Friday, February 25, 2011

Lessons learned

Friends and I are firing pots in the wood kiln at Cedar Creek this weekend, which means I'm up late tonight organizing and prepping pots. Near the end of the firing, we will spray into the kiln a solution of soda ash that has been dissolved in boiling water. The sodium in the soda ash will react with silica in the clay bodies, creating sodium silicate (glass), effectively glazing the pots. Soda ash is a flux, so it will also lower the melting point of any glazes that we might use to decorate the pots, hopefully creating beautiful glaze effects.

To prevent the pots from glass-fusing to the kiln shelves, we will glue little balls of wadding under the pots. Wadding is a mixture of kaolin (clay), alumina hydrate, and grog (ground bisqued clay); it doesn't react to soda ash. We also use wadding to keep lids from fusing to pots--and depending on how we stack things, also to keep pots from fusing to pots.

Enter my four prototype Moebius Diatom Boxes. I can't separate the two Moebius strips with wadding because there's no way to prop either up on wadding without impractical and precarious balancing acts. Moreover, if the two strips end up touching one another, they'll likely fuse together at the contact point.

So I surfed the internets and found a strategy: coat the edges of the two Moebius strips with wax that has alumina hydrate dissolved in it. After the wax burns off, the remaining thin layer of alumina hydrate will protect the clay from the soda ash. I found assorted recipes for this special wax, most of which can be summarized as follows: "use, oh, a spoonful or so alumina hydrate in, oh, half a pint or so of thinned wax."

So I bought a little container of wax and added some red food coloring to distinguish it from my unadultered wax, and then I added two teaspoons of alumina hydrate. Turns out alumina hydrate doesn't dissolve in cold un-thinned wax, so I had to give the container a nice warm bath this evening. Also turns out that pink wax is next to impossible to see on pink bisque ware. I subsequently added some blue food coloring, but it turns out that purple wax is also next to impossible to see. It also turns out that it's next to impossible for one person alone to wax the rims of two clay Moebius strips without the patient assistance of a Moebius-Strip Bearer (a.k.a. S), for if the wet wax on one strip touches the surface of the other strip, it will (in theory) leave a deposit of alumina hydrate on the pot, preventing soda from reacting with the clay in that spot.

Anyway, it was a pain in the patootie to wax the things, which suggests they will remain very rare items indeed. Now I'm going to bed.

1 comment:

Mom said...

Good luck!!