that wouldn’t fly. So I cut down spruce trees by hand with a swede saw (check it out). (I was living here in the forest at the time with no road accesses…).
But that wasn’t the problem, this was the problem: How the hell do you hand draft something with so many various components and straight up variables all to scale without losing your mind? My father is an architect. I took drafting in Gr.7 and after doing so vowed never to be one. Yet I always find myself building things. (I just finished building a walkway/deck yesterday). I busted out a right angle and a ruler and my pencil and then even made standard cutout blocks of my basic components, but I had to design the darn thing from many angles and was unsure of a workable scale. So I sketch out ideas like this:

And then I turned to photoshop and realized it has a pretty little function that allows you to define the dimensions of block shapes and so I came up with this:

It  made sense to make the kiln partially underground. The chimney an 18 foot tall, foot wide steel drainage pine that had been ripped into two 9ft pieces cause much a do- How to ground it so air could vent? How to make the kiln chamber the right proportion to the chimney draw (you don’t want heat just racing out your kiln you want it to linger, then again you want it to move through not just huddle in one part of the kiln. What was the best way to feed in wood, how much wood would be needed? How to make an arch? How to support the walls as they are only one brick thick? How would all the rain forecasted shift the kilns base? There was lots to consider. There are many rules and suggestions that exist when building a kiln and the best resource I’ve come across is “The Kiln Book” by Frederick L. Olsen (keep your eye open for this review on a Sunday!). It reminded me of things and gave me options like these:

3) Re- Design the kiln

4) Re- Design the kiln again.

So then I came up with this:

5) Go try and build your kiln.

It helps to have a to do list- what to do first etc. It is important to know at this point- at least when you are winging it with random materials as in my case- that you may end up with will be quite different from what you had originally planed.

This is what I did…


3 thoughts on “In the Studio: My Kiln Gerstly

  1. alanawilson says:

    hey bridget
    that’s great! thanks for sharing. yeah, talking to you the other nite really made me want to get in to that studio and get to work. it’s gonna be double time when they finally let me in.

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