By Father Theophan
Saint Job of Pochaiv Orthodox Church
Firing a kiln, at least my old kiln, can be nerve wracking. New kilns are often computer controlled, complex tools that can be programmed to raise, hold, and lower temperatures at will, in almost infinite
variety. My kiln has exactly one switch with four settings, one of which is “off”.
In a bisque firing, the first firing, mechanically and chemically combined water are driven off and clay that can be slaked down, becomes the more permanent ceramic. The bisque firing also burns off
any organic matter that might interfere with the glazes and makes the ware more durable so that it can be handled for glazing.
Because so much happens to the clay in the bisque firing, it must be undertaken slowly. So I start it on low, with the lid propped open and the peep holes out. The pots must be bone dry. Any lingering water may become steam at 212°F and shatter the pots. Slow it is. For about two hours a lot of the heat escapes the kiln so as not to raise the temperature of the ware too quickly.
I listen intently and fret during this first stage. The dreaded “pop” of a shattering pot is mentally devastating. Once heard, there is nothing to be done.
If, however, the first hours pass quietly, and the infrared thermometer reads over 300°F off the pots, I close the lid and put in the peeps and turn up the heat. The most dangerous time has passed.
There is more danger to come, but there is less to be done about it. I can make sure the ware is dry, but if the kiln heats too quickly through quartz inversion, catastrophe can result. This has not happened to me yet. My kiln is just inefficient enough to be safe.
Then follow the hours of waiting. Hoping for the best, expecting the best, and yet readying myself for disappointment.
Sometimes there is a glitch, I have no idea why, which keeps the kiln from ever reaching the required temperature. When that happens, I must wait for hours to let it cool, so that I can put in another control
cone, and start the process again. A cone that has been heated is no longer reliable to melt at the expected temperature.
But even if everything goes well, temperature is reached, and the kiln shuts off properly, there is still a chance of the results not being what I expected.
Disappointment is an ever-present possibility.
What to do? This thing we have been looking forward to, working for, has not turned out the way we would like, or maybe this time it has.
Whether we got the result we wanted or not, our path forward is the same. Continue to work, to hone our skills, and to make better plans.
Think of new and creative ways forward.
It will not always be this way, whether good or bad.
Hold the present day lightly.