Anagama Firing Process | Woodfired Pottery – Kirin Kiln, Ipoh, Malaysia

In the humid heat of South-east Asia we lifted our suitcases and boxes onto the table, the previous week’s Aquagama firing still radiating heat across the space.

The latest wood-firing was to take place on the land shared with two decrepit old dragon kilns and within sight of several others. The dragons of this suburb almost all lie dormant now, many beyond repair. Rusted corrugated iron reaches down into their arches and tropical vines twist upward through collapsed brick walls.

Last century the pottery business was booming in Ipoh due to their ability to create pots that would not fracture when exposed to the harsh winters of the northern hemisphere. Eventually Vietnam and China advanced in their ceramic technology and overtook Malaysia’s production, sadly causing the crumbling of the dragon kiln industry that had been successful in Ipoh for so long.

There are few neighbouring dragon kilns still in operation in Ipoh, and despite their low output these live with the reality of smoke fines – I’m told around 3000 Ringgit / 990SGD / 720 USD, which is a massive amount of money in Malaysia. Long term this is not going to be sustainable for the businesses. Sadly they will probably topple like the other ruins around them – unless their cultural and artistic value is recognised and protected.

The Kirin Kiln – Anagama

The site we were working at has been rejuvenated with the construction of three small wood-firing kilns. A small anagama with an internal wall, the Kirin Kiln anagama (pictured above – slightly larger, in a peanut shape) and the new Aquagama – an old somewhat lost technique (after much internet deep diving Abraham designed this experimental version).

This week we were there to fire the Kirin Kiln. Our lead instructor was the skilled Abraham Ling @01010earth. The kiln was fired for 51 hours, to cone 11. I hope this photo story gives you some insight into the anagama firing process behind beautiful wood fired ceramics.

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Brown graphic with text that reads: Anagama firing process. The Kirin Kiln, Ipoh, Malaysia. The Humble Mud a ceramics blog by carragh amos. thehumblemud.com carraghamos.com

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Prep and Glaze

Works carefully packed for travel from Singapore to Malaysia (some customs drama but no casualties!)
Hectic Kampong space at the site of the old Ipohgama and dragon kilns
A fraction of the wood needed for firing, mixture of hard and softwoods
The glaze selection, including Tenmoku, Shinos and Ash | My works, ready for firing (filler glaze only)
Alvin experiments with glazing his bowls
Hunter’s last minute pots drying in the hot Malay sun, with heat radiating from the nearby Aquagama (left)
Offering and prayers to the spirits / kiln gods for a successful firing

Loading and Lighting the Kiln

Rolling wadding from rough clay, used to steady the kiln shelves (placed between the separator poles and shelf)
Piece balanced on cockle shells (with wadding) to create a shell impression on the surface
Ken and Kat in the early stages of 3+ hrs of loading, ash & glaze coats walls. Photo taken from front fire hole
Mona (@mona.theearthenpot) passing in the last few pieces after night has set in
The carefully stacked kiln, ready to be sealed and fired
Ercan and Ken smooth over the door with a fine wet sand mix (seen in wheelbarrow)
Kat adding sand mix to plug holes in the side door | Abraham lighting the anagama

Firing

Me (badly) maneuvering some wood into the kiln
Shoveling extra ash into the fire box to ensure enough fly ash on the pieces
A peek into the front fire hole
Hot glowing test basket pulled to check firing progress, showing the glow fading as it cools
Woodfire night shift. Exhausting and rewarding work

Unpacking the kiln after 51 Hrs

Opening the door to help cool the kiln for unloading
A glimpse through the peephole in the side wall
Abraham begins the unloading, via human chain
Inspecting the results
Carragh Amos. Stoneware, white raku. Ash (filler glaze inside vases). Cone 11. 51 hr, Anagama. After 4d soaking.

There was way too much to take in over this experience, my mind was bursting with new information and learning. The thing that most impressed me was how kind and generous all of these ceramicists were with their knowledge. Everyone was enthusiastic about their items and keen to share what materials, methods and techniques they had used to create their work.

I’ve been dreaming of pots since the woodfiring! I can’t wait to be go again. If this looks like something you’d want to be involved with (and you’re not afraid of hard work) get in touch with Abraham via his instagram, he does a handful of firings a year.

I’m currently working with my other half to edit together a short video of the process, so keep your eyes peeled for a post very soon. In the meantime, check out these awesome kiwi ceramic artists working in woodfire.

If you have any questions on these images please comment below, I will do my best to answer them with what knowledge I gathered over the week!

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