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192 Jim Boone Rd
Bakersville, NC, 28705
United States


The central information hub for Michael Kline Pottery, a small one man shop of pottery making in the mountains of western North Carolina.

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The Best of Sawdust and Dirt

A record of the goings on around Michael Kline Pottery!

Filtering by Tag: firing

First Out

Michael Kline

before the extraction

before the extraction

The adventure of fire continues tonight while during the 23rd firing of my gas kiln a mug fell from the fire wall into the fire box right in front of the burner.  I apologize for the pottery jargon. Let me briefly explain. The fire wall, aka, “bag wall” is a short wall of bricks that separate the stacks of pots from the “fire box”. The firebox is an area where the fuel is combusting, whether it be wood, or gas.

OK, so I decided to try to extract the pot by the handle and had to reheat the mug so it would release from it’s newly bonded surface of the kiln floor. You see, the kiln and the pots at 2400°F are sticky because of the soda glaze that coats everything in its path. I wasn’t able to move the mug because the firing was over and the molten union of mug and firebox floor had already solidified. So I reignited that burner and slowly, carefully reheated the mug. After about 10 minutes, the pot was glowing red (again) and I was able to pry it off the floor. Wow, I was super excited that it seemed to be in one piece despite its fall to the floor from about 15”. When ceramics is fired and at a temp of 2300-2400 degrees, its in a state known as pyroplasticity. I suppose the mug was more like a rubber ball than the dense ceramic object we all know after a pot has cooled. I can’t think of a better way to describe my theory.

After using a steel rod that I use to pull draw rings out of the kiln during the firing, I moved the burner aside and lifted the mug out of the kiln and laid it in a nest of leaves that were nearby, just like you would do if you were doing a rake firing, right? 😁


I covered the hot mug with more leaves and a clay sagger. It smoked quite a bit and then I heard a loud crack and thought to myself that the mug must’ve just popped, being in a thermal “shock”.

Sagger smoking

Sagger smoking

I couldn’t wait to see the mug even though it might be ruined, there was no turning back.

But, by some kind of ceramic miracle, it came out fine, with just a couple of rough spots from its landing on the floor of the kiln.

Balancing Act: The Life and Work Continuum

Michael Kline

It's been a busy year already, and, as often happens during a deadline driven session, the days (and nights) go by too fast and I lose track of the week. Yet, on Sunday, Kyle Carpenter and I loaded his kiln with the pots I've managed to make in the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately, the porcelain I made didn't get decorated and glazed. (Why i didn't get those pots done is probably a good essay in procrastination, waiting to happen)

Most everything else fit and was fired yesterday. Phew! Thank you KYLE!

So today, I'm cleaning up the mess left in the wake of making and glazing, literally and figuratively. Some of these include mopping the floor, cleaning brushes, reviewing my task list, and fulfilling email promises made, and writing about it (here, now).

Waiting for pots from ANY kiln is at first relief that the work is done (for now), then impatience and wanting to see. There's plenty to do to make up for the long days and late nights. My family eagerly wants me back in the fold after my own poor scheduling and over overwrought commitments to my work and ambition. But the life of the artist (and father/husband) isn't tidy. I used to say to folks about self employment, "I love being my own boss, I get to work any 16 hrs a day I want!" But in all honesty, there are many days when I miserably fail at getting the work done, much less 12 x 12, especially at the beginning of a session. But the days coming up on the scheduled firing I'm manic and full of panic and am to aware of time passing, hearing Stacey's grandmother's click chime away the night. 

So I sit here today, wondering, with hindsight, how I continue to find myself in these manic/panic unreasonable deadline sprees. It's clearly not just the wood kiln, because the deadline of firing KC's salt kiln produced the same old routine, even though there wasn't wood to cut and a huge pile of shelves to clean. I work best in a panic. But panic is an addiction, a rush, an influence under which I theorize/fantasize is the only condition that truly good creative work can be done. But putting myself and my family and friends under that kind of pressure is not sustainable and unhealthy. And I feel doesn't allow one's work to develop for the long haul. 

There's clearly something going on that I have to address to avoid future panic. There's much work  to be done, debugging of bad routines and  clearing the mental  impasses and clutter.  (Oh, clutter.)
Writing helps and I'm grateful for this blog to give me a kind of outlet. Thanks for letting me dump thoughts on you here. 

And making good pots helps, too.  So, "without further ado", I'm off to clean up the latest train wreck for hopefully the last time.


