What's so special about wood-fired ceramics?

Modern electric and gas kilns allow exact replication of firing conditions, which ensures predictable results. However, it wasn't always this way. For thousands of years the only available fuel for firing clay was wood and achieving predictable results was a challenge. Firing with wood is long, costly and labour intensive. However, contemporary potters continue to do it to create unique and unexpected ceramic pieces. Various chemical and physical processes 'decorate' ceramics in a wood kiln, but the desirable results are never guaranteed. Relatively few potters engage in making wood-fired ceramics regularly. The same applies to bonsai pot makers and that's why quality wood-fired bonsai pots are rare. 

Above is my best unglazed wood-fired pot to date. It features a beautiful deposit of ash with a little bit of carbon trapping as well as some flashing on the clay body. All that is what potters want on their wood-fired pots. Made in 2012. Could not repeat this particular result after multiple attempts. Displayed at the National Arboretum Canberra during Bonsai Week in 2017 and 2018.

 

Above is one of my favorite glazed wood-fired pots. Made in 2013. Could not get this colour again after multiple attempts. Displayed at the National Arboretum Canberra during Bonsai Week in 2017 and 2018.

 

Above is one of my favorite glazed wood-fired pots. Made in 2017. Same glaze and clay as on the previous pot, but never had such result before. The blue ash on this pot is uncommon (usually it's white or green). Glaze crystals on the lip are a nice feature too.

 

This is probably the most labour intensive pot I have ever made considering its relatively small size. Made in 2018. It is hand-formed, carved, hand-painted and wood-fired. Displayed at the 36th Annual Exhibition of the School of Bonsai, Sydney in 2018.

 

A few more images of my wood-fired pots

Two sides of an unusual pot fired in 2018. Never had this glaze turn up with such combination of colours.

 

Two sides of a pot beautiful in a very subtle way. Click on the right-hand image for a close-up of the crystalline glaze. Crystallisation of this glaze occurred on my pots only twice so far in 2013 and 2014.

 

Displayed at the 36th Annual Exhibition of the School of Bonsai, Sydney in 2018.

Displayed at the 36th Annual Exhibition of the School of Bonsai, Sydney in 2018.

Displayed at the 36th Annual Exhibition of the School of Bonsai, Sydney in 2018.

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Displayed at the 36th Annual Exhibition of the School of Bonsai, Sydney in 2018.

This particular glaze effect append only once. Displayed at the National Arboretum Canberra during Bonsai Week in 2017 and 2018.

Displayed at the National Arboretum Canberra during Bonsai Week in 2017 and 2018.

Displayed at the National Arboretum Canberra during Bonsai Week in 2017 and 2018.

Unglazed with a natural ash deposit and carbon inclusion.

Namban style pot.

Namban style pot

Unglazed with a natural ash deposit and carbon inclusion. Displayed at the 36th Annual Exhibition of the School of Bonsai, Sydney in 2018. Gave it to a bonsai potter in Sweden.

Unglazed with a natural ash deposit and carbon inclusion. Displayed at the 36th Annual Exhibition of the School of Bonsai, Sydney in 2018. Gave it to a bonsai potter in Sweden.

 

Unglazed Namban style pot with a natural ash deposit and carbon inclusion.

This commercial glaze turned this colour in the wood-fired kiln only once. Made in 2010.

Same form, clay, glaze, temperature and kiln as the pot on the left, but a different firing event in 2011.

This glaze turned purple only this once and never agian.

The only pot of mine that now lives in Japan.

Unglazed and rugged, one of my earliest wood-fired pots from 2009. Placed right in front of the firebox, it survived kiln temperatures higher than 1300°C and was completely buried in ash.