Last Updated on March 21, 2021
Many students over the years have asked me if you can fire pottery without a kiln and while firing your pottery project without a kiln is more challenging it can be done!
So if you do not have access to a kiln or just are looking for a creative way to fire your clay with children, you will learn how you can do so safely and effectively in this article. Let’s get to it!
Firing Pottery Without A Kiln
You have three different ways you can fire a ceramics project without using a kiln. Read on for how to do all three Kiln firing alternatives.
What’s Needed To Fire Ceramics Without a Kiln
Many ceramics craftsmen and artists glaze their pottery (and if you are using earthenware you have to glaze) and glazing requires firing. Not every ceramics craftsman has access to a kiln and while there are some great kilns for home use, firing without one is possible once you know what you are doing.
While it can be a bit of a challenge learning how to fire without a kiln there are a lot of good reasons my students have brought up for wanting to learn such as not always being near a studio, not having room for a kiln at home, a home kiln isn’t in the budget. If any of these sound familiar rest easy because you can fire without a kiln with the right steps.
The basic requirements your firing medium must be able to do is reach high enough temperatures, create an environment where the water in your clay can evaporate and that it is able to harden your chosen clay type. As long as you achieve these three requirements your pottery will turn out great.
Three Ways To Fire Your Pottery Without A Kiln
When deciding which of the following firing processes to use you need to consider both the type of clay you are using and what pottery forming technique you are going to use.
You also need to understand the firing steps thoroughly before starting to avoid any mistakes that could lead to your projects being ruined. Now let’s get to the good part.
Raku firing is a great way to go if you need a kiln alternative. The setup takes some time and you need to have enough room but it can fire toxic free and food safe ceramics. This means you do not have to sacrifice creativity with Raku firing.
In order to do Raku you will need to have a biscuit fire or a bisque.
Bisque firing allows the glaze to fuse to your pottery. By using a bisque you can utilize stains and underglazes for your more creative projects. Keep in mind that a bisque firing is a much slower process than you will be used to if you’ve only used kilns in the past.
To do Raku firing you will need to have a pit suitable for firing. You will also need to have a barrel. Note that it will take a decent amount of time to get the temperature up to the required level so this is not a set it and forget it option. It is also not the best for the young or the impatient!
Raku firing is a great method for projects with creative designs. Additives can be used to bring some unique metallic appearance to your ceramics. Things such as woodchips, sawdust and even seaweed can be added for great effects. But it is important to remember that the downside to this is that you will not be able to replicate a specific design. But that’s part of the fun too!
Raku also creates toxic fumes while firing so it is very important to be in a well ventilated area and for no fumes to be inhaled.
How To Do Raku Firing
Once you have your location selected be certain it is clear of any flammable items.
To setup a bisque you will place your barrel near the fire. Then set your pottery projects in the barrel through the top of the barrel. (Some people like to make a door on the side of the barrel but this is not required)
The temperature of the fire will be increased slowly. That is what makes this process longer than a kiln. Keep building the fire until it reaches at least 1,400 degrees F (a kiln pyrometer is recommended to read your temperature). This will melt your glaze after your pottery has been in the heat for a very long time.
Once your ceramics are red hot you remove them from the barrel and immerse them in cold water immediately. Some people prefer to dip their pottery in sawdust but I’ve had better results with water. Only move your hot pottery with proper protective gear including tongs and heat proof gloves.
After cooling you will need to remove the carbon from your ceramic pieces. This will give your pieces a luster that looks amazing. Then simply allow your pieces to dry overnight and you are set!
Kitchen Oven Firing
This is not the most consistent or effective way to fire without a kiln but it is a good option for those who cannot use the other two methods. It is also a good way to fire ceramics with young children as it is safe when done correctly.
But oven firing is not capable of finishing food safe ceramics.
The main benefit beyond ease of use is that firing in an oven works very well for drying out your clay. It is best for firing creative and decorative pottery projects. It is also the cheapest method you can use.
Because you will be working with lower temperatures it is not possible to glaze. You will also be limited on the types of clay you can use. These limitation mean that your pieces will not be as strong as if fired in a kiln.
Keep in mind that you will have to paint your pieces after they have been fired and cooled.
The best clay to use when firing with a kitchen oven is homemade clay. Check out this recipe for making pottery clay. You will also need a pan with a liner to keep your pottery from sticking to your pan.
How To Use A Kitchen Oven To Fire Pottery
First heat your oven to 250 degrees F. Once heated set your pieces on the lined pan and into the oven. The thickness of your pottery will dictate how long they need to fire. Thin pieces only need to be in the oven for an hour but thicker pieces will need up to three hours.
Your ceramics will be done firing once they are hard. Be careful not to fire them too long as they will become brittle and crack.
Once they have been removed from the oven allow them to completely cool. Once cooled you can paint or decorate your pieces.
Remember that you cannot glaze oven fired pottery.
Pit or Smoke Firing
Pit firing and smoke firing refer to the same process and it is the first method used to fire clay. This process is popular still in many countries and is gaining popularity in the US thanks to it’s traditional simplicity and beautiful results.
Pit firing allow you to use a glaze as well. Smoke firing requires temeratures of 1,600 to 2,000 degrees F. Your pieces will remain in the heat for twelve to twenty-four hours.
When setting up your pit be certain you have a large clear area. No flammable items should be anywhere near your pit.
Once you have your location dig a large hole. This is where you will place your pottery. The pit will provide a natural wind block. The smoke created will add unique and interesting patterns to your pieces.
As an alternative to a kiln, this method is my favorite. As long as you have the space this is a great method to use if you do not have access to a kiln.
How to Fire Pottery With a Pit
In a lot of ways smoke firing is similar to raku. But instead of using a barrel you dig a pit!
Start your fire. To do so traditionally use wood chips or coal. Build the temperature until you reach at least 1,800 degrees F. Because the firing time is from twelve to twenty-four hours plan to maintain your temperature.
Glazing can be done before firing or you can do two firing while glazing between the two.
Once your ceramics are done remove them from the pit using pottery tongs. Some artists allow the fire to burn out before removing their pieces. I find it best to not do this as you can overfire your pieces by waiting for the fire to burn out.
And that’s all there is to pit firing!
So if you are looking for an alternative to using a kiln you now have three different options. As long as you have enough space I recommend going with a pit or bisque but if you will be working with children then go with the oven firing method.
For more ceramics guides and tips read these articles