One very popular way to fire pottery is raku firing. You may have heard of it, or have been curious about it. You might have even wondered how in the world you do it. If you’ve ever been curious about raku pottery and raku firing, then you’re in luck. This post will discuss all that it is, the history, and also some important techniques and actions that you can learn from this.
So what is it?
Raku pottery is the pottery that’s fired raku style. This is a process where the pottery is fired low, and it’s inspired by traditional raku firing. In the western style, it involves taking the pottery out of the kiln while it’s got the red heat to it, and from there, putting it in a container with burnable materials. You let the materials ignite, and from there, you close the container. This creates a super reduction atmosphere, which can affect the glaze colors when doing this. It can also create cracking or crackling, but in this, it’s actually deliberate, not something on accident. It’s originally from Buddhist influences, and it is used in tea ceremony products as well.
This type of firing has three main factors to remember, which are:
- Fired low
- Reduction atmosphere
- Strange colors, glazes
If you know this, then you’re well on your way to fully understanding the raku process.
What’s the history behind it?
This is actually not that old of a process. Despite it being an ancient Japanese e style, it dates only to about the 1550s in terms of when it began, and it was typically used by Zen Buddhist masters when they were making teaware.
There is a reason why this was super popular amongst the Zen Buddhist masters, and why other methods weren’t favorited compared to this, and they were as follows:
- It touches on the Zen philosophy
- It’s simple
- It’s natural
It’s one of the most natural means to create pottery, and one of the most natural ones that you can make. It’s actually quite simple, as you will find out, and the natural state of this is why it’s super popular amongst people.
Raku firing is another popular one amongst Zen Buddhism because you’re literally firing all of the elements, which are earth, water, fire, and air.
How does this work? Well, let’s break it down:
- The earth makes the pot
- The reduction-chamber kiln reduces air and heats it up
- The cold water is used to stop the process
In a sense, you’re using all of these different means to create a lovely little accident, and it’s quite amazing what you can do with this. The history behind it, and the meaning behind it is quite deep, and it’s one that you will be amazed at, and one that you will enjoy.
Clay Bodies Used
The clay bodies that are used is often a question that people have, especially since it actually can cause different reactions.
The best part is that when you begin this, you can actually use any type of clay. So, if you want to try it with the clay you currently have, that’s great. However, if you want to make sure that you get the best results from this, you should consider getting raku clay, for obvious reasons.
While the clay is aptly named, which means that you’re able to get the results best with this, raku clay has other factors that are important with this:
- It’s got a high thermal shock resistance
- It’s got low shrinkage
This will help prevent it from cracking in ways you don’t want it to crack, which will keep the integrity of the pottery as well.
Now, an even bigger factor that you need to consider is the glazes that you use. You want to make sure that you get a glaze that’s fitting for raku firing. In a way, this is something that you’ll have to figure out on your own if you don’t use glazes specifically for raku firing. You can always do this by making sure that you try this with a piece, and if the glazes end up looking poor, then you know not to use this. However, if you notice that the glazes work for this, then great, you’ll be able to do something with this, and you’ll be able to make the changes as needed when you’re firing.
What about glazes though? It was mentioned
Now, when you’re choosing glazes, you can use glazes specifically for raku pottery. They exist, but if you’re going to use items that you already have in order to begin raku firing, there are a couple of elements that you want to keep in mind. You should make sure that you get low-firing ones. This might seem like a small thing, but a low-firing glaze will stay on the pottery and create the results that you want. You can use ones that you’ve made yourself or ones that you’ve gotten commercially, and you’ll be surprised at the different types of reactions it might get. High-firing ones won’t be affected and they might just end up running off. You should make sure that the cone firing range is anywhere from 010 to 06, or somewhere in that ballpark. You should make sure that your glazes when used for this fit into that category, and if they don’t then it’s best not to use them.
Can I use these for Food?
This is a question that people do wonder about since this was a type of pottery that you use in tea ceremonies, and it’s where the history lays. However, a big thing to remember with this is to use your pieces made with raku for a decorative reason. You could use this for food, but it’s actually not that safe. That’s because of the following:
- They’re fragile
- They’re very porous, so you’ll have food materials stick to it
- Sometimes the glaze glazes in places
That can get into your food, and you should obviously not be eating glaze because it is poisonous. If you do want to create raku pottery, it’s best that they are displayed, and not used for eating.
