On the 10th April 2023 a keen group of seven student kiln builders gathered in Te Horo (near Otaki) to start work on a diesel fired salt/soda kiln. This workshop was organised by the Mirek Smisek Arts Trust, as part of its’ plan to develop The Kilns at Te Horo project. https://www.thekilnsattehoro.co.nz/
I’ve been involved with Mirek’s beehive kilns since 2020 when I was part of the team brought together by Fletcher Construction to move the two kilns and chimney out of the way of the new expressway.
During discussions I had with the Trust during the kiln moving, it was agreed that it was important to keep alive the salt glazing tradition that was such a key part of Mirek’s work. I have built a number of small, brick, diesel fired kilns that are excellent to soda or salt fire, so it made sense that at some point I’d head down to Te Horo and build one of these kilns for the trust at their new hub of ceramic excellence on the site of the newly relocated beehive kilns. This new kiln would also offer opportunities to the resident artists to be able to have a go with salt firing.
A workshop kiln build also made sense as it would impart skills to potters in the area and also start building the community that is important to have around shared resources like kilns.
So over 6 days the seven students, Chris Southern (my assistant) and myself got busy with a pile of bricks, power tools, scutches, a kiln plan and built most of the kiln. The bricks had been sourced from the Wellington region and we built the kiln on a steel box as (at the time) we didn’t have access to the site due to other building delays – the idea is to brace and lift the kiln onto a truck and relocate the kiln once access is allowed. This relocation also meant we used a bespoke mortar recipe that included a Calcium Alumina cement component.
The kiln chamber and chimney base were all finished during the workshop (including adobe), so when the team reassembled a couple of months later to fire the kiln there was more chimney bricks to be laid, diesel tank, burners and plumbing to be installed, shelves and props washed and firebox bagwalls to be laid. The kiln hadn’t been moved but did have a shelter built over it.
The first firing went well, reaching temperature and causing no issues with the fabric of the kiln. We used a combination of salt and soda, partly to demonstrate the different methods of application and also to start the process of coating the inside the kiln with a salt glaze.