Last Sunday (3.7.21), the kiln team members met to clean up and maintain the kilns, shelving, and the kiln area. I admit that I do not have much experience with kilns, but it was eye-opening to see all the work that goes into the running of the kilns.
What goes into the running of the kilns? A LOT.
You need to know that the small group of volunteer, trained kiln team members coordinate and stay on top of firings.
How many loads does the DMS Kiln Team do per month? For January, we did 10 bisque loads and 11 glaze loads. February isn’t a good benchmark because we lost a week due to bad weather, but we did 6 bisque loads and 7 glaze loads. By the way- it takes about an hour to load the kilns to make sure that our precious pieces are placed accordingly and that we can safely get as much in the load as we can. So back to January’s kiln loads, the kiln team spent about 21 hours loading ….and it takes approximately 45 minutes to unload, totaling about 14 ½ more hours. I’m not a math person but the kiln team spends about 35 hours a month on loading/unloading pieces and that doesn’t even include the other things like teaching, making supply runs etc.
Oh! And I forgot to mention that the kiln team also makes cookies of all different sizes to protect your pieces from other pieces and to protect the kiln shelves. These cookies don’t last very long. We recently made them right after a class and the stacks are dwindling.
What goes into maintenance?
Our three kilns routinely need parts replaced so we stay on top of replacing parts and coordinating with kiln repair vendors. We run diagnostic tests and make sure every load has cones so that we know the kilns are functioning properly.
Glaze loads require strategy, time, and care to make sure that pieces aren’t touching. We’ve recently seen an uptick in pieces sticking to the shelves. While we religiously use kiln wash which prevents/minimized glaze from sticking to the shelves, it is not error-proof. When a piece is glazed to the shelf, the piece must be broken off and then the shelf must be sanded down.
Afterward, kiln wash is applied to the shelf. It takes a lot of time to grind the shelves. The Kiln team spent 3 hours grinding and sanding outside (can’t sand inside because the dust particles are toxic). It’s inconvenient and it’s time-consuming. It is not a task we want our kiln team members doing.
DMS Ceramics members are spoiled; the kiln team does this grinding for them. Other communities and art institutions make the potter whose glaze ran grind the shelves. Kiln team members were chatting about how it might be a good idea to make the potter do their own grinding should their glaze piece run. Ideally, shelf grinding would be a minimal need, something very rare but it seems as if the kiln team is doing this more and more. It could be because new members aren’t family with proper glazing techniques. It could also be over/under firing (always read the directions and know what cone it fires to), Clay body fit (do a test tile first if you aren’t familiar with the glaze), not mixing glaze, or heavy application (I’m guilty of this).
I forgot to mention, aside from loading/unloading, updating/repairing kilns, and shelf grinding, this same small group also does the deep cleans in the space, teaches classes, rotates pieces on works in progress shelves to make room for new/active members’ pieces, and makes supply runs.
We need you to:
- Get involved! Show up to the next kiln maintenance day on Sun. March 28 at 5 pm and/or Ceramics committee meeting on April 6th (6:30 pm).
- Take a glaze class (if you haven’t done so)
- Test glazes you aren’t familiar with by making test tiles and larger cookies to accompany them BEFORE you glaze your art piece
- Make cookies for your pieces and offer to make cookies for the community
- Ask questions via Talk. You have access to a vibrant community of potters and hobby ceramic artists. There are no stupid questions. Let us help you.
- Wipe down the area you used plus more… rinse the sponges, wipe down the glaze jars.