Raku Weekend

First of all just let me say that I totally respect raku artists in a whole new way after my first attempt at this whole process.  It’s crazy fun, crazy messy and takes crazy amounts of patience.  Raku is not the easiest thing to do, that’s for sure.  After 3 failed attempts at firing my pots in a homemade kiln I finally abandoned the gas firing for the reliable and MUCH simpler electric kiln.  I started the firing process Sat. morning and finally got my first good pot at 5:30 Sunday night!  I’m tired, sore, emotionally drained (so many ups and downs and you know me….I get sooo excited and get my hopes up so high then disappointment comes hard) and my brain hurts from trying to figure out what is wrong with my homemade kiln and why I couldn’t reach temperature.  Not to mention there was a little bit of stress and tension as the raku kiln got hotter and hotter and the atmosphere inside got more and more unstable.  It was like sitting next to a ticking bomb praying that you didn’t get seriously injured or blow something up just in the name of getting some cool looking pots 🙂  We did bust up some concrete with the two propane torches, breathed in a little too much smoke and lost a few pots…..but overall it was a safe and enjoyable experience.

I’ll walk you through the process and share some pics of the different stages…I even got a little video of the raku kiln firing.

You make a raku pot just like you would any other…throw it on the wheel, bisque fire and glaze.  I bisque fired to cone 03 (2015 degrees), glazed with commercial raku glazes from Spectrum.  If I decide to pursue raku pottery on a regular basis I will begin formulating and mixing my own glazes but while it’s still new and I’m experimenting with the initial stages I decided to go with a purchased glaze.  I’ll say I was pretty happy with the glazes from Spectrum.  They all performed well except for the white crackle, it never matured and melted despite bringing to temperature recommended by the manufacturer. 

Next you load the pieces into the kiln and fire it up. 

Once you reach temperature in the kiln, you open it up and using long metal tongs pull your red-hot pots out and place them into reduction chambers.  Some people use newspaper, others use sawdust.  I used a mixture of two.  The hot pot catches the combustibles on fire and then you place the lid on the your container and let the fire and smoke do the work! 

When you take them out they are filthy…covered in charred newspaper and sawdust…so you need to clean them up.  I used a kitchen sponge with a scrubby side for the shiny pots but the mate pots needed a wire bristled brush to get some of the carbon off.

Once cleaned up my first group looked like this!  I had to go back and clean them up some more because in my excitement to be done I missed quite a bit 🙂

I’m pretty thrilled with the results!  And using the electric kiln was a life saver….SO MUCH easier!  I’ll admit I was a little nervous when we plunged the metal tongs inside a kiln with red-hot heating elements, but we turned off the power to the elements and no one got shocked.

I will definitely try this method again, in fact maybe before the week is out!  It was so much fun.

HUGE thanks to my sweet hubby who was with me through the whole process.  He drove me all over town searching for sawdust and newspaper, procured the hair from Murphy the horse, did lots of heavy lifting and problem solving with the gas kiln.  But even more than that he was there by my side sharing in my joy and excitement as I created something brand new.  Thanks J!  I love you so!

Here are the finished pots!