‘Anagamania’ -21- 空焚き – Kiln Dry Firing –

In winter chill, most of my spare time is usually spent, no potting, only sorting some old pottery photos and putting them in my PC folders. I used to have comfortable winter pastime at home.

But this winter, I will carry on working alone at my kiln site in my (secret) woods. I would like to do 2 firings with my anagama ‘Moby’ and a few Raku firings by the end of May, as I have a couple of anagama building
scheduled in summer.
In June, a mini-anagama for the International Ceramics Festival in Aberystwyth and in July, a small anagama in Wiltshire for Lawrence Barrow who has been studying Japanese pottery in Kyoto for some time.

So I am likely to spend more time in the woods but I am sure that I will enjoy my solitude there as I still see some wild animals around. My only wish is that I won’t be freezed to death in my tent when it snows. (Gas)

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‘Anagamania’ -20- 捨間 – ‘Sutema’ (Wasting Chamber) –

Although I kept basic design of kiln shape, my latest anagama ‘Moby’ has several minor changes in details from the kilns I built previously.

Until now, I haven’t shown my ‘Moby’s Sutema’ 捨間. It was done a while ago. The front wall was built just as I designed and I was pleased with it. But I haven’t been very happy about the rear wall. As I originally wanted the diagram ‘A‘ wall, then I changed my mind to the diagram ‘B‘. Somehow I didn’t fancy what I did myself and the outcome at all.
Then over a week ago, I had an idea of ’Gorinto’ 五輪塔 for the rear wall. The rear wall of ’Sutema’ [diagram ‘C‘] doesn’t have to be a tight wall like the front wall with flues. My loose rear ‘Sutema’ wall has become meaningful with 3 elements of Earth(地), Water(水) and Fire(火). That made me happy at last.

(I had rather bad experience with the very tight rear ‘Sutema’ wall when I fired my very first anagama ’Moby Dick’ back in 1996. I had to do something to the rear wall which was working too much. I made a big hole at the back of the chimney in order to take the wall down while someone carried on stoking the wood from the fire-mouth. [someone was Mike Dodd actually] After this big operation on the rear wall, the firing went well to the end.)

“Experience is the name we give to our mistakes.”

My anagama ‘Moby’ 白鯨 doesn’t have ‘an ash-pit’, ‘side stoking holes’ and ‘chimney dampers’, so I don’t have to go up and down around my kiln very often. Just feeding the firebox is my main wood-firing work. As I would like to do a slow and long wood-firing for at least a week, I have to conserve my energy towards the end.

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‘Anagamania’ -19- 森で冬期作陶 – No Winter Hibernation –

After completing my Anagama ‘Moby’ this summer, I have been trying to concetrate on potting at my open-air studio in the woods. Now it is time for me to prove my ‘Moby’ is almost perfect for reproducing beauty of Japanese Mediaeval vessels I admire. So I have already made my plan to fire it twice before June next year. It seems that I have no time to be in hibernation (comfortably at home) this winter.

In June and July 2015, I have a couple of commissions to build my kind of Anagama.
Firstly, As I am invited as one of the guest demonstrators to the International Ceramics Festival 2015 in Aberystwyth in Wales, I have a ‘Mini-Anagama’ building workshop, 2 weeks prior for the event. (only limited number of appricants will be accepted for the workshop – more about the course details will be announced soon) It is going to be approx. 15 foot [4.5meter] long Anagama for 4~5 day firing. (but I call it ‘mini’ as a smallest and proper Anagama I will design and build) I hope this Mini-Anagama will benefit many wood-fire enthusiasts.
And secondly, in July, immediately after Aberystwyth, I am asked to supervise an Anagama building for Lawrence Barrow (who is at the moment studying and working on Japanese pottery in Kyoto and Shigaraki) and a proper Anagama (slightly bigger than Aberystwyth Anagama) will be built for his need. He has already bought the secondhand bricks from my first Anagama ‘Moby Dick’ (1996~2011) and decided his Anagama location on one of his family properties in Wiltshire.
All photos taken by James Hazlewood