It also is because it’s a low-firing process. While they are super pretty and they look incredible, they aren’t good for functional ware. Ancient tea ceremonies didn’t use glazes that were laden with harmful chemicals, and chances are, you can probably find a lot of poisons on yours, so it’s best if you make sure that you don’t use it for food reasons, but instead, you use it to actually create amazing decorative pieces that you will be able to enjoy.
What about Special kilns
You might wonder if you need a specific type of kiln. The answer is that if you have a kiln for this, it can actually make things a lot easier. However, there are some experienced raku firers that have used various strange ways to fire these, including:
- A garbage can
- An oil drum
- Even a container that isn’t flammable
You can get a raku kiln, and that’s actually something that is good if you’re beginning with this. why is that? Well, if you have a good starting point you’ll be able to work and master this type of pottery, and it’s important to remember that you do bisque firing first before you can, since it will help to achieve better results.
Now, the cycle of this is actually much faster than the firing you may be used to with normal pottery. Typically, normal pottery involves hours upon hours of different firing speeds, and you need to go at it for a long time to get those exact results. However, with raku, you’ll be able to do this in about 15-20 minutes if you want to really go and try. Sometimes the most experienced can do it in that short of time.
Now, when you raku fire, you need to put the ceramic ware that you’re looking to fire into combustible material. You can use anything from newspaper to sawdust to whatever you have that’s flammable and can burn.
As a word of caution, you should make sure that you have a mask or something on, since you’re working with a bunch of flammable materials, and you may tend to have a lot of smoke created because this so keeps it in mind.
What kinds of reactions do you get
Now, when you first remove the raku ware from the kiln, you’ll probably notice that it’s just red hot. You’re not seeing anything different at this point, and it’s hard to tell. You have to wait for the piece to cool off.
Probably the most distinctive features are as follows:
- Crackled surfaces from the glaze
- A black smoked unglazed clay
- Metallic effects
- Something that looks similar to saggar or obvars firing
It’s actually quite beautiful, and it does create some amazing and different types of pottery that you might like to enjoy. It’s quite remarkable to see, and for some, this is a huge part of it. You’ll be amazed at the difference that this makes, and the nature of it. By firing this type of clay, you’ll be able to provide for you an amazing and unique experience, and something that you’ll definitely love to enjoy, and something that creates an intricate and amazing design.
So now that you know about what it is, let’s discuss how you actually do this type of firing. The next section will go over exactly how you do it.
How to do this: Western Style
Let’s discuss the exact steps necessary to fire Raku pottery. This section will go into the different steps necessary to fire Raku in the western style.
- First, you need to bisque fire the pottery until you harden the clay. It needs to be near cone 08 or so.
- From here, you put the glaze onto the pottery. Make sure it’s a low-temperature one or any that is specific for raku firing.
- Next, you throw it into a raku fire kiln, with a temperature around 1800 degrees or so. You can go about as low as 1650 if you really want to.
- Leave it there for about 15-30 minutes, depending on how long you want the piece to be fired, and what type of state you want it in.
- Leave it for a bit in there, and once done, you take it out and put it into the reduction chamber
- Put a metal can or lid on top of the location where you put the piece.
- You can also put this into a garbage bin that’s not flammable if you really want this.
- You can leave this in there from anywhere from 15 minutes to about 90 or so minutes.
- Make sure with this, you put incombustible items including wood, dried leaves, sawdust, and newspaper.
- One thing to remember is that the different material you put in there creates a different result, so it doesn’t act the same way each time depending on what types of materials you throw in there.
- You can then wait for the fire to take out the rest of the oxygen, and it’ll take out the oxygen from the pottery and the glaze itself.
- In the time after the reduction stage, you’ll be able to pull it out and see the different designs of this. The reason why they’re so varied is that they’re unpredictable in terms of the different levels of pottery that you have in there, and the combustible materials necessary.
- You may not notice the patterns right away, but in the next step, you will. You put the piece in cold water to let it cool off.
- Use a clean brush or abrasive material to get rid of the ash that’s on there.
- From there, let it sit, and then keep it out as a decorative piece once it’s fully done. Congrats, you’ve made raku pottery!
