The Japanese word Anagama translates to “hole kiln”; this single-chamber kiln has no separation between the burning wood and the ceramic pieces. Anagama-stlye kilns were historically holes dug into a hillside, with a chimney extending from the back. These kilns were the first to reach stoneware
Developed by the Japanese over thousands of years, and then refined for another thousand, wood firing is once again being rediscovered. With numerous methods of vitrifying clay, wood firing is now practiced with an eye towards producing unique surfaces only possible through this ancient method.
The fly ash and volatile salts released by the burning wood, at temperatures of up to 2500 degrees Fahrenheit, settles on the clay. The complex interaction between flame, ash, and the minerals comprising the clay body forms the natural wood-ash glaze.
Wood firing used to be the only means to fire clay. Today, it is a choice that can lead to stunningly beautiful finished pieces of art.
I have had the privilege of firing with Harry Nakamoto in his Anagama kiln in Columbia California. The process begins with many days of preparing three to four cords of wood, all cut and split into kindling-sized pieces. The next step in the process, is several days of carefully loading the individual clay pieces into the kiln, being sure that no one piece touches another. Recognizing that the placement of each piece affects the path of the ash and flame and the final glazed finish. The firing lasts for five days with three crews for stoking. The day of the kiln opening is always a party. Each piece is a snapshot of our dance with the fire.