Michael Kline

While adjunct potter, John Simmons is stoking up the kiln, I'm taking some downtime and downloaded a bunch of pictures from the last couple of days deco-rotation highlights. But I wanted to quickly share with you new strategy I'm employing in this firing, soda ash rocks!

I'm not sure what to call these things, but Emily Murphy uses them to salt (soda) her kiln. But basically they're a mixture of soda ash, baking soda, and whiting (calcium carb) which is mixed with lots of sawdust (but no dirt). Here's a link that explains the whole deal. Check it out.

Ironically I've been having trouble getting good sodium penetration in the upper part of the kiln. Hopefully these will take the place of salt cups that I've used in the past.
Here is a contextural shot showing the balls in place.

I'll try to get around to posting more deco highlights on the cooling days as well as some before and after! Follow the firing on my twitter feed, where I will make updates throughout the day.


Backstory: 34, The Firing

Michael Kline

the stack for #34

As I gather my thoughts about the events surrounding the loading and firing of the kiln, my first thought is that you wouldn't believe me if I told you. But I guess I've decided to try to tell, anyway. Since I took a bunch of pictures of all of the calm moments, but none of the near disastrous ones, you'll just have to give me the benefit of the doubt. OK?

Tim Ayers came down from Penland to help me glaze my pots and eventually load the kiln. Tim and I worked steadily, mixing glazes and dipping pots. But I must have been in la-la-land to think we could glaze all 300 pots (usually a long days work anyway) and load the kiln (usually a ten hour job) in time for me to get a few hours sleep before starting the firing early Sunday morning! It just didn't add up, but we carried on. [Maybe this is a clue as to why I didn't make it in engineering school so many years ago??!! But, wait, this is simple math! ]

Not to dwell on long ago failures........after a couple of speed bumps during the loading (read: after stopping to glaze more pots) I found my energy lagging as I began the second tier of shelves. It was after supper and I continued to feel a kind of dread. I was thinking at the time that almost every step of the way during the past week had resulted in some minor disaster due to my poor planning. My resolve to work at all hours was getting me only so far and time was crunching down on me.

Then out of nowhere, the storm hit. My kiln shed is pretty big, but it doesn't have siding and it completely open to the weather. When the rain comes down (and horizontal) everything gets wet. And it did that night around 9 p.m. I couldn't cover the pots with tarps, because the wind would gather up the tarps and sling the pots away. I just held on and prayed that the storm would pass quickly. It didn't. Just when things seemed to calm down so I could focus back on the loading, another wave would come through. Very high winds and lashing rain continued. Like sea captain tied to the steerage of his ship, so I seemed tied to the kiln. I stayed on course to get the pots out of the rain and into the kiln!

As I worked through the storm I noticed, and was very grateful, that it was fairly balmy for this time of the year. I should have know what that might mean. shortly after this realization, of course, the thunder and lightning came! So now I'm listening to the "thrash metal band" of trees being bent over by the high winds, tin roofing that covered a wood pile flying away in the dark, and thunderous cracks exploding all around. No one should have been out in that, much less loading a kiln. But being in the state of denial that I was in, I kept telling myself, like the little engine that could, to "keep going, that the storm would pass", etc.

The storm continued for more than an hour and then the next plague: power outage! HA! Of course, just when I thought it couldn't get any worse it did! When any rational, sane person would seek shelter and say the hell with it, I thought in my own seemingly rational way, ..."well, let's see, I can get a flashlight, headlamp, kerosene lamp, etc" So I did. I retooled to finish my job.

The volunteer firemen had the road blocked down below with a powerline down from a fallen tree and the only lights were the flashing reds and my florescent battery powered lamp I was using to load my kiln. Eventually, the rains slowed and the winds moved on to terrorize the next county over. Eventually the firemen got curious to know what was happening with the back and forth moving light up on the hill. They drove up my road thinking they was some kind of arcing power line or something, but they just found a half crazed potter trying to load his kiln. What a strange sight that must have been, to walk up to this dark shed with this big shadowy hulk of a kiln and chimney and a funny looking soaking-wet guy with a hand held lamp going in and out of said kiln! I tried to explain my dire predicament. What part of deadline and loading a pottery kiln did they not understand?! Ha! They were glad that everything was "OK" and chuckled as they walked back to their truck with their flashlights. I got the kiln loaded eventually by about 2 a.m. The power company brought their cherry picker to fix the line and I sadly watched as they drove on down the road, but still no power. Damn. I guess there were more lines down. So I decided to rest a bit and wait until the power came back on to put the door up. It came back on around 4 a.m. and I woke up and went to work on bricking up the door. The door bricks are in pretty bad shape and I made a firm note to replace the bricks before next firing. Also I noticed the door of the kiln is spreading a bit. So the picture below shows how much chinking I needed to fill the gap!

