If you’re a beginning potter, you’ve likely noticed that some of the equipment you need to get started is a bit pricey. But, of course, there are ways to get started in pottery without having to buy every single item you need. For people who have wondered if you can make pottery at home without a kiln, the answer is a surprising “yes.”
Naturally, you’ll need several accessories in addition to your equipment to create your pottery masterpiece, but the good news is that you can get started without a lot of money if you know how to do it.
In addition, many of the accessories you need are a great convenience because they help you shape and create the item you’re making so that it is much easier for you in the end. You can also use different types of clay, offering various advantages and better accommodating specific projects.
Can You Make Pottery without a Kiln?
As mentioned earlier, you can indeed make pottery without a kiln. There are several ways to do this. People used to build bonfires outdoors and “cook” their pottery over the open flame, but let’s face it, that’s a little complex and impractical for many people.
A second method is to use your regular oven, but keep in mind that your oven cannot get nearly as hot as a kiln does. You’ll have to either use air-dry clay or choose a type of clay that can be fired at low temperatures.
There is also pit firing, which involves digging a hole or pit in the ground and starting a fire to cook your pottery pieces. You can use this method to make unglazed pottery with a very natural look or to make glazed unsheathed items.
It might sound complicated, but it really isn’t. Know that the more you do it, the better you get at it because you’ll see the results and be able to tell where you have to tweak it the next time you make that particular piece.
How to Make Pottery at Home Without a Kiln
You can now see that making pottery at home and not using a kiln is undoubtedly an option whether you’re a beginner in pottery or an old pro at it. The first thing you’ll want to keep in mind is that safety should always come first.
There’s no such thing as being too careful when dealing with ovens and very high firing temperatures. So for the 3 methods listed below, follow each step to the letter to make double-sure you are safe at all times.
1. Making Pottery with an Outdoor Pit
If you choose the outdoor fire pit method, keep in mind that you’ll need a large area 50 feet across, plus nothing that might catch on fire within that location, including weeds or grass. You’ll also want to have a lot of water close by in case something goes wrong with the fire.
Take a large bucket or two and put water in it, or place the water in a large spray bottle with some type of nozzle. Make sure it is close in case the fire gets out of hand.
How to Use Pit Firing
Before you do these things, check the laws where you live and ensure that this type of fire is legal. If you’re not sure, call the fire department, and they’ll be able to give you the correct answer. Most of the time, you’ll need a permit in this situation. In any case, heres how for start your fire pit:
- Dig a Large Hole: You’ll want the hole to be big enough to fit all of your pottery pieces. However, try not to make it any bigger than necessary so you don’t run out of wood.
- Start Your Fire: At first, make the fire small, and use dry wood, small branches or twigs, or anything else available to you. This fire is there to ensure the ground is dry so that moisture doesn’t cause problems later in the process.
- Put Your Pottery Close to the Fire: You’ll want your pottery close to the fire but not inside, at least not yet. Why? Because it’s best if the pots warm up slowly, do this for about an hour. Then, about 30 minutes in, turn the pots halfway, so they get nice and warm on all sides.
- Rake out the Coals in the Fire: Eventually, your fire is going to be nothing but coals. When this happens, rake out the area evenly but make a bare spot in the middle. Then, put your pots in that middle section and let them remain there for 30 more minutes. Then cover your pots with additional wood so you create a big bonfire.
- Let the Pots Remain in There Until They’re Done: You might think it’ll be difficult to tell when your pots are done, but that’s not true because all you have to do is look at the color of the clay. For instance, red indicates a temperature of around 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit; yellow indicates it’s about 2,190 degrees, and once it gets white, it means the clay has reached a temperature above 2,370 degrees.
Once your fire burns out, you can recover your pottery pieces. Remember that the “warming up” phase is crucial because if you place the pottery into the fire too soon, it will likely crack.
Check out this great video on how to pit fire pottery at home by Ben Shane.
2. Making Pottery Using a Raku Fire
Finally, the third way to make pottery without a kiln is to use a raku fire. The name sounds odd to some people, and this method can be hard to perfect. Nevertheless, it’s a very efficient method that works.
However, it takes a while to set it up correctly, partly because if the area isn’t large enough or well-ventilated, it can create a toxic fire. It also requires a biscuit fire, or a bisque, which allows the glaze to fuse to the pottery pieces.
How to Use Raku
Bisque firing is a prolonged process, and it starts with having a pit that is just right for the task. You’ll also need a barrel—and a lot of patience! If you love creativity, bisque or raku firing is for you.
Whatever you add to the fire, which can include everything from sawdust to wood chips, will affect the final product, and some of them give the pieces a metallic look that many people love. Here are the steps for building this type of fire:
- Find the Right Area: Like an outdoor pit, your raku area must be large and free of flammable items. Start the fire the same way you do with the pit method, but place the barrel next to the fire. Afterward, put all your pottery items in the barrel, ensuring you insert them through the top. (Some people like to carve a door into the barrel, but this is not recommended.)
- Increase the Fire Temperature Slowly: Because you’re slowly increasing the fire temperature, this method of firing pottery takes longer than a regular kiln. You’ll want to use a kiln pyrometer to test the temperature, which needs to go up until it slowly reaches a minimum of 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit. When this happens, your glaze will melt and give the piece a unique look.
- Remove the Pieces from the Barrel: To remove your pottery pieces from the barrel, wait until they are red hot in color, then remove them and immediately place them in cold water. You might read some directions that claim you can put them in sawdust, but water typically works much better. The one tip you must remember is to wear all your protective gear while doing this, including heat-proof gloves and tongs, among other things.
Let your pieces cool until they are no longer even the slightest bit warm. If you remove the carbon from the pieces next, they’ll have a luster that you’ll love. For the best results, let all your pottery pieces dry overnight to ensure no heat or warmth is left in them.
Again, the fumes from this type of fire can be toxic, but you can avoid that problem by making sure the area you’re firing is large, far away from anything flammable, and very well-ventilated.
As long as you pay attention to this method’s directions and safety measures, you’ll likely find it a delightful way to fire your ceramic and pottery pieces.
Follow this awesome tutorial on how to create a Raku Fire at home, again by Ben Shane!
3. Making Pottery In a Basic Oven
This method can be more of a challenge because the temperature of the oven will depend on the type of clay you’re using, which is another reason to read the instructions carefully.
How to Use a Kitchen Oven
To start with, you’ll need to preheat the oven before placing your pieces in there.
Then you’ll need to keep those pieces there for one to three hours, depending on how thick your clay is. Never heat the pots for too long, or you’ll risk the pieces getting too brittle and possibly breaking.
If this is the first time you’ve fired your pottery pieces this way, keep a close eye on them after they’re done. If you use this method and your pots keep breaking, it could be because you didn’t completely dry out the clay before you tried to heat them in the oven.
When this happens, try to lower the temperature to start with and raise the temperature to the max once the pots get used to the lower temperature.
Let the pottery pieces cool down slowly inside your oven when they are done. While doing this, don’t open the oven door, and resist the urge to remove the pots too quickly because if you do, they may crack. It shouldn’t take long to know how long to keep the pottery in there once you get used to your own oven and the clay you’re using.
And before we leave this subject, one important thing to know is that when you use the oven to fire your pottery pieces, they will not be food-safe pieces in the end. In other words, you don’t want to eat or drink out of pottery pieces that you fired in a standard oven.
Creating works of art with pottery pieces is a great way to express your creativity, and it’s an enjoyable hobby, too. Suppose you don’t have a kiln yet, not to worry because there are ways to fire your pieces without one.
The methods mentioned above are the three main methods that most people use, and while they are a little more complicated than using a kiln, they are all very efficient methods that work.
The main thing you have to remember is to follow the directions to the letter, use the right type of clay, and make sure you follow all safety precautions from start to finish.
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