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Beauty of Old Pottery ③ – Early-Edo Vessels 江戸初期の陶器–

The images above are some of my favourite vessels from the early Edo-era (17th century). Most of them are now museum collections.
What I love about early Edo vessels is that they still had some enigmatic charm of Mediaeval wood-fired vessels (most of which had been disappeared eventually).
The kilns had changed from ‘Aagama’ to ‘Noborigama’ but still all had been wood-fired. The Tell-tale signs of slightly different wood-firing techniques on the vessels are what I enjoy to see. (Gas)

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‘Anagamania’ -18- 森の’白鯨陶房’ – Soft Roofing for ‘Moby’ Site

My open-air pottery studio (including my kilns) in the secret woods have got soft tarpaulin covers. From the very first stage of this Anagama project, I had an idea of an open-air studio with ‘Soft-Roofing’ (i.e. camouflage tarpaulins and collapsible supporting wooden-frames). In order to enjoy surrounding nature, I didn’t want to put myself working in a conventional walled studio.
As a graphic designer, I used to design rock concert stages and fashion show stages in my rock ‘n’ roll years of the early 70’s in Japan. At that time, I was also regarded as a conceptual ‘Air-Artist’ so this idea of a soft structure came naturally. I should call it ‘Soft Floating Roof’.
When it gets too cold to work in the woods, I will be making chawan in comfort at home. (Gas)

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‘Anagamania’ -17- 穴窯 白鯨 – Anagama ’MOBY’ Completed

Yes, finally on the last day of July 2014, my anagama ‘Moby 白鯨’ was completed.
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.

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‘Anagamania’ -16- 穴窯独り焚き Anagama Firing in Solitude

Recently I received a few messages from Australia. (Gas)

Hello Gas.
I enjoy keeping an eye on your anagama adventures. Thanks for that. I’ve recently buit my own anagama and will be firing it for the second time in a couple of weeks. This time I’ll be on my own. It’s not ideal but I don’t want to wait and I’m interested in seeing if I can do it. I was thinking I’d fire all day and when I get tired I’d stack up the firebox and side stoke and shut up the kiln and get a few hours sleep before doing the same the next day and so on till its done. If you have any advice I’d really appreciate it. Would you do it differently? I’m actually excited about being totally focused like this but am naturally anxious too. I’ve fired smaller kilns before on my own and 36 hrs was my limit but decision making is not so good then so I want to pace myself. Thanks so much for any input you care to offer. You can see the kiln build on my Facebook page to get a look at the kiln. All the best from Australia! (Lise)

Hi Lise,
Many thanks for your message and your interest in my anagama project.
Your idea of firing all along yourself is a brave thought and I like your spirit. Personally I don’t like most party attitude (with friends and spectators) in wood-firing. I prefer shutting the gate with the sign of ‘No visitors. Firing in progress.’ like many potters do in Japan. Just before I answer your question, would it possible to tell me how big your anagama (with side-stokes) is? [I believe I have seen your kiln on Facebook] How long will you fire it from start to finish? Your brave idea also gave me something useful for my 10 day firing (with two people helping me) of my ‘Moby’.

If you don’t mind I would like to write my reply and upload on my Anagama Blog. So more wood-fire enthusiasts may follow our solitary wood-firing. I should be able to write a better reply with more details for you in a week with less English mistakes.(Gas)

Hello again Gas.
I’ve taken measurements of the kiln interior. The area for pot stacking is 1900 cm long with another 1000 firebox. There is a sutema at the end. The pot chamber is 1100 high at the firebox end and 850 high at the rear. The chamber is near 1000 wide at the base all the way through. There is a large spy hole (that could be used as a side stoke) on one side. It is approx 600 before the sutema. I didn’t plan on side stoking when I built the kiln but put it in to add flexibility and in case I decide to salt the back at some point. I am happy for you to use this in your blog for anyone keen or mad enough to want to fire alone. I am flexible about how long to fire. It will depend on energy. 72 hrs sounds reasonable? ? Your input and time is really appreciated. English is my first language and I’m not nearly as articulate as I’d like! (Lise)