After making this epic confession of poor planning and bad luck, I'll try to keep the rest brief and leave it to the captions. After all, I have a kiln to unload today!

this is how it all starts

balmy sunrise through the pines after the storm

like a dog soaked to the bone, my shed

my clay pit flooded with about three feet of water.
proof of the big rain!

later that afternoon the weather had another surprise, sleet

Lindsay Rogers stoking, notice the smile on her face and the
snow/sleet on the ground?

Lillian tooling up for her stoke!

staying warm by the kiln

Salt! Success!

I realized that our damp stack of wood was disappearing and that we needed maybe another half hour of stoking to get the temp we needed. So I used my "phone a friend/lifeline" and called Courtney and John up the road to take them up on their offer of dry wood. Courtney's kiln is just 0.8 mile up the road and it has the same firebox length, so the wood is the perfect length for my kiln, too! We barely used half of what they brought and got the kiln even all around thanks to Lindsay's great stoking. The Snow Creek Pottery Posse rides again! Thanks Lindsay, Thanks Courtney!!

By 11 p.m. the epic firing was over, and as all potters must hope in a moment like this, when all has been done that can be done, I hoped for a good firing.

Check back (if you have the time) to see pictures from the kiln!!!

If you're still reading, thanks for indulging me to recount this crazy epic.


Michael Kline

Since the Potter's Conference in Asheboro last weekend, I've been scrambling to get things done in time for #34 on the 20th! I've been blessed with warm weather and a absence of the usual precipitation. The wood, still frozen or otherwise damp, has been slowly thawed, cut, dried, and stacked. The pots that still need to be made are knocking louder and louder on my imagination's door. Details surrounding the loading and firing are being attended to. During this mad dash, I've had the hardest time sitting down in front of the Mac to relate all of my day to day thoughts and concerns. How does blogging fit into my work flow when there is so much to do?


For now Twitter seems to be an easy way to check in with y'all using SMS via my cell phone. You can follow me on the Twitter sidebar to the right or go here.

Please accept my apologies for the rather slack proceedings here at S & D. I hope everyone is doing well. Bye for now!

Thoughts and Highlights

Michael Kline

The kiln the afternoon of the firing.
As you can see, the kiln is in need of some serious maintainence!
That will have to happen before the next firing.
More about that to come after we open the kiln and get an assessment of the latest cracks.

It became a cold wet day. A chill to the bone for most but for those around the kiln it was just fine. No better place to be on such a day.

wood adjustment station
While not counting our chickens before they hatch, the firing seemed to go as usual except for a couple of snaffoos. The big one was the wood being cut a little long! doh! So I set up a table and a jig to cut the wood to the correct length while Alan kept up the stoking.

Another potential problem was the grate system. Before I start to load the kiln I always check the iron grates (3" schedule 40 black pipe) with the slam of my square edged shovel. This usually gives me an idea how solid they are. They all seemed fine when I did this, but about halfway through the firing, they started breaking in half. The snaffoo on my part was not having any back up grates. I usually have a few around for this very need. So we just kept stoking! I adjusted the dampers and primary air to make up for the stokes laying on top of the coals. It seemed fine! Maybe I can save my $$$ and go without in the future. But I think it worked only because we already had a pretty big pile of coals by that time in the firing. Going without grates in the early part of the firing may not work as well without the coals.

the "golden key" being stoked

Kyle Carpenter came by to visit the potters of Snow Creek Road on the big firing day! As an honorary fireman, we gave him the key to the kiln. And he stoked it! All the while he was brandishing his new DSLR. I was hoping to distract him enough that he might forget it and leave it behind, but no such luck.

Here's Alan (aka the big cheese) Gratz pulling a salt ring at the end of the long day.

Evelyn came up for a visit and did some reading from her new set of books. I think she decided to read her "Dragonology " book for the firing! After shivering and wimpering about the damp cold and wind, we set her up next to the chimney. Since there's no insulation around the bricks it's a pretty cozy place to be.

Here is a pot I'm hoping to see throught he spy. It's at the top of the kiln. I placed glass on all four handles that I saw slumping onto the pot around 1500°F. It was pretty cool. Then it started to run around 2000°F.

