We are in the middle of firing our last kiln, the Olsen kiln. There are only 6 of this type of Olsen kilns in the world, and they are tricky things to fire. For those of you who like to geek out on kilns, I refer you to this site where you can read all about it. This kiln was built a couple of years ago and has been fired a few times, and results have been boring. Brown, brown, and if you don’t like brown—well, still more brown.
We had several hours of group discussion on how to change the results: How to load the work in, should we build walls inside, should we blow in sawdust or ash or both, how to adjust the airflow… The airflow element is fascinating because this kiln has 4 chimneys, three in the back and one on the side, across from two stoking chambers. It’s referred to as the three queens and a king. At one point in the discussion I wrote a note to Kristin, “Are we in a senior seminar?” Then we both straightened up when we realized at the same moment that yes indeed, we are.
It took 8 hours to load the Olsen kiln, and we’ve been babying it along, raising the temperature very slowly to protect the big work that will only fit in this kiln. I’ve worked two shifts and at some point I started to feel very connected to this kiln. I loved stoking the different sides and observing their differences: how the anagama side would shoot the temperature up like a hot-headed teenager, how the groundhog side would shower beautiful sparks when I dropped the wood in, like little fire butterflies. My shift was done at 8 PM but I went back out there after midnight last night and hung out till almost 4 AM, I really did not want to leave. The kiln was getting hotter, some of my arm hair got burned off, and we just kept feeding our baby wood. By now we were off the smaller pieces and on to the big square chunks, and the kiln just ate it up. It really is starting to seem like a person.