Believe it or not, the motivation to move the pottery operation to downtown Morganton was all about getting more studio space to make more pottery. The gallery was an add-on to the idea, but as the whole project rolled along the focus began to shift from the studio to the gallery space. After our grand opening in September 2013 sales in the gallery took off. Then it was all we could do to keep up with the demanding work of the gallery. Now, over a year and a half later, the construction of the new gas kiln is finally underway.
Our new natural gas car kiln will be one of the critical elements to the new studio. Without it, we've had to continue glazing and firing all pottery work at the Valdese studio. That's created a fair amount of burden on we studio folk as packing pottery and lugging pots back over to eastern Burke Co. slows our production down a lot. With completion of the new kiln, we'll be able to bring the glazes and glazing equipment over to the new studio and finally be able to make pottery from beginning to end all under one roof.
Just getting to the point at which we could start building the kiln has been a process. Building inspectors are a little leery of gas-fired pottery kilns built on-site by potters, professional or otherwise. That the new kiln is inside the building is a complicating issue. Had there been sufficient outdoor space on which to build the kiln, we would've gone that route. However, our building pretty much goes right up to the property lines so the kiln had to be built indoors. The whole kiln-building process started by working with engineer, Gus Sims in Asheville, to approve our kiln drawings and design a system to safely vent the hot kiln exhaust from the building as well as design the natural gas train that would provide fuel to the kiln. Once the drawings were submitted and approved by the city building inspectors, we had to order the double-walled insulating stainless steel stack and fittings that would vent the kiln exhaust. Then we had to figure out who could install it and work out a support system for the stack and the hood that would funnel the exhaust to the stack. Then the hood had to be fabricated... and so on. In short, there were many steps to the process, and each one had its own complicating factors. But now the kiln is underway!
During the renovation of the new studio building, we sectioned off a room with walls constructed of metal studs and fire-rated drywall. Code didn't require it, but the extra peace of mind will be worth the additional costs. We also had to have a portion of the floor jackhammered out and replaced with a new concrete slab since the existing floor had a significant dip. With the new floor in place, we positioned the heavy angle iron frame for the kiln along with the angle iron track on which the kiln cart would roll in and out of the kiln between firings. With the frame positioned, the Perkins Heating and Air guys came in for a few days to cut a hole in the roof directly over the portion of the frame where the chimney would stand and installed the insulated flue and hood.
Once the hood was in place, we could finally get underway on the kiln itself. We are now midway through the kiln construction, dry-stacking first the hard brick layer and then the insulating brick layers to build the floor of the cart and kiln. This part of the construction takes a lot of time and careful measuring since the cart needs to have a slightly wedged-shaped profile. The wedge shape of the cart floor, with a corresponding wedge opening in the kiln floor, allows the cart and kiln floors to meet tightly without the fragile insulating bricks grinding against one another. Were they to grind and wear down, gaps would start to form between the cart and kiln that would allow cold air to enter the kiln while it's firing. Each brick of the cart and kiln floors (40 in all) needed to be cut with a precise 7.5 degree angle. Thank goodness for miter saws!
Now that the floor bricks are cut and placed, we can get started on stacking the brick to form the walls. This part of the construction goes quicker since there are no difficult angles to cut.
~more to come~
For a more detailed description of the kiln construction, look for the Kiln Building 101 post coming soon to the How-To section.