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Wood obviously plays an important role at the pottery and its arrival heralds the beginning of the next production cycle. The wood I use – mainly slab wood of deciduous hardwoods – is a by-product of local sawmills. This wood not only fires my kiln but also heats my workshop and my house. Each year I burn nearly thirty cords of wood, necessitating a great deal of time spent cutting, splitting and stacking, to provide a sufficient supply for my needs.
I get my unprocessed or “crude” clay from Indiana and “blunge” it in a homemade mixer. Blunging is a process of adding water to dry clay and mixing it into a creamy solution that is then pumped into troughs where, for approximately three weeks, it slowly dries to a state where it can be worked on a wheel. Three tons of clay is needed to fill the kiln.
The Turning Cycle
It takes nearly two months of turning to make a sufficient number of pots to fill the kiln. This lengthy cycle gives me a great period of concentrated time at the wheel. Each week the workshop grows fuller and fuller with the work from the previous weeks. Being surrounded by a vast assortment of greenware increases my creative energy as I approach the firing stage of the cycle. In a sense, my appetite for making pots grows on what it feeds. Each day's work includes the glazing and decorating of pots made the previous day.
The Kiln
My “noborigama” or chamber kiln is a distant relative of kilns developed in Japan nearly one thousand years ago. The kiln was built during the summer of 1999 with the help of Hallie Hite and Nate Evans of Allamakee Pottery in northeastern Iowa and fired for the first time that September. Nearly ten thousand bricks recycled from a local porcelain factory went into the construction of the kiln. Made up of three chambers, with each attached to the next by flues, my kiln was designed for producing three distinctive styles of work: natural fly ash glaze in the first chamber, decorated glazed ware in the second, and salt-glazed pots in the third.
The Firing
Firings take place three times a year and are the culmination of three months work. Life at the pottery centers on the successful packing and firing of the kiln. The first week of the firing cycle begins with placing nearly two thousand pots in the three chambers of the kiln.

Once the kiln is packed, a small fire or “candle” is lit in the fire box and tended for two days to insure that the pots are thoroughly dry for the firing. For the next three days, a crew of four take six-hour shifts to bring the kiln up to a temperature of 2350 degrees Fahrenheit, burning nearly seven cords of slab wood in the process. As the temperature rises, the kiln seems to come alive with a voracious appetite for wood. To insure that the temperature rises properly, great care and attention are necessary not to over- or under-stoke the fire. Once the first chamber is brought to top temperature, stoking ceases in that chamber and commences in the second, which takes nearly twelve hours to fire. Upon the completion of the second chamber the process is repeated in the third. With firing complete, the kiln is “clammed” or sealed and left to cool. After one week of eager anticipation, the doors of the kiln are unbricked to disclose the end result of four months’ work. This is also a time for reflection and learning, as each pot discloses information that can be applied to the next cycle of production.