And now I sit here and wait it out. I'm about to head out to run a bunch of errands. But before that I'll walk up to kiln again and check the pyrometer and maybe pull the dampers out. Maybe I can get a snapshot through the spy bricks. If I only had that hi temp camera that I could lower into the kiln to get some sneak peeks!

Parting Shot

Michael Kline

As I walked away from the kiln tonight I was thinking how grateful I am to the help I always need to fire the kiln. Alan Gratz helped out all day despite some serious publishing deadlines he's working towards. Alan spends most of time crafting great stories for young adults and has recently published "The Brooklyn Nine".

He really loves to burn wood and has an intuition and focus that is unmatched. Here's to you Alan for all your hard work today!! I (and all of the pots) thank you!

I'm going to review the day and share some pictures tomorrow, but for now it's time to get some sleep. Something that has been a stranger to me lately.


Michael Kline

one of the great satisfactions of loading the jigsaw pieces of a kiln load
is the orderliness of the stack:
a sort of re-centering of the pots after
the shuffling of decorating and glazing.

What a week! What a month!

It's been quite a roller coaster ride this time around and I've taken the last few days to regain a foothold on the life. The kiln cools as I grab the domestic baton that Stacey has handed to me as she teaches at Arrowmont this week. I've traded a hectic life of pottery for the hectic life of Mr. Mom! It's been interesting to say the least. For the last 2 and a half weeks the girls haven't seen much of me and now I'm all they have here at the homestead. We're all holding on to each other as if we're on some sort of life boat waiting for Stacey to return on Saturday! Well, it's not that bad, I'm being a little melodramatic. But we do miss her!!

There's much to tell you about, but I'm afraid that so much will be swept away with the unloading of the kiln tomorrow and the events of the next few days, which I will have no choice but to give more attention to because they will be front and center in this potter's life. I do hope I can look back and write about last weekend's loading and firing of the kiln. Maybe I can weave in some before and after pictures with tales of the perils and the ecstasy of long hours, hard work, and the help of friends and family.


Michael Kline

Just briefly, for now, is the news that we had a big day firing the kiln yesterday, #31. It's also been an exhaustive week preparing for the firing and my show at the Washington Street Gallery with Dan Finnegan! It's Dan and I's first show together. I am getting some much needed rest at the home today and am gathering some images from the last week to share with you a bit later today. So stop back by later today! Thanks.

Days End, Potters Rest

Michael Kline

a photo montage of the early morning shift of me, myself, and I.
about 4 a.m.

I'm about too tired to blog, but I wanted to get these out there for ya before I hit the sack. Firing # 30 was a good one, so far. Only time will tell the story of what happened today. With fantastic help from neighbor Alan Gratz, and Stacey's early morning help, the kiln fired off in almost record time. Alan and I decided that it would be best to "soak" the kiln at the end for about an hour and it payed off with all identical cones all around! We used about 20 lbs of salt and it took about 14.5 hrs. Alan shot a bunch of video which he no doubt will upload soon. I'll let you know. In the meanwhile check out Alan's blog that he writes with his wife, Wendi, here.

flame from one of the blow holes

Alan putting the wood to the fire

I couldn't help but mention our "sponsor"

two live crew

Gratz Industries Stokes Like A Natural

Michael Kline

As far as I know Alan Gratz hasn't fired a wood kiln, but you wouldn't know it by the deft stoking he has demonstrated in just a short time. He is allowing me to take a little break, have some quick noodles and finish up on time for Stacey's Montessori board meeting at 7. (fingers crossed!)
Alan brought his video camera and no doubt be doing some blogging of his own. Those of you all who have been reading for a while might remember Alan from the infamous ditch digging we did back in December. Pictures and video will follow.

The last two hours have been tricky as the bottom of the kiln has raced ahead of the top. Exactly the opposite from my usual strategy. I have been tweeking dampers, passive dampers, stoking intervals, wood size, you name it. It's a damp/rainy day and I'm a little concerned about reduction with those copper glazes in there.

I left Alan with about 2100ºF and I will take my mini lunch break and get bak up there shortly. I have some chinking to do and general stoke door maintenance. More later.

Not Webcam

Michael Kline

...but the quality of this photo taken with my Centro is probably comparable.

The eight o'clock shift is reporting in with about 900*F. We're probably not going to fire as fast as Brandon Phillips, so don't look for us to be done in a couple of hours. We usually go for about 14-18 hours. I'll try to give you all an update from time to time when there is something worth noting. Oh,
Gotta stoke!