How to Pit Fire Pottery Clay Without a Kiln

How to pit fire pottery without a kiln

How to Pit Fire Pottery

How to Pit Fire Pottery

In the previous posting, I covered digging up and making your own clay.  By now, you are probably wondering what to do with all the things that you have made with your homemade clay.  The answer is you could either let your pieces air dry and call them finished, or you could learn how to pit fire pottery so they will last generations, possibly to be dug up aeons later by some lucky person.  A pit fire is the oldest known method of firing your pottery, dating back to 29,000 BC.  It works as a kiln using a hole in the ground as insulation and fuel to reach temperatures around 2000 degrees farenheit.

If you chose to pit fire, there are a few things to consider before learning how to pit fire pottery, since it involves an open fire.  Is it safe or legal for you to do this in the location that you have chosen?  If you are unsure please check with you local authorities to confirm, that it is in fact legal.   Also, remember to use all safety precautions when dealing with fire.  In other words find a suitable location and don’t burn down your house and don’t get burned. Pun intended! My back yard is not big enough, so I choose to pit fire at the beach or desert.

Pit firing can be a fun a rewarding activity for everyone.  It may take some practice to get the results that you want, but it is easily achievable with very little tools.  Hopefully by the end of your project, you will have made some amazing creations by digging you own clay and pit firing.

Tools you will need:

  • Shovel
  • Matches
  • Newspaper
  • Fuel for the fire (dry leaves and twigs, coal, sawdust or manure)

 

1.  The first step is to find the location.  A fun easy location would be a fire ring at the beach.  It will not only be fun, but you will be able to sleep at night knowing that you have not started a forest fire or burned down your neighbors house.  A location with a fire ring is the only location I would recommend since fires can easily get out of control, especially in this dry heat.

 2. The next step would be to dig a pit large enough to to put your pieces in including combustibles like sawdust paper and leaves.   A good place to start with would be to dig a pit about 2 feet in diameter with sloping sides and about 18 inches.  Be sure to keep away from any bushes, trees and grasses.

 3.  In the bottom of the pit you will need to build a layer of 3 to 4 inches of combustible material.  You can use anything from dry leaves and twigs, coal, sawdust or manure, which will all burn slowly.   Whatever you decide to use cover the entire bottom of the pit with an even layer.

 4.  Place your pottery or pieces on top of the combustibles on the bottom of the pit leaving an inch between each piece.

 5. Next you will need to cover your pieces with more of the leaves, twigs, manure or whatever you are using, building up a mound.  Be careful not to break or crack your pieces since they are still very fragile.

 6.  Make sure to use all safety precautions with this step.  Light the mound.  You may need to add twisted newspaper to the sides of the mound to get it to ignite.  After the mound is burning, let it burn until the flames die down and the fire is reduced to a smoulder.   You can then let the fire smoulder for several hours.

 7.   After several hours of smouldering you can then bury the pit with dirt or sand.  This will reduce the oxygen in the pit creating a reducing atmosphere giving the finished pieces more color and variation.

 8.  At this point, you can leave the pit until the next day.  Plus, you are probably tired by now.

 9. The next morning carefully dig up your pieces, but be careful they still may be hot.  If you chose the beach don’t worry just dig them up a few hours later.  You will need to start earlier so you don’t have to leave before the beach is closed.

 10.  The final step and the most fun.  Clean your pieces under running tap water and use a  scrub brush to remove any debris.

 

  1. Amy Reply

    This is a great article thank you! Will have to try this out sometime.

  2. Eric Cervantes Reply

    Ahhh pit firings, those were the days! Loved hitting construction sites in the middle of the night to get scrap wood for fuel….

    Thanks for bringing back a good memory!

  3. Danielle Lucier Reply

    How do you treat the pottery beforehand? Does it require glazing afterwards or is it safe to eat off of? Is it already bisqued when you do this?

    • david Reply

      Danielle, there is nothing you need to do to pit fire your pottery. Just be sure that your work is bone dry and not too thick. As far as food safe, it would not be considered food safe by US standards, because it will be porous, which could harbor bacteria; however, the natives used vessels such as this for cooking all the time. So you can decide. Also you clay body should be free of contaminants such as lead. If you are unsure you can get a lead test kit online. Best of luck!

  4. Caleb Reply

    I have wanted to do this for a year and I finally am! I started living on a sailboat and the beach near the marina has huge clay cliffs. I got clay and properly saturated and strained it. Today I made a pipe and am looking forward to firing it on the beach! Cheers!

  5. Mary Reply

    Thank you for this. I was visiting my family farm in southern Ohio last week and remembered all the pockets of blue/gray clay. Your article is the clearest I’ve encountered. Thank you so much.

Leave a Reply

*

captcha *

Ball Clay Studio and Art Supply located at 4851 York Blvd , Los Angeles , California . Reviewed by 89 Ceramic Artists rated: 5 / 5