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No Kiln, No Problem! How to Fire Pottery Without a Kiln

If you don’t have a kiln at home, you can still fire pottery and glaze clay pots. The process is much more involved without a proper pottery kiln. However, it’s possible. Some people even prefer using these methods, especially for projects with small children.

There are three main ways you can fire pottery without a kiln, and we’ll explain how to use each as well as help you figure out which option is best for you.

The Requirements of a Firing Medium

Glazing pottery often requires you to use a kiln. However, kilns are large and expensive. The best ceramic kilns for home use are at least a couple of hundred dollars or more. Sometimes they’re difficult to store in your home, and many beginners just aren’t ready for such an expense. You can use an alternate option if:

  • You don’t have access to a pottery studio
  • You don’t have a place to store a kiln at home
  • You don’t want to purchase a kiln until you know pottery is for you
  • You want to experiment with other firing mediums

Pottery is an expensive hobby between the pottery wheel and kiln, both of which take lots of space to store. Many people don’t have room for a home studio, so it’s totally valid to not want to spend money on a firing medium.

You don’t need a kiln, but you will still need a firing medium. Alternates must meet a few essential requirements.

According to Goshen College, you should make sure the firing medium you use can:

  • Reach hot temperatures
  • Allow the water in the clay to evaporate
  • Harden the type of clay you’re using

The end result should turn clay into pottery.

How to Fire Pottery Without a Kiln – The 3 Methods

There are many ways you can learn how to fire pottery without a kiln. The best option for you, however, may depend on the pottery making process you’re following and the type of clay you use.

To fire pottery without a kiln for the first time, it’s essential that you know exactly what you’re doing.

The pottery may crack otherwise. Use the following three common ways to fire pottery without a kiln based on your needs.

1. Raku Firing

Raku firing is a method you can use to fire pottery without a kiln, but it can be complicated and still take up space. You can still use a normal, food-safe glaze and create highly unique pieces with awesome design elements with this technique.

Raku firing requires a bisque or biscuit fire. Most pottery goes through a bisque firing the first time and is fired later to melt and fuse the glaze to the clay object. This allows potters to design the pottery with underglazes, stains, and other decorative work with the risk of damage. The bisque firing process is the slowest option, however.

A large pit area is also required for this type of firing, and you’ll need a large barrel or similar object. Starting the fire and keeping an eye on it long enough to reach the hot temperatures you need can become time-consuming quickly. The process isn’t ideal for young children or anyone who can’t safely keep a fire for a long period.

Another important consideration in determining if raku firing is ideal for your pottery project depends on the design you hope to make. You can create unique patterns and texture with raku by adding in things like sawdust, woodchips, seaweed, or animal dung. The effect is ideal for metallic and copper appearances. However, the design isn’t consistent every time you fire a piece of pottery.

Finally, raku firing involves toxic fumes. The technique is very dangerous and not ideal when the kids are around.

How to Use Raku

Before you start, make sure the environment is safe for fire.

To raku fire pottery, you’ll create a traditional bisque fire. Place the barrel near the fire and place your pottery inside the hot medium. Barrels work well for this step because they tend to have a few openings you can use for access. Most people just pull the top off to place the objects inside.

The pottery must sit inside the barrel for a long time. The process is slow because you must slowly heat and boost up the fire. The barrel acts as the kiln in a sense. You should be able to get the fire hot enough to melt laze on your pottery, which is around 1,400 to 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Then, remove the pottery from the kiln when it’s red hot and immediately plunge it into cold water or sawdust. Tongs and safety gloves are recommended.

Once your pottery cools, you can use a cleanser to remove the carbon from the glaze. This step is optional, but it helps the pottery shine. Allow your object to sit and dry in a safe location for a few hours afterward.

Here’s a good video showing you it in action:


 

2. Pit Firing

Pit firing, also called smoke firing, is the original method to bake clay. It’s ideal for natural pottery, and you can fire pottery with the glaze on it at the same time using this method.

The process reaches the temperatures you need to glaze pottery without a kiln. Temperatures often range between 1,600 and 2,000 degrees F, and your clay object stays inside to dry for around 12 to 24 hours.

However, you should never use pit firing near combustibles. An open area is ideal. You’ll need a place where you can ensure the pit remains hot and safe. You’ll dig a large hole to house your pottery and protect it from strong winds. Another alternative is to bisque fire the pottery first and then fire the glaze in a pit fire.

The downside to pit firing is that it’s difficult to create consistency. The pottery may also be more fragile than other firing methods. That said, you can use smoke vapor to create colors and patterns.

How to Use Pit Firing

Similar to raku firing, this process involves creating a fire in a pit – only without the barrel. Dig a large hole to place the pottery in. Some people prefer to use a traditional charcoal grill as the pit. Use wood chips, coal, or paper (without any paint or glue on it) to start the fire.

Keep the pit hot, with temperatures reaching between 1,800 and 2,000 degrees F. The clay must remain in the heat for around 12 to 24 hours. You can either fire the pottery before glazing it, then fire it once more. Or, you can glaze the pottery and fire it all at once.

Use tongs to remove your pottery from the pit when it becomes hard. Set it aside to dry. Alternatively, you can allow the fire to burn out before removing the pottery.

Here’s a great example of pit firing from ceramic artist Jane White, though on an industrial scale but you’ll get the gist (check out the size of the pit!):

3. Kitchen Oven

While there is conflicting information on the effectiveness of using a kitchen oven to create pottery, this method may be ideal for projects with beginners or young children.

Using the kitchen oven as a kiln alternative works well because it allows the pottery to dry out easily. It’s a simple way to create decorative pieces only, as food-safe glazes can go in an oven. Plus, you have the ability to learn and play with craft projects without having to invest in an expensive piece of equipment.

However, the kitchen oven does come with a few downsides.mFor example, the process involves temperatures that are still too low for glazing. You can also only use certain types of clay in an oven for safety purposes and the results can also sometimes become brittle. It’s best to paint the pottery after firing in an oven to decorate it.

Using a kitchen oven, for example, is ideal with homemade clay (e.g. salt dough clay). The oven speeds up the drying process. Many people recommended using a baking pan with a liner to keep your object from sticking to the oven as well.

How to Use a Kitchen Oven

Most pottery projects that involve a kitchen oven allow you to fire the clay at low temperatures. Turn the oven to 250 degrees F and place your pottery object inside for around an hour.

Thicker projects can take up to three hours to finish baking, as time varies. You’ll know your project is done in the oven if the material becomes hard. Too much and it may start to crack.

Then, you’ll want to use acrylic paint to decorate the objects. If you use the salt dough, you may choose to color it before firing. However, you cannot use glaze in an oven. The temperature is too low to hold the glaze in place.

How to Glaze Pottery Without a Kiln

pottery glaze

Glaze is vital for decorating pottery. It helps the object become stronger, more durable, and easier to use. While some projects don’t require glaze, you may want to consider learning how to glaze without a kiln if you want pottery that’s functional.

If you want to glaze pottery that you made without a kiln, the natural method may alter the glaze you use. There are plenty of glaze options to choose from, but you must make sure your choice is ideal for your needs. Always look at the labels on the glaze before you purchase an option.

The glazes that are safe to use without excessive heat are marked for decorative pottery use only. They aren’t normally food safe unless the glaze offers flux. Most of these glazes work with only a touch of heat rather than a couple thousand degrees.

Many pottery projects that don’t require a kiln involve using acrylic paint to decorate later. Paint is only safe for decorations, not food-safe ceramics. Other projects may also use food coloring to alter the dough. Roadside glaze, however, is an option you can make at home.

How to Make Roadside Glaze

Another option is to make your own pit-safe glaze. Creating a glaze involves collecting natural materials and firing the glaze in a unique process. It’s much more personal than pouring out a store-bought glaze from a container, won’t produce plastic waste, and allows you to still glaze the pottery you made without a kiln.

You’ll need to find a location full of rock formations you can collect first. Impure clay is ideal because it offers natural blemishes and character. You can use roadside glaze to add warmer or cooler tones to your pottery or bring in more character for this reason.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), clay minerals have been mined since the Stone Age. Learning more about how and where these minerals form in your location can help you locate the best deposits with minimal effects on the surrounding environment.

Once you find the minerals you need, crush them down using a sledgehammer. The pieces should become small enough to use with a grinder or mill. Next, you’ll use the grinder to create tinier pieces. Once the minerals crumble, mix them with water until they form together.

Next, you can apply this homemade roadside glaze on your pottery piece before firing it in a pit fire. The pit fire should reach somewhere between 1,600 and 2,000 degrees F to vitrify.

Keep in mind that some locations have laws concerning roadside clay or glaze as well.

Summary

There are plenty of excellent ways you can use to fire pottery without a kiln. But the right method for you always depends on the space you have available and the craft ceramics you hope to create. For example, most low-temperature methods aren’t ideal for food-safe ceramics.

Firing pottery at home also takes a lot of trial and error.

If you try out a few methods and still think a kiln is the best way for you to fire glaze or pottery at home, consider buying an electronic option. You can also try meeting other potters who may have a kiln you can borrow. Pottery groups often chip in to purchase expensive equipment for shared use.

Kara Mars