by Brie Maldonado
So you've just finished your ceramics class at Slowfire. You proudly walk your finished work to the back room and gently slide it onto the drying rack. You say your goodbyes to classmates and instructor, and leave, feeling the excitement and anticipation of what happens next. Will it survive the kiln? How will you plan to decorate or glaze it? What will you do with it when you bring it home?
Before any of that can happen, our studio elves diligently work behind the scenes to take your clay creation through it's final stages. Within one or two days of creation the piece is ready to come off of the bat insert and be gently wiped around the bottom, and sometimes the rim. Any severe edges are sure to become as sharp as a knife blade once fired. The work is then placed gently back on the shelf to dry further. The drying process varies based on several key factors. The moisture level and temperature in the room, as well as the thickness of the walls and base of the piece. To test for "kiln readiness" our studio elves pick up the piece and touch the base to their cheek. If the temperature of the piece is shockingly cold, there is still moisture locked inside and it's not ready. If it's generally cool, or room temperature it is ready, and will be placed inside on one of the multiple shelves.
The kiln cycle varies based on the amount of clay inside the kiln, but generally will take around 24-36 hours to reach ~1945°F and cool down to a safe temperature to handle. Should any of the work inside the kiln have trapped moisture, it can result in an explosion during the firing. The work not only breaks apart, but the pieces can scatter outwards, breaking other pots in their path. This is why students are encouraged to make sure their pieces aren't too bottom heavy, and have nice even walls.
Once a kiln cycle has finished, and the pieces are cool enough to handle with kiln gloves or bare hands, they are unloaded onto a table. The elves then check all initials and place the work on the corresponding class shelf. Works lacking any stamp or initials are placed on a shelf with ??? in hopes of being claimed by their owners. (Stamp your work students!)
This process happens between 2-3 times per week in each of our studio locations. It's a good thing we have such amazing elves on staff!
A portion of a kiln load waiting to be sorted onto class shelving.