Pottery wheels are round platforms that spin when engaged by a foot pedal. This circular motion allows pieces of pottery to be shaped for symmetry. Pottery wheels have been around since before 2500 BC when they were first carved into ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. The process of making pottery on a pottery wheel requires four steps with special techniques to make each process easier to complete.
Potters who do not have their own kilns, but still wish to harden their earthenware may do pit firing. In pit firing, the clay reaches temperatures of 1500 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter, allowing the clay to harden adequately. Pit firing is used most often by studio potters for the color fuming and carbon trapping produced on the surface of the clay pieces. Pit-fired pieces are used primarily for décor, as they are unglazed and porous.
Building a Pit
Various fire pits may be used in pit firing. Brick pits used for barbequing, and even pits dug into the ground have been used. Most potters that pit fire use pits that measure approximately 3 feet wide by 4 feet deep, and at least 3 feet long; this ensures that they will be able to fire several pieces at once, and will have room for all the ingredients necessary in the firing pit.
When pit firing, the order of layers, or the ingredients, is very important in achieving the colors and temperatures desired. Potters begin by placing a 3 inch deep layer of sawdust onto the bottom of the pit, and then sitting the pieces of pottery on top; the sawdust will create deep black shades on the pottery. Materials such as dry leaves and twigs or coal may be used in place of sawdust. More sawdust is then added up around the sides of the pottery and inside the bowls and pots; pieces should not be covered completely, nor should they all be placed facing up. On top of this, and preferably between pots and not on them, a potter will shake out powdered copper and salt, which is used to produce colors in the pottery. Finally, pieces of wood and lumber, approximately 3 or 4 inches in diameter, are then placed over the pottery and up to the top of the pit.
The woodpile is then lit on fire and will continue to burn for several hours until only ashes and pottery remains. Though experts suggest that pottery may be taken out of the pile of ashes when the ashes cool to a temperature of 440 degrees Fahrenheit, those without thermometers to measure such temperatures often allow the pottery to remain until the ashes are completely burned out.
If removed while still slightly warm, the pottery pieces may be wiped clean of ash on the surface, and then coated with butcher's wax to give the finished pieces their glossy appearance. The wax will melt into all the tiny pores of the pottery, and then may be polished with a cleaning rag of any type in order to gleam and shine like a glazed pot.