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How to do a TePee