How long do you think you will fire Moby ? (Lise)

All my anagama has been firied for 9~10 days. So I needed at least 2 helpers. But I decided not to use helpers are too enthusiastic (if you understand what I mean) and hoping to get a helper from Japan {or at least from Eastern Europe}.
It is difficult to have someone for ten days. My wife will take a 10 days off from her gardening job to assist me. (Gas)

I dream of such a long firing! I admire your energy. My husband is great for shed building. He’s extending the kiln shed for me now so I’ll be able to store a lit more wood. We have goats as pets and they think the kiln is their cubby house so I have to have everything fenced off which is a shame because I love being more open. I enjoy the peace of firing alone as well as being able to think about the firing and make decisions as things happen without having to rely on other people with their own ideas about how to fire. I hope to find a rhythm while firing alone this time as I don’t mind the idea of the temp going up and down. That’s the beauty of a long firing too. We live on 25 acres in a quite isolated spot in the mountains outside Sydney. Our nearest neighbour is 4 klms away. I use a lot if hardwood eucalyptus off our property but have a lot of pine from local tree loppers. (Lise)

Dear Lise,
I am sorry that I am taking time to reply your question but I will post it very soon. You wrote me your second firing was goiong to be in 2 weeks. So I should be giving you some encouraging information. Are you capable of borrowing a oil burner or of buying bottle gas for the next firing of yours? This is important if you would like to do an entire firing alone. I am uploading my post titled ‘Solitude Wood-Firing’ this weekend. It will have your Facebook messages and my responses with some photo images. I am hoping it would help some potters who doesn’t like too many nosy and chatty people around kiln-firing. (Gas)

P.S. – Which season of the year are you having now? (I am just curious.)

Hi Gas.
It’s Winter here and we are in the mountains so it’s cold. I can’t fire in the summer due to fire restrictions. I do have access to gas. I have one big burner. I’m grateful for your input and any advice is appreciated. (Lise)

In Japan it is called ‘Rotary Oil Burner’ which is worth investing your money if you carry on ‘solitary firing’ in the future.

Before I give you my ideas and suggestion. I have to tell you a bad news about solitary firing. Unless it’s Raku firing, you can never stop firing and go to bed for resting. If you are planning a 72 hours [3 days] wood-firing, you have to do it, either without sleep all the way or with some help (i.e. someone or something). To get good Woodfired effects, you may need to stoke firewood from around 900 ~ 1000 c° to finishing temperature. Generally speaking, you don’t need to burn wood before 1000 c° as flying wood ash doesn’t settle and melt on pots. But that doesn’t mean aesthetic quality of finished vessels is the same. This could make a huge difference by what kind of fuel you are using.

Bottled gas is handy and easy to use. But my concern is when gas is low and running out, all the problems atart and end up with a total disater. Oil Burner is pretty reliable and many potters have successful firing. You can combine an oil burner [Japanese Rotary Oil burner] and wood. This way you may be able to do your firing alone.

If you like wood-firing, then try it only wood with helpers you can trust. You would like to do it all by yourself, so would I. But my firing takes 10 days and I need hrlpers (Gas)

Brave (or crazy) enough, Lise had her solitary anagama firing in a bit of snow a few days ago. I felt sorry she only had less firewood than she wanted to keep it going. She must have learnt a good lesson from this experience. I am looking forward to hearing from her soon about opening of her kiln. (Gas)

Experience is the name we give to our mistakes.

Lise had to finish her wood-firing rather earlier than she planned. It’s a pity that she didn’t prepare enough amount of wood. It is always a good idea to have an amount of firewood for 2 firinigs just in case.

I do hope that Lise is brave and stubborn enough to carry on her solitary wood-firings. Her idea of 72 hours of solitary firing can be perfected with a 3 basic parts of wood-firing (‘Aburi’ 炙り焚きwarming-up. ‘Seme’ 攻め焚き attacking and ‘Nerashi’ 煉らし焚き maturing) in the near future.
You have to keep on doing it for your quest, Lise!! (Gas)

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