When I started thinking about this project a few years ago, I had a few things I wanted to achieve,
1. – Building anagama which is smallish but big enough to be serious as anagama with many mediaeval fundamentals as possible.
2. – Using kiln bricks and mortar (fireclay and sand mixture) only. (compromised already from real Mediaeval anagama was just a dug-out tube in the mountain side)
4. – Using hand tools only (saws, axes and hammers). (no heavy machinery that means no hiring trench diggers and bull-dozers)
5. – Working all alone and taking time rather than any previous hasty kiln buildings.
As my kiln-site is in a secret location in the woods near Tring (Hertfordshire). My hardest work was that I needed to shift all heavy industrial kiln bricks from my first anagama ’Moby Dick’ to my new anagama ’Moby’ site in the woods where inaccessible by car. I had to do this numbers of times, taking the bricks in my ordinary car boot (around 20 each time), then loading on an old Russian army wheelbarrow from a car park of a private property and then into my kiln-site in the woods.
Weather permitting, I spent my time for this anagama work and also preparing firewood (felling, cutting, splitting and stacking) in the woods for a few years.
However sluggish work of anagama ’Moby’ construction itself has been always most joyful part of my project.
There are many kiln designs around and you may have a few choices for your wood-firing of you own vessels. What kind of pots you would like to have at the end of firing and how long you can spend your time for wood-firing are most important factors of your kiln decision. Because calling your kiln with a magic word ‘anagama’ doesn’t change anything of your kiln behaviours.
I don’t call any kilns with ‘catenary‘ arch chambers as ‘anagama. (of course you can call it whatever you like though) Personally I have some strong objective thoughts on ‘catenary’ arch kilns. I would rather go for ‘groundhog’ kilns or Thai kilns instead, if I didn’t have my own anagama ideas.
My anagama is not designed as a standard wood-fired kiln. Since my first anagama ‘Moby Dick’ over 15 years ago, My anagama has never been equipped with anytihng proper such as ‘firebox, bag-wall, side-stoking holes and adjustable dampers’. If the incline of anagama is big enough, there’s no need of a chimney and also the whole anagama-shape should support itself without enforced iron braces. So my anagama has no tall chimney to pull the draft faster and no braces to hold the hot expanded bricks from collapsing.
Pure anagama on a steep slope doesn’t need side-stoking holes. A steep incline and the low ceiling of anagama should make temperature inside more or less even (less than 50 c°).
I didn’t even fancy the ideas of ‘Dancing Fire’ and ‘Smokeless Kiln’ by Kusakabe Masakazu. I am sure that his inventive kiln design works and those charming (dancing fire & smokeless) catch-phrases have successfully attracted huge interest among wood-fire enthusiasts.
But I am wondering why we should take away good anagama features from our wood-firings.
I would love more smoke from my wood-firing and I can make big dancing swirls with burning wood-flames just by packing vessels in certain ways in my anagama.
Also this time, I have strong feeling about that ‘Sutema 捨て間’ is not needed for my latest ‘Moby’. ‘Sutema'(wasting chamber) is a very good inventive design by my old Shigaraki friend and great master-potter and kiln-builder Furutani Michio [1946-2000] and we once talked about this ‘Sutema’ while we were firing his anagama in Iga. I will be able to build it in later if I feel really necessary to have in the future. (will wait and see some results of my firings)
I don’t deny usefulness of modern gadgets for measuring temperatures in the kiln. I noticed many wood-firers staring at pyros all the time during their firings. (they seem to spend more time checking pyros than checking their pots inside)
I even stopped using my pyrometers and corns in wood-firing some years ago.
My main anagama idea ever since I started my pottery is a slow and long wood-firing over a week (2 weeks even better) and has never been designed for quick and short wood-firings.
I have built my Raku kiln ‘Ki き’, a couple of years prior to the construction of my anagama, in case I need quick firing to ease my urge for a big fire.
After all I am only trying to re-discover the real beauty of Mediaeval vessels again.