Ah, the smell of burnt hair on the forearms. Fire... Nair for men.
The groundhog was built by Gary Clontz, Justin Guy, and myself as a traditional kiln for the Edgefield Historical Society. With the financial help from noted ceramic collectors Dr. Arthur F. and Ester Goldberg. It is about a mile from the carcass of a monster 105 feet long kiln that was used in the early 1800's. The alkaline glazes and pottery shapes that originated in the Edgefield District, SC were probably derived from a French missionary who observed and wrote about pottery manufacture at Jingdezhen a hundred years before.
I was sick Sunday and throwing up Monday morning on loading day. Glazed 15 or so pots and had to get out of there. Tuesday morning I started stoking the fire that had been candling the kiln all night. At 8:30 I was joined by Justin. We switched from hard wood over to pine about 10:30. These aren't long firings to build up ash. We are trying to convert wood to energy as fast as possible. Heat energy to melt the glazes. We do that with inch thick pine boards or slats. You lay them over the mouth of the fire box and let them slant down to the ash bed. The wood hangs over the super heated air. When the heat is right you watch all that surface area burst into flame and the board is gone in a flash.
Unfortunately we had a lot of logs from winter ice storms. We were holding back the pine boards for the last efforts. The heat wasn't really climbing, the logs don't have the surface area to release their energy fast enough. Justin was trying to split logs manually with a maul and an axe while I was stoking. Even split the logs were still not ideal as they weren't long enough to really hang in the fire box. Too quickly they'd be down in the ash bed. If we went along like this, well I was going to drop or Justin was going to drop.
The young potter who usually fires with us, Levi Wright had injured himself and wasn't able to help. I have to give a lot credit to Justin's mother Rae. it is easy to see where he gets his pyromania. She came after lunch and chucked more than a few hunks of wood in or handed them to me so I could stuff the burning maw. About two o'clock Justin ran off to the local lumber mill and asked for the thinnest, driest pine scrap he had. He came back with a trailer load of roughly fourteen foot long slats. We could see an immediate jump in heat as we started using the trailer load.
The lack of food and sleep from being sick, along with the exertion and heat, was taking its toll on me. I knew I was damaged and took the occasional short breathers to pack ice on my neck. About 4:00 Justin's wife Tonya joined in. Their friend Glen came about a half hour later and I was able to sit down for a half hour and really recover. I was set for the last two hours of feeding the beast. I was laying in some of the big pine boards and we were filling in the rest of the space with slats. We hit our temperature in the front. the ash bed was white. Stoking after that seemed almost leisurely, as we were just trying to hit the temperature further back in the ware bed. It is great seeing those boards explode into flame.
Finally Justin and I tossed in about fifteen of the split logs and we bricked it up for the blast off. We closed it off at 7:15. A twelve hour firing. Saturday morning we will unbrick it. We'll throw a pallet in the fire box. We'll take turns in the hot seat, pulling out the ware. About twenty minutes in and the pallet usually starts to burn. Then we'll finally get a chance to see the good, the bad, and the ugly. Good firing regardless!