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  • Writer's pictureEfthimios Sifounios

Pit Firing An Ancient Ceramics Technique for Today's Artists

What is Pit Firing? Pit firing is a traditional ceramic firing technique that has been used for thousands of years. The process involves digging a pit, lighting a fire inside it, and placing pots or ceramics on top of the hot coals. The fire is then left to burn for several hours, causing the ceramics to bake and take on unique and beautiful textures, colors, and patterns.

History of Pit Firing:

An Ancient Technique The history of pit firing dates back to ancient times, with evidence of its use found in many cultures around the world. From the indigenous peoples of Africa to the Native Americans of North America, pit firing has been a part of ceramic traditions for thousands of years. The method was used to create functional pottery for daily use, as well as decorative pieces for special occasions.

Pit Firing Technique
Pit Firing Technique

Materials Needed for Pit Firing: Getting Started If you are interested in trying pit firing for yourself, there are a few materials you will need to get started. These include a shovel, a large container (such as a trash can), fireproof clay, a kiln, and a variety of natural materials such as leaves, grass, and sawdust.

Building the Pit: Step-by-Step Guide

The first step in pit firing is to build the pit itself. To do this, you will need to dig a hole in the ground that is large enough to hold your ceramics and the fire. The depth of the pit will depend on the size of your ceramics, but it should be at least two feet deep. Once you have dug the pit, you will need to line it with fireproof clay to prevent the sides from collapsing.

Lighting the Fire: Preparing the Kiln

Once the pit is built, it is time to light the fire. You will need to gather a large pile of wood and light it inside the pit. The fire should be started with smaller sticks and branches, and then gradually built up with larger pieces of wood. Once the fire is burning well, you can begin to add natural materials, such as leaves, grass, and sawdust.

Placing the Ceramics: Arranging Your Pieces

Once the fire is burning and the natural materials have been added, it is time to place the ceramics in the pit. The ceramics should be arranged on top of the hot coals, making sure to leave plenty of space between each piece to allow for proper airflow. If you are using pots, it is important to place them upside down to prevent the bottoms from cracking.

Firing Time: The Waiting Game

Once the ceramics are in place, the pit should be covered with a layer of soil and left to fire for several hours. The exact firing time will depend on the size and thickness of your ceramics, as well as the heat of the fire. A good rule of thumb is to leave the ceramics in the pit for at least four hours, and up to eight hours for larger pieces.

Uncovering the Ceramics: Revealing Your Masterpiece

Once the firing time has passed, it is time to uncover the ceramics. Be careful when removing the soil, as the ceramics will be extremely hot. Use a shovel to carefully remove the soil and reveal your beautifully fired ceramics.

Finishing Touch: Adding a Personal Touch

The final step in pit firing is to add your own personal touch. This can be done by brushing on glaze, adding decorative accents, or simply leaving the ceramic as it is made from the Pit fire. Step-by-Step Guide to Pit Firing

1. Choose a location for your pit. It should be a safe and suitable location for an open fire, away from flammable materials and structures. 2. Dig a pit that is deep enough to contain the ceramics and the combustible materials. 3. Place the ceramics in the pit and arrange them in a way that allows air to circulate around them. 4. Fill the pit with combustible materials, such as wood, leaves, and sawdust. 5. Light the fire and allow it to burn for several hours, until the ceramics have been fully fired. 6. Once the firing is complete, allow the fire to burn out and the ceramics to cool. 7. Remove the ceramics from the pit and clean them of any soot or ash.

Pit Firing Techniques and Variations There are many variations of pit firing techniques, each with its own unique results. Some techniques include:

1. Reduction firing, which involves limiting the amount of oxygen in the pit to create a reduction atmosphere. 2. Saggar firing, which involves placing the ceramics in a saggar, or a clay container, which is then placed in the pit. 3. Salt firing, which involves adding salt to the combustible materials to create a specific type of glaze. 4. Smoke firing, which involves using smoke-producing materials, such as sawdust or tea leaves, to create a smoke-fired surface.

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