Whenever we talk about pottery made from clay we often come across the term pit-firing of pottery. What exactly is pit firing of pottery?
We will try to answer this question over the next few lines. We also will try to get the right answer to the question if it is possible to glaze pit-fired pottery.
What exactly is Pit-Firing of Pottery?
Generally speaking, pit-fired potteries are those that are not glazed.
They are fired in a pit kiln that may look primitive or even may resemble a bonfire. Though this process continues to be in vogue in many countries, there are a few things that we must bear in mind.
Pottery that is pit-fired may not be able to bake itself at the right temperature. When it is baked at such low temperature, there is a high probability that the final product could be porous and not fully watertight.
This firing method also involves filling the pit with quality wood and allowing it to burn for hours and perhaps even days.
There are some potters who do not believe in adding too much wood to begin with. They would rather prefer to stoke the pit during the firing.
Native North Americans prefer to do pit firing of their potteries in an open bonfire. They are famous for producing a special type of pottery that is referred to as carbon trapping.
This name is given perhaps because this form of pit firing leads to the deep black color of the pottery. This is caused by the heavy smoke that is generated when the firing is nearing its end.
This change of color also happens when the pots and colors have to be smothered with the help of organic matter.
How Is So Much Black Smoke Generated When Pit-Firing?
When we talk about traditional or old-style pit firing of potteries, there are a few more things that we must bear in mind.
Dried horse manure is commonly used and this is known to induce a lot of black and thick smoke. The manure is used in large quantities and it is added directly to the fire and it is also immediately covered with dirt.
This helps to kill the fire but the black smoke continues to billow and this is what generates black carbon and this again is the reason for the pottery turning black.
It would also be pertinent to mention here that during the 20th century there was a famous artist who was able to develop beautiful black art work on these black pottery. This still continues to fascinate many people even today.
This form of artwork was considered to be a collectors’ marvel and this also may have set the trend of glazing pit-fired pottery. This was indeed a breakthrough or sorts because so long it was believed that glazing of pit-fired pottery was not possible.
Important to Know About Glazing of Pit-fired Pottery
When we refer to barrel-fired and pit-fired potteries and ceramics, there are a few things that we must bear in mind. These types of pottery have a distinct advantage over other forms of baking clay and making pottery out of it. It has bare clay surfaces.
These surfaces are absorbent and therefore they are considered naturally suited for decorative effects. However, this has been a late realization because for many decades it was believed that pit-fired potteries may not be suitable for glazing and other ornamental purposes.
Quality artists are able to get some fascinating imprints that are created while the pottery is baking in thick smoke. Further, there are many artists who also make use of the fuming combustibles and create artwork from it. This is done by adding some refined chemicals.
We would also like to mention here that pit firing and barrel firing pottery making techniques have changed and evolved with time.
When we look at contemporary barrel firing and pit firing techniques, you will notice that they are capable of yielding vibrant and extremely colorful designs. These are imprinted on clay forms that are unglazed and the glazing is done later.
This is done by making use of dancing flames that are capable of carrying fumes from certain combustible chemicals and materials.
What Are The Different Variations of Pit-Firing?
We also need to understand that glazing of pit-fired pottery would again depend on the pit firing technique that is being used. There are different types of pit-firing.
The same also perhaps is the case with potters because they have used various techniques and methods of pottery making across the ages.
The method of pit firing that is used has a direct bearing on the glazing method and technique. This could determine the color of the pottery and it could be grey, brown or even just black.
When the pottery is fired to low temperatures, special care is taken. The pieces are carefully fumed with the help of vapors and chemicals making use of various combustibles as mentioned above.
Some carefully chosen chemicals are also used. This results in oxidation and also reduction in various types of atmospheres. This in itself can help to create some marvelous designs and shapes and the pottery also has a glazing effect that is simply unique and unmatchable.
Black Pots Offers Better Glazing Option
If you are able to choose black pots then you have a good chance of glazing the pottery. However, the pit will not be hot enough and for many this may not be desirable.
This is because they fear that the pottery may become porous and may not be capable of holding water.
Further, when using these types of pit for glazing purposes, you should also keep in mind a few more things. You could avoid putting anything that is carbonaceous in nature. This will certainly damage the elements and you also should take care of the ventilation.
This perhaps explains the reason why many people who use gas kilns will be particular about using the right bisque techniques. This will help in better ventilation and this eventually will also lead to improved chances of quality glazing of the end product.
To conclude, there is no doubt pottery making is a fascinating technology and pit fire pottery has a unique feature and versatility of its own.
Yes, through the right modification and with the use of the right technology, it is possible to make some of the best glazed pottery that is pit-fired.
Modern day pit-firing technologies make it even better and it is possible to create some fascinating glazed pit-fired potteries out of it.