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    Backyard Kiln

    November 7th, 2011

    Ever wonder something about making pottery? We’d love to hear from you and answer your questions! We recently received one about whether or not a backyard, wood-fired oven could also be used as a kiln to make pottery. Here is the response, written by Bill Barker, co-owner and founder of Jean Elton Studios:

    The quick and simple answer is yes. I’ve even fired clay in our fireplace. However, there are a few things that will affect the result.

    The first is the style of the wood-buring oven. With the right design (a fully enclosed updraft, often built on a hill), the “oven” could differ little from a ceramic kiln. Wood-burning kilns can reach the highest temperatures needed for making commercial stoneware and porcelain. On the other hand, if the design is just an open pit, then the maximum temperatures will not reach those necessary to create viable ceramic ware.

    However, as I said, I have fired ceramics in our fireplace just to see what would happen. The result depends on the clay composition, but the resulting clay pot will be very brittle and probably crumbly. It may or may not be able to sustains its own shape once it cools and you pick it up.

    Generally speaking, with the appropriate clay body, you could produce a viable ceramic vessel at temperatures as low as 1100 degrees Fahrenheit, about double the temperature normally associated with the maximum of a kitchen oven. With an outside oven, with some enclosure, you could probably reach these temperatures.

    One safety caution: air bubbles and too rapid a heating cycle (greater than 200 degrees per hour) can cause clay to explode. This does not create a concussion like that of a bomb, but if you are looking in on your creation, be sure to stay a healthy distance away and wear eye protection.