Yuushin-Gama / Ken Matsuzaki
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Firing My Kiln
The loading of my kiln is begun by stacking the two large firemouths. The floor is cleared of ash and in certain parts of the firemouths shelves are put up. An enormous amount of wood is fed into the firemouths and,as a result,there is a lot of ash pulling through them.Fly ash rains down on the work while the heavier ash flows through the kiln with the flame. The lighter very high quality ash shoots up and reaches the work on the highest shelves. From one fire mouth,I can produce work that is roughly and heavily covered with ash to work that has a very fine coating of ash.
The one middle chamber of my kiln that is between the two large firemouths can be used to fire many kinds of work.Anything from unglazed ware to yohen Shino to Oribe,all have thier own way of being fired in this chamber.For this firing,I decided to fire yohen Shino.Yohen literally means to be changed by the fire,to be licked by the flame. This is the first time I have tried to fire Shino in the true way of firing a shino.Until now,the numerous failures I have had trying to get a good shino by firing it in my own way come to mind.
With the loading of the kiln now finished,the fire is finally lit. A firing of seven days and six nights will begin. I start by warming up the kiln with a small fire,wood being fed through the lower stoking ports of the main firemouths. This goes on for 24 hours.After that,I change to firing aggresively from the upper stoking ports of the firemouths.
Going into the third day of firing, the inside of the kiln begins to show some color. It is then that I change from split pine to split chestnut. In comparison to pine,chestnut doesn't generate as much heat or burn as intensely.Therefore, the melting point of the ash from the chestnut is lower and layers up well on the work at this point in the firing.To get a good coating of ash from the chestnut,I continue to use it for the next 36 hours.
On the evening of the fifth day of firing,I take out a test piece to see how the ash is building up. Then,in order to effect change in the work not stacked on shelves in the firemouths,I intentionally knock over some of the pieces.As the kiln is loaded, I think of this point in the firing and how and where I will make the pieces fall. I use a long stainless steel rod. Knocking the pieces over will allow the work to be completely covered with ash. It can be covered from behind and all over. I put charcoal around the work that has been knocked over and continue to do this every hour. From the middle chamber,it is time to take out the black tea bowls. They are taken out of the hot kiln and immediately immersed in cold water. This very quick cooling helps to develope the rich,black color.
On the sixth day of the firing,I go back to the work in the fire mouths that has been knocked over. I change wood again and go from the chestnut back to using pine. It is now down to the last day of firing. I start to put charcoal around the work in the fire mouths every 30 minutes now. The charcoal is painstakingly placed around the work and this leads to the final stages of the firing. Five 15 kilo (33lbs.)bags of charcoal are used in each firemouth. In doing this, the yohen work has been given a three to four day covering of ash and is finally finished.
On the morning of the seventh day,we begin the last stages of the firing.I put between eight to ten 15 kilo bags of charcoal into the middle chamber. This is done all at once,stuffing the charcoal through the stoking ports on both sides of the kiln. This is the last big job of the firing.
My kiln has a kind of special design.Between the middle chamber and the two large firemouths,the connecting tunnel has been eliminated.In its place is a long,narrow space (30 centimeters deep and 1meter 70centimeters long).This space comes between the firemouths and the middle chamber.It is where the yohen ash covered work is fired.The amount of charcoal burned in this space determines how well the work will turn out.
All in all the kiln has fired for seven days and consumed 2700 bundles of wood and 28 bags of charcoal.(each bag weighing 15kils)It is like some kind of monster.A fight to the finish and then the firing is done.
After this, there is a five day period of very slow cooling.
Starting to unbrick the kiln is when I am the most anxious. But in taking the bricks down one by one,I regain my composure.I first see the yohen and ash covered work and I have no objection to it.It seems this was a good firing.I feel somewhat relieved.
The Shino from the middle chamber was disappointing at first glance,but after looking at it for a while,I thought it was acceptable.The yohen Shino turned out much better than I had imagined and I was very happy about this. I finally made a kind of Shino ware that is unique to me and from this I feel like I can see which direction to go.