To begin, this is not a ‘How-To’ guide on barrel firing. It is more of a ‘Let’s Try This and See What Happens’ story. Some of you reading this blog may have alternate, and, perhaps even better methods you use in this type of firing, while some things that I have done, I may change or alter in the next firing depending on the results desired. Any tips or tricks are much welcome in the form of comments and perhaps all who are interested, experienced or not, can help each other along.
Why a Trash Can?
Why not? I like experimenting with different ways to turn out good pots and after seeing a photo of some really nice trash-can-fired bells, I thought I’d try and give it a go. There wasn’t a lot of money invested in the project – a $20 galvanized steel trash can, free wood from a guy in the next town over who tore down his old shed and about $2.00 worth of wood shavings from the local farm store.
Trash Can Modification
I started out by drilling some holes in the bottom of the trash can for air flow. I was told if not enough air flow from underneath or on top, the fire could go out prematurely. Drilling the holes was easier than I thought it would be.
Upon reading up on the methods that other people have used, I read that you should cut ‘slits’ on the sides of the trash can. Ok, I bought a Rotozip not too long ago to cut dies for the extruder, so I thought that would do the trick on the trash can. This was not so easy. I drilled a hole to start the tool but while attempting to pull down the Rotozip, it jumped all over the place basically cutting a very irregular large ‘maze’ down the side of the can instead of a slit. After sending an SOS text to a friend much more experienced with this tool, I got some good advice on the proper way to do this (keeping the can on it’s side and pulling the tool toward me with both hands…carefully) and finished cutting the slits around the can.
Unfortunately, I was so happy to be able to use the tool properly and finally able to cut the slits, that I think I overdid it and cut too many slits. To remedy my goof, I ended up blocking off some of the slits from the inside with a ceramic fiber blanket. I figured that might do double-duty in helping keep a hotter fire going as well as blocking too much air from coming in. I tied the pieces of fiber blanket to the can with copper wire; one, because I had it hanging around, and two, because I thought the extra copper couldn’t hurt in a fuming type atmosphere.
Prepping the Pots
All pots were made with a buff colored slightly groggy stoneware. In this case, I used Highwater’s Orange Stone because I read that you wanted a higher temperature clay so the clay stayed ‘open’ and porous to accept the fumes from the oxides. When bone dry, each pot was coated with a white terrasig (made from ball clay, epk, sodium silicate and a little borax thrown in) and polished. I believe that the pots that crackled were the one’s where the terrasig went on a bit too thick. They were then bisque fired to cone 08.
The pots were treated in various ways as you will see in the later photos before placed into the trash can. Some had strips of cheese cloth wrapped around them that were previously soaked in a salt & copper carbonate solution, dried and dusted in spots with red iron oxide. Others had jute wrapped around them while still others were contained in a saggar of sorts made from paper bags or foil. A few were put in with nothing at all on them. Basically, I was just curious as to which treatment caused each final result.
A sheet of plywood was placed over the grass (which was really wet from a soaking rain the night before), then added a wire rack (held in place by some weights) and put the trash can on that to elevate it and get some air flow underneath. Cinder blocks would have been great, but with none here, I improvised. I put about 4″ worth of wood shavings into the can then added a layer of pots. Between the pots, I sprinkled kosher salt and a product called, ‘Root Kill’ that I got at Home Depot, which is basically 100% Copper Sulfate. Then I added more wood shavings, then another layer of pots. Actually, just one pot – next time I’ll know I can fit more pots! Someone told me not to fill over half the trash can with pots and I wasn’t sure how many to make. The pot on the top layer ended up getting the most color although I’m not sure why. I put long boards along the outer edges of the can, vertically, to hopefully carry the fire from the top down to where the pots were buried. More salt and copper sulfate was sprinkled on top of the shavings and some baking soda added for good measure.
Kindling and wood scraps were then added, along with a paper towel that I put a bit of gasoline on to catch. I was told to pour some gasoline on, but was honestly kind of scared to do that, so I compromised with the paper towel! Finally, I put some branches from our Christmas tree that’s still sitting in the pine trees and the whole thing went up with a match like, well, a dead Christmas tree.
I let the fire burn until all the wood was burned below the surface of the can lid, then put the lid on firmly. The can was cool by evening to unload.
The Results Are In
Before I show you the result photos, I have to say I was less than happy upon my initial inspection. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but suffice to say, I was looking for a much smoother surface than the surface texture that developed. There are no plans for these finished pots save for keeping them on a studio shelf, taking them down from time to time for another look, and comparing them with future firings. I was talking about the results with a friend this morning and his insightful comments came back to me quite a few times during the day. He said when we push the envelope in trying new things, we also have to push the envelope with our acceptance of these same things. Interesting thought and I think I often have too much rigidity with what I expect and what I accept; in many respects; not only with pots. That’s not to say that I’d accept inferior quality with the work I produce, but rather I need to leave myself more open to accept and appreciate the differences, and in turn, perhaps, gain a respect for new things. Advice to hold on to, learn from, and pull out again when the situation warrants. And now for the finished pots…
In the photo to the left, the inside of both the foil and the paper bag, was sprayed with hairspray, then salt and copper sulfate sprinkled on both. The foil saggar had the smoothest surface finish.