You don’t even have to fully remove all of the soot or ash from the pottery as well. one common thing that people like to do with the western form of pottery is to keep it on because you’re getting a unique and brilliant design that you’ll be able to enjoy, and one that you’ll be able to manipulate for amazing results as well.
The biggest thing that you should remember with this, is that it’s unpredictable, which makes it exciting. You’re literally playing with fire in this type of process, and it’s important to make sure that you do have a good idea of what you’re going to make from this.
What about eastern style? Well, eastern-style firing is slightly different. In short, you do the following:
- Put our pieces into a kiln that’s cold
- Heat the kiln rapidly
- Fire in short 15-20 minute cycles
- You can fire for a bit longer, but you don’t have to
- You rapidly cool the piece in the open air at this point
- You then drench it in water to finally cool it
In western firing has a post-firing reduction, but eastern firing is much faster, and it does create more shock.
Now, the eastern firing is similar to obvara firing, which is where yeast, water, and flour are mixed together before the work is fired. When it’s taken out of the kiln, you dunk the piece into the yeast mixture, and then put it into the water. This, in turn, will give an interesting surface that looks more burnt.
You can do the traditional eastern firing if you want, and it does create less of a reduction. However, you need to work faster with this and dunk it n cold water as well when you do try to use this.
Remember, with Raku, you’re literally playing with fire. Lots of times, people who do this don’t realize this, and they end up getting badly hurt. You need to make sure that you’re not out there wearing anything that’s combustible, such as various dust masks, nylon items, jogging outfits, open-toed shoes, or even pants that uncover anything. often, you should make sure that you have a fire extinguisher, and any way to make sure that you can put out the fire nearby because remember, fire is unpredictable. Firing is often not as predictable as people think, especially in this style. Practicing safe raku firing is essential, and if you’re going to do this, you have to protect yourself.
Fire is powerful, and for many people, they don’t even know what it can do to you. but let’s highlight everything that the fire can burn or ignite:
- Mucous membranes
- Any sort of surface on the skin
And the scariest part of this is, that damage can be super permanent, which is often what’s scary about this. People don’t realize that hey, you can burn yourself permanently, and you can catch on fire with this.
Well, luckily we can highlight some of the important safety tips for you to take on, and they are as follows:
- Protect your entire face, mucous membranes, and lungs: if you’re going to do this, it isn’t just the eyes, or the hair, that you need to protect, it’s everything. You should make sure that you get a respirator cartridge, one that has the same codes as the welder’s masks and respirators do. The cartridges will keep the smoke out of there. You should make sure that you keep your face away from the fumes, especially if you don’t want that near your eyes.
- Keep all of your clothes cotton: make sure you’re not wearing anything synthetic. This will cause it to go up in flames.
- Wear split hilde jackets: this can also help with fire protection. Some like to wear full-hilde, and while that does limit your personal movement since they go down to the shins, if you’re going to be reaching into the kiln a lot, this can protect you.
- Get the right gloves: you need different gloves for different tasks. You should get ones for different temperatures, and a fiber mit to help lift things.
- Boots: boots should be more leather than plastic. You may not know this, but boots can burst into flames, so definitely be careful.
- Lung protection: if you’re fuming, keep your lungs away from there. This is especially important that you’re not there without any sort of protection, especially about a 30-foot circumference from it. If you breathe this in, you can get bronchitis, but let’s also talk about the chemicals that are in this, such as ferric chloride, copper sulfate, ammonium chloride, and other caustic gases. This can burn the following areas: your sinuses, esophagus, throat, and lungs. This can result in permanent damage.
- Fire extinguisher: this should go without saying, but lots of times, people forget to keep a fire extinguisher on hand. This is how you can save a life though, and it’s super important to ensure that you’ve got something to take the fire out. The last thing that you want is to be there, catch on fire, and then you end up having no means to put this out. It’s a scary thing to be on fire, but if you have the right tools, you can save a life, and it can make the experience better.
Raku is a bit scary for those starting out, and ideally, you should do this with people that know what they’re doing. It’s best to learn something like this from a professional so that you’re not getting burned, and have others around with the same safety precautions that are there. but, raku firing creates amazing and beautiful pieces, and it’s such a unique means to actually do this, that you’ll be amazed at the different pieces that you can make, and all of the cool elements that you’ll be able to create. It’s a process and a fun one that you can indulge in too.