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vin135

Can You Pit Fire Clay Pipes?

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Hi all. Total newb to pottery and I have some questions on a project I am undertaking. I am an occasional pipesmoker, and I like to make my own pipes. I've carved them from wood and soapstone, and I have decided to make a clay pipe(s). I've made a plaster slipcast mold, but I neither have nor have ready access to a kiln at the moment. I've been looking into pit firing as a possible solution. I do know that pit firing doesn't get quite as high a temp as even a small hobby kiln, but clay pipes( at least those intended for tobbaco) are only bisque fired, to retain their porocity. Would pit firing be sufficient to fire my pipe to bisque? Are there any issues with pit firing slipcast, or small, relatively delicate forms?

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Welcome to the forum.

 

Technically, yes you can bisque in a bit fire as mankind has been doing so for thousands of years.

 

With that said though, I would advise against it.  The wares have to be preheated slowly near a fire (Or some people will use a standard oven) to avoid thermal shock from heating too quickly.  Then they have to be stacked in a way, that allows them to receive enough heat, but also prevents breakage as they shift in the fire.  And honestly, even once you've got things pretty well figured out, you will most likely still have losses.

I tried to do a traditional pit fire, without bisquing, and nearly everything was damaged.  The wares heated too quickly, and moisture in the ground, which isn't something that even occurred to me to consider, caused the issues.  The next pit firing I did, I bisqued the wares first.  I had zero losses.

 

So, it is possible, but I think you will lose quite a bit of your work, before you figure it out.

 

Best of luck.

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Hmm... I only plan to do one or two at a time. I already planned on pre heating in a 200° oven. What about using a small charcoal grill rather than a pit. That would eliminate the moisture in the ground issue. I also have some firebrick laying around. Not enough to build even a small kiln, but I should have enough to build a "box" around the pipes to protect them. Would that work? Also, I have seen some info on mummy saggars. Would that be an option? I understand that it may blacken the clay, but I that isn't undesirable.

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Even if successful, the clay will be very porous, absorbent and relatively soft. Someone with a kiln should be able to add it to their firing. Something like a pipe wouldn't take up much room.

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Going to a local potter with your finished pipes for a proper bisque firing is the way to go. If it is a one or two time thing 98% of the people in the profession would have no issue doing it for you. Buy a couple of bowls or mugs and everyone will be happy!

Small things that fit between other pieces effectively cost nothing to bisque.

 

After getting bisqued pieces, you can pit fire the pipes to get an atmospheric pattern. Normally copper is added around the pieces to create flashing of red-- I would advise against that with pipes [probably not enough copper to worry about compared to the hazard of smoking...]

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Well, the advice above is all good, but as a cranky old contrarian, I'll have to say that there's nothing wrong with pitfiring small clay objects.  There are ways to help avoid damage to the greenware objects, and although it's true that bisquing them first will lead to fewer damaged pieces, it's just mud.  Certainly native peoples here had no way to bisque their wares, and they made a lot of great stuff, including pipes.

 

A pipe can be quite compact and as a consequence, less likely to break or crack.

 

On the other hand, there are problems with low-fired pipes.  They are porous and will soak up tars and become unpleasant to use after a while.  It's well to remember that the clay pipe industry was essentially producing a disposable product... which is why mudlarking on the Thames produces so many broken clay pipes. 

 

If I were doing a pit firing of one of my pipes, I would be sure the clay I used was properly tempered.  Adding grog or mica or other tempering materials can make the piece much less likely to crack in the stress of firing.  I would probably use my oven to get the piece up to 500 F or so, pop it into a tin can to protect it from direct contact with fire or embers, cover the can with coals, and use a reversed vacuum cleaner as a bellows to up the heat.

 

It won't work as well as pre-bisquing, but after all, we're talking about mud here.

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Firing delicate objects in a pit or pyre can be done if you put a wire grid over the objects.

gallery_59202_704_97988.jpg

 

We used a altar fire at a scout camp.

gallery_59202_704_146638.jpg

 

They all survived, but the clay was still quite soft.  No idea how hot it got, hadn't thought to take cones or pyrometer.

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I knew a girl who used to fire pipes in her campfire. She used a grey earthenware clay and hand formed pipes during the day as a demonstration, Then as she cooked her supper the pipes were preheating until they sintered then they were laid on the coals and sticks were piled over them heating them to about 1000-1100 degrees or so. She was the girl who when I saw her pile of green pine needles, offered to get some dried pine needles and leaves, but she was quick to Tell me that it was the green leaves that turned her pipes purple and red like she wanted. When I fire pipes I push a stick in the ground and suspend the pipes off the ground on the sticks while they heat up. That way there is seldom any losses.

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