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Joss Hibbs and the Kigbeare Kiln Project

Joss Hibbs and the Kigbeare Kiln Project

At the end of July, I had the privilege of being part of the last firing of Svend Bayer's kiln at Duckpool Pottery, north of Okehampton. I was introduced to Svend by Nic Collins (who was the resident potter at Powdermills before me) in 1997 and have enjoyed joining the stoking team for his firings, on and off, ever since. Both Nic and Svend have been big influences on my pottery life and this trend looks set to continue.

This particular firing of Svend's was a milestone firing because, afterwards, his kiln is being dismantled. A new era is about to begin - for both of us ... and for others.

During late summer 2016, Svend is generously gathering three potters who have been part of his crewing team over the years, to build a kiln together, fill it with pots and share the labour of long wood-firings. A natural consequence of this will be that he passes on experience accrued over decades of working with anagama-type kilns. And I am one of those lucky potters, along with Deborah Mitchell and Brigitte Colleaux. I can not tell you how excited I am about such a fabulous opportunity to work so closely with one of the nation's best!

Regular readers my blog will know that days-long wood-firings have been at the centre of what I came to Dartmoor to do. Such a labour-intensive way of working has been a challenge whilst growing Powdermills Pottery and a family, prompting me recently to investigate firing with gas and salt. Gas firings, however, are a symptom of working with my Head, rather than my Heart.

Being part of Svend's share-kiln project allows me to continue to follow my Heart, whilst removing all of the stress of working alone (replacing it with the stress of working in a team!) and the 'event management' of finding crew willing to work with you for days and nights, seeking accommodation and food in return for their generosity of time and effort.

The kiln is to be built at Kigbeare Studios, with the support of the Arts Council. If you would like to follow progress, keep an eye on this page of the Powdermills Pottery website, where I will post updates as the project progresses. It's going to be an exciting project and I hope you will come along with me for the ride!




Building Kiln Formers

Building Kiln Formers

It was a productive day at Kigbeare: Svend gathered some of the Kiln Project team, Rebecca, Me, Bjorn and Pete, along with sheets of chipboard and lengths of 3"x2" to begin the task of making formers for the kiln-build.

There has been much discussion about kiln-design in recent weeks and the final decision is centred on an anagama-type 'tube'. To build it, the team needed to make ten identical wooden catenary arch formers to Svend's dimensions.

We were working to the accuracy of 2/16th of an inch and so the discovery that one of the rulars being used to measure dimensions had inches divided into tenths rather than sixteenths caused much hilarity and mirth throughout the day. (We suspect it is an American rular, where a 'metric' inch is the norm).

Today's cold and strong wind was a reminder that we are beginning the kiln-build as we head into the colder months.



Wood Pile Preparations

Wood Pile Preparations

With the groundwork well underway and the imminent arrival of the kiln-shed parts for erection, plans are being made for building the kiln. However, before the first brick goes in the ground, one of the most important parts of getting ready for the first firing is having the fuel prepared.

There will need to be stacks of sufficient quantities of dry, seasoned and split wood ready to go and supplies in place to immediately replace them for firing number 2. Work was underway yesterday, sorting through wood that is already on site at Kigbeare and preparing for a delivery of 6 foot rounds.

I think we all have arms that are 3ft longer today!



Groundworks Are Nearly Done

Groundworks Are Nearly Done

Yesterday, the shop at Powdermills was closed: I hot-footed it over to Kigbeare for the next day of work. We're inching our way towards the kiln-building stage of this project. The weather has been very kind, allowing the diggers to work on the site without it reducing everything to a quagmire. It was great to see all the work Colin has completed.

Preparation of the area where the kiln shed is to be built, including the footprint where the kiln will go up, has progressed markedly. It's exciting to see how a sketch on a piece of A4 paper is translated onto the ground.

The footings to support the six uprights of the kiln shed have been dug, concrete poured in. the whole site has been dovered with a membrane and a 6inch layer of gravel added on top and tampered down. Around the perimeter, ditches have been dug and filled with gravel to aid drainage - excess water will be piped away. In the middle, the footprint for the kiln itself has been dug and gravel added. There will be a sand layer on top, too, but that will be added once the kiln shed is up and the sand can be kept dry.

All of this work aims to achieve three things: drain the site so that it is kind to reaching high kiln-temperatures of around 1350c without having to burn-off moisture in the ground, create the solid footings onto which the kiln shed will be built and, most excitedly, prepare the area where the kiln itself will be built.

Things are moving on...



Groundworks Meeting

Groundworks Meeting

A meeting was held on site in early September at Kigbeare to discuss how the ground should be prepared for the erection of the kiln shed and kiln. Svend brought his plans to be considered by Colin and Tim: Colin's in charge of preparing the ground on which the kiln will be built, and Tim has designed the kiln shed to go over it: Phil of Kigbeare Studios is kiln-site preparation project manager!

Whilst standing on site in a huddle, there was lots of pointing at imaginary shed uprights, waving hands over the spot on which the kiln will be built and general manly chat. Discussions then moved indoors to consider timescales, cost estimates and planning permissions, together with the types of hardcore that will compact well and sand that will withstand temperature.

And the conclusion was:

The kiln will be built on a rectangle of ground 21ft long and 10ft wide. This rectangle will be dug out 6ft deep at the front, sloping to 4ft deep at the back. Onto this sloped floor will be added 2ft of compacted hardcore with 1ft of sand added on top. The kiln will be built onto this base, nestling into the remaining depth.

Around this trench, drainage ditches will be dug on all four sides. To successfully keep the base of the kiln-trench dry, they will need to be dug a little deeper than the kiln base itself and any collecting rainwater piped away.

The shed will have a steel frame set on concrete pads with a roof of poly-painted tin sheet. It will be big enough to cover wood stacks alongside the kiln and for the firing crew to work when stoking.

It's looking like the site will be prepared and the shed up in time for kiln-building from mid-October. However,there's plenty of things for the potters to be getting on with while all this groundwork activity is underway - kiln bricks and wood to move on site, plus the wooden kiln-formers to make.

So, it's all systems go! Watch this space for the next episode....



Virgin Turf - the site for the new Kigbeare Kiln

Virgin Turf - the site for the new Kigbeare Kiln

Kigbeare Studios and Gallery is found at the end of a long lane at Southcott, outside Okehampton on the edge of Devon's Dartmoor in the UK. The grounds around the craft studios are mainly wooded, with some grassed clearings. It is a corner of one of these clearings that has been ear-marked as the kiln site for the Kigbeare Kiln Project.

When choosing a site for a cross-draft, wood-fired kiln, any potter will tell you that there is no such thing as the Ideal Kiln Site - it's simply a case of working with whatever ground is available and affordable. Every site will have pros and cons to consider before building starts.

The site at Kigbeare has a lot going for it: there's a good amount of space available for the footprint of the kiln and wood-stacks, to be covered by an open shed; the access for large wood deliveries is thought to be good (trucks have delivered to the site before); the land gently slopes, which should help with water run-off.

Issues with the site which have been foreseen include the depth of topsoil, which will need to be dug away in order to reach something firmer on which to build. And, once the kiln footprint is dug out, a drain will need to be dug with hardcore put down to ensure good drainage.

So, here it is, virgin turf - like a wrapped present, full of anticipation of wonderful things to come. Through this page, we will take you with us every step of the way....



Lighting Up the West country - Regional Press Release

Lighting Up the West country - Regional Press Release

Thanks to the Arts Council, an internationally significant pottery project is taking place on the edge of Dartmoor later this summer. If you enjoyed the Pottery Throw-Down, this will give you a real insight into the world of wood fired pottery - specifically, into the world of one of the nation's premier league potters, Svend Bayer.

As an apprentice to the great Michael Cardew at Wenford Bridge Pottery on the edge of Bodmin Moor, and a thrower at Brannam Pottery near Barnstaple, Svend has long been involved in the West Country's tradition of pottery. In the mid '70's, he established his own pottery at Sheepwash in mid-Devon, where he has gone on to become internationally acclaimed, with work in major collections worldwide.

Svend will be sharing years of accumulated knowledge of how to build, pack and fire a wood-fired kiln - which in itself will be a work of art - with an initial group of chosen potters from Devon and Cornwall. The kiln will be built at Kigbeare Studios new Okehampton, on the edge of Dartmoor.

The project is designed to reach current and future generations of potters and teach them how to design, build and fire a wood fired kiln that is manageable, economic to fire and as environmentally friendly as possible.

There are now no formal opportunities anywhere in the UK to learn and develop practical knowledge and skills around wood firing, following the closure and continuing decline in higher educations courses teaching ceramics in the UK.

Extending beyond the group he is teaching in person, every step will be shared through the use of social media with students of wood-firing all over the world. Photography and video footage will show in detail the entire process from start to first and subsequent firings, and local schools, colleges and potters' groups will be invited to special Open Days and Exhibitions as it progresses.

If you would like to follow this project, find Kigbeare Kiln Project on Facebook: join the group learning about the world of wood-fired pottery by hitting the 'Like' button, and watch the West Country blaze the trail as Svend Bayer and the Kigbeare Kiln put Devon on the global potters' map.



Svend Bayer Brain Drain - Ceramic Specialist Press Release

Svend Bayer Brain Drain - Ceramic Specialist Press Release

Svend Bayer is leading an exciting kiln-centred project, funded in part by the Arts Council, at Kigbeare Studios in Devon, with the aim of passing on his knowledge of kiln-design, kiln-building technique and firing methods.

"This kiln has been gestating quietly for more years than I care to remember" commented Svend, who went on to explain that the Kigbeare Kiln Project grew from his desire to 'give something back' to the pottery community, and to the many people who helped him along the way.

"It is crazy that we wood firers' work in such isolation, each with our own individual kiln, each of us trying to reinvent the wheel by ourselves" continued Svend. "The idea of a share kiln would not go away, and I now have the opportunity to create a workable solution born out of centuries of experience in the Far East'.

Svend will be working side-by-side with a small team of potters, who will in turn, once they have drained Svend's brain, teach other potters the skills they have learned under the guiding hand of a master potter and kiln builder.

Svend aims to share his knowledge beyond the initial small group working directly with him. A blog on the project's Facebook page will detail each step as this patch of ground is transformed into a climbing kiln and ultimately fired, giving new generations of wood firing potters worldwide, valuable, as-it-happens, information.

The project is designed to reach current and future generations of potters and teach them how to design, build and fire a wood fired kiln that is manageable, economic to fire and as environmentally friendly as possible.

If you would like to follow each step in the project, with detailed explanations, photos and video footage, wherever you are in the world, go to Kigbeare Kiln Project on Facebook: join the group and start the knowledge transfer by hitting the 'Like' button.

The Kigbeare Kiln Project Facebook page will also offer Q&A sessions, give details of future Open Days and invite you to Exhibitions as the project progresses. Once built, the kiln will provide an accessible communal facility to UK based wood firing potters, where labour and running costs can be shared, enabling more potters to wood fire.

There are now no formal opportunities anywhere in the UK to learn and develop practical knowledge and skills around wood firing, following the closure and continuing decline in higher educations courses teaching ceramics in the UK.

Come and join in.