Step by Step guide to Home Smoke Firing.
Equipment and Materials:
1 standard domestic metal bin with lid
Pack of firelighters (Natural Eco wood firelighters from Amazon are great as you get absolutely loads in the box for about £18.00 and you do use more than a few on each firing.)
Barbeque lighter fuel
Bag of sawdust – if you are going to do several smoke firings it’s much more economical to buy a bale – Chelford Farm Supplies sell them in bales. Otherwise you can buy sawdust in smaller quantities from most pet shops.
Bale of Shavings – Lowes sell shavings for about £6.00 per bale – again, petshops sell smaller quantities at a mahoosive mark up!
Lots of newspaper.
Copper Carbonate – Miracle gro all purpose plant food is a fraction of the cost of Copper carbonate and does the job just as well also available from Amazon, of course!
Gas lighter lots better than matches – especially if it’s even slightly windy.
Salt. Large table salt is just fine.
Organic materials. Must be dry, soggy leaves don’t work. You can use anything really.
I use Seaweed, maize leaves, dried banana skins, dried coffee grounds, dried horse dung. Whatever takes your fancy.
The trick to a successful smoke firing is to get a lot of heat for the first hour of firing and then enough burning materials to smoke for at least 8 hours. I usually put a smoke fire on, make sure it is really doing the job and then leave it for 24 hours before investigating the results.
If your bin doesn’t have air holes in it – and it probably won’t - just get a drill and drill about 6 airholes about 6-9 inches from the bottom of the bin all the way around. This will help generate the heat to begin with.
1. Put a layer of scrunched up newspaper in the bottom of the bin. Barbeque lighter fuel over the paper.
2. Put a layer of sawdust to cover all the newspaper. Lighter fuel generously squirted.
3. Put a layer of shavings to cover all the sawdust. Lighter fuel generously squirted.
4. Put 4 or 5 firelighters on the shavings with twists of newspaper around them.
5. Light the firelighters and put more shavings over them.
6. Put your items onto the layers of shavings and pour a generous amount of salt around the item (not on it), and lots of the miracle gro over it and on it. Spread all your organic matter onto and around the piece.
7. More firelighters, more shavings, more sawdust more lighter fuel, more salt and more miracle gro. You really want to get a big blaze going in the bin and generate a lot of heat for the first half hour to hour. The bin should be at least half full of all the shavings pots etc etc and the pots should be well covered.
8. Once the bin is really blazing and is obviously very hot at the bottom of the bin (don’t worry if there are a couple of cool spots, as long as most of the bin is too hot to touch the rest will catch up) after about half an hour, you can pop the lid on the bin, not fully on yet, as you still want air to circulate.
9. After about an hour, the bin contents should be very hot and there should be a lot of smoke. At this point you can put the lid full on the bin and plug up the airholes in the bottom of the bin with plugs of clay.
10. Go away and let it cook. As long as you can see smoke seeping from under the lid you know it’s smoking away. The temptation to keep looking is almost unbearable, but only look inside if you can’t see any smoke at all as it may – despite your best efforts – have gone out.
The first few times I did smoke firing getting the bin really hot and blazing was very difficult until I realised that lighter fuel and loads of firelighters plus air holes in the bin were going to be the only way forward. Since then it’s been pretty foolproof.
Think about where you might want the darkest and lightest part of the pot. Usually the part of the pot that is lying on the base of the shavings etc will go the darkest while the part towards the lid of the bin will be the lightest. It’s far from an exact science though.
Use loads of salt in the bin, but avoid salt going on the piece itself unless you want black flecks.
You might want to try actually wrapping your pot in banana skins and other organic materials, I’ve not had a lot of change in the smoke firing doing this, but you could get some subtle yellows and reds.
All being well, the bin contents should largely have burned away over the 24 hour period, leaving blackened, sooty pots. Remove the pots – they should be cool enough to handle, if not, do be sensible and use gloves. Rinse them under running water. Get some wire wool and a cream cleanser such as Cif or similar. SCRUB.
Once the pot is dry and you want the full effect of the smoke firing then get a beeswax polish and polish up your piece. If you want a very shiny and smooth pot, you will have to have burnished it before it was bisqued. You’ll still get a good result with an unburnished piece as the wax really brings out the colours, but burnishing greenware will produce the best results of all.
Remember, if the result is disappointing, but you like the piece a lot, all you need to do is pop it back in a bisque fire again as the smoke is on the pot, not in the pot, and will burn off in the kiln so you can experiment all you like.
Also remember. You will stink like a kipper.