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aspiringpotter

My Ceramics Class Wants To Do A Community Pit Fire

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We want to have a pit fire but are having a bit of trouble finding a good location.
Our school does not want us to do it there because of the whole giant fire thing, so we are trying to find somewhere else to do it.  I am considering offering up my backyard, but I am not sure whether it would be a good place.  There are about 24 feet between my house and the trees, is this enough space that we wouldn't need to worry about anything catching fire? Our current plan for the size of the pit is 3 feet deep, 6 feet long, and three feet wide.  That would leave about ten and a half feet between the fire and anything flammable, I think that's enough room but I'm not sure.  We are planning on definitely notifying the fire department ahead of time just in case but I would prefer if there was no reason for that to be necessary.  The other concern is smell, we are planning on burning used sawdust from a stable, seaweed, corn husks soaked in salt, and possibly horse hair, along with kindling and wood and whatnot.  I live in a neighborhood that would not be happy with us if we filled it with strong bad smells, so I would like to know if this is a really bad idea or not.  

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There are a lot of factors that go into a good pit firing experience. Location, location, location, just for starters. I have no idea of where you're located, but by the sound of your post, I'm guessing that you're in a fairly urban setting. If this is the case, I'd say it's a bad idea. The "smell" of your pit firing is one of your least concerns. The amount of smoke that you will initially be putting into the air, and subsequently, into your neighbors lungs and homes is of greater concern!

 

As for proximity to trees and other flammable materials, this is always a concern. Just the heat emanating from the pit fire can do serious harm to trees, especially conifers. They needn't actually catch fire for damage to occur. 20 to 30 feet clearance from all flammable materials, structures and trees is preferable. And if you can achieve even greater distance, all the better.

 

If this is your and your class's first experience with pit firing, I'd suggest finding another location. Somewhere much more rural, with a good water source (i.e. garden hose) close at hand and able to reach any area of the pit fire with ease. Just in case. ;)

 

Having said all of this, more information is needed to give you better advice. ;)

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I think our teacher has had some experience with pit fires, but the rest of us are completely inexperienced. I live in a fairly rural area, there are a lot of farms nearby, we might try to get permission to use someone's farm land, my backyard just would have been more convenient. Thanks for your advice!

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Garden hose would be a minimal effort. Season, temp.? Wind strength, Fire fighting unit? Protective clothing, class all Adults? Ground moisture. ground fuel, knowledge of radiant heat. Anyone with experience of pitfiring, just more than once, would be a must I'd say.

Can't give advice with info given.

Hope you have used a suitable clay body

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We will definitely have a garden hose, it will be in February or January so probably close or below freezing, I don't know how strong the wind will be, we will have protective clothing, this is a high school ceramics 2, 3, and 4 class, I believe our teacher has done pit fires a few times when she was in college but wants us to be planning it instead of her, we're planning on using raku and white earthenware. Currently we're more just trying to figure out how to make this happen, we haven't started making anything yet.

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we used to have an old metal refrigerator casing with six or more inches of sand in it - like a big metal sand box.  it was on metal wheels so we could roll it into the parking lot. we had pit fires in that.  but we are in an industrial neighborhood with sewage treatment plant so no one gets too worried about a little smoke and smell.   you might consider some type of container. its possible to do smoke firing in a metal barrel as which might be an option.   be safe/  rakuku

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Hmmmm the larger pit firing I saw had an above-ground brick structure. It was about 2 feet by 4 feet and about 2.5 feet tall. There were undamaged trees about 5 feet away, a cable running ~20 feet overhead (no signs of damage) and the setting was rather urban. The owner had had many firings in it. Protective clothing is also not needed for a pit firing.

 

Smaller pit firings can be done with the same bricks above ground. It is really no different from a fire pit if done right.

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good Luck and have fun with your firing, if you have any questions please feel free to contact me.  Be careful of the fumes, they can contain toxins according to what chemicals you use in the firing. you may want to consider respirators, and have good heat resistant gloves ( I use welding gloves) and wear good shoes on your feet.  Patience is a virtue here, do not remove the ware before it is cool, and do not use raku tongs to remove the ware as I have found (to my dismay on 2 pieces) that it damages any finish.  If you are going to consider any terra sigillata use on the ware I highly recommend reading Vince Pitelka's  work.  

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Sumi does amazing pit firings. She did a HUGE one at the Alternative Firing workshop in Edina , Mn that was about 30Ft x 5 ft and built a manifold for air to go through it. Very hi-tech pit!

 

 

For sawdust firing in a barrel, find the Peipenberg video. He has breather holes in the barrel and and raised grill off the floor. He uses wood strips, sawdust and newspaper sometimes charcoal to keep it going.He starts the fire at the bottom. The barrel is covered but not sealed tight.It can go all night and would need to be watched.

Marcia

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