This week's Making post of gallery potter Phil Rogers firing his wood kiln features footage shot back in 2008, when Rogers had just begun to experiment with wood-firing. With a cameo from fellow gallery potter Lisa Hammond, the film shows Phil preparing and firing with the aid of several helping hands, stoking with logs and planks and constantly monitoring temperature and pressure in his two-chambered kiln.
While the camera quality is of its time, the content of the film is absolutely invaluable for anyone with a passing interest in firing with wood, or for those intrigued by the amount of skill, knowledge, sheer bloody-mindedness, and (often) good luck that goes into successfully producing the kind of beautiful wood-fired work that Phil has been making over the last 8 years.
(above) British potter Phil Rogers opens the dampers of his wood-firing kiln to survey the contents within; (below) Rogers begins dismantling the kiln chambers
First built in 2008, Rogers' wood kiln now takes its place in his regular rotation of firings throughout the year, its occasional volatility and disobedient nature easily outweighed by the quality of work it produces.
Photographed here unpacking a recent firing, Phil examines a selection of pots glazed simply with wood ash, the atmosphere of the wood kiln lending the unglazed body of each piece its characteristic orange blushes and pearly white feldspathic beads.
(above) observing the final product of a 40-hour firing; (below) kiln shelves are emptied of their pots, which are then stacked around after a quick inspection
Once cooled, the numbered firebricks of each chamber opening are carefully unpacked from the kiln and stacked to the side, revealing shelves upon shelves of still warm pots. Their clay wadding removed, each pot is examined for observable defects and unexpected effects from the firing.
(above) checking over a small Shino lidded jar; (below) wood-fired bottle (left) and large lidded jar (right)
Despite considerable planning as to the placement of pots within the kiln, based on glazes, pot sizes, and anticipation of the path of the flame, wood-firing frequently throws up surprise jewels and gems where the peculiarities of kiln atmosphere and falling fly-ash can produce stunning, glassy surfaces where they are least expected.
(above) Phil looks over a small bowl; (below) two wood-fired yunomis from a successful firing
Wood firing in a kiln like Rogers' is a lengthy, protracted process, and one that cannot be sped up without seriously affecting the surfaces of the pots within.
To get to temperature - over 1200°C - wood must be added to the kiln over a period of at least 36-40 hours, requiring constant vigilance from the potter and his team.
(above and below) a wood-fired chawan demonstrates the dramatic effects of ash in the kiln and the beautiful pooling achieved by wood-ash
Such dedication, time, and effort is clearly worth it, however: runny wood-ash glazes pool in the bottom of bowls and plates to form thick, crystallised, glass-like surfaces ranging from earthy olive to deep emerald, perfectly setting off against the browns, creams, rusts, and burnt oranges of clay and other glazes.
(above) wood-fired chawan and a potter's notes - makers often keep logs of sketches, glaze recipes, and firings, noting times and temperatures as well as behaviour of the kiln; (below) two wood-fired caddies
Filmed during just his second firing with this kiln, Phil has since become more attuned to its behaviour and the different approach this kind of firing demands compared to oil, gas, or electric.
A potter of incredible experience and expertise, his work continues to delight at the gallery.