The 2007 Barrel Fire Research Project got a great start this week. On July 3rd we had two firing projects at Pioneer Craft House. Artists brought work for the Barrel Fire and the kids at the Tuesday Farmers Market made BBQ pottery (See BBQ Pottery Post).
Richard Barker laid a perfect bonfire in a large metal garbage can. There were no holes around the bottom of the can, although that is normally recommended. We used a significant amount of wood. Two foot long sticks ranging from a quarter inch to 2 inches in width were placed in the can with some newspaper stuffed at the bottom. We have no idea if it matters, but the sticks were mainly walnut with some cherry wood. A large split of wood was placed on the sticks. The sticks were grouped to leave a little access to the newspaper for lighting. Work was then wrapped in copper scrub pad and a bit of newspaper and placed in the can. After each layer of work was ready, copper carb, coffee beans and very course salt was sprinkled in. Additional work and wood continued to be placed until the can was 3/4 full. We lit the fire without any lighter fluid because the wood was very dry. It lit quickly and hot. Richard fed the fire to keep flame showing for 45 minutes. The can was then tightly lidded for 30 minutes.
Because we were excited to see the results, the work was pulled with Raku Tongs. It was immediately clear that copper is the key at these temperatures. Metallic copper flashes were the big excitement. We also had some classic pit fire reds from the copper carb. The primary color was black. Burnished or terra sig work had a deep rich black. Plain porcelain was a bit lighter but still had good color. Plain stoneware tended to greys and whites. Although many factors were at work, it appears that the colors in the first layer of artwork (the bottom of the can) were better than those higher up. Note: Sawdust is a common recommended ingredient in barrel fire. We did not use it in this firing because we had no holes in the can to help with air in a tight sawdust environment. Sawdust also makes more smoke, which means more black. (See "pre-fire experiments" for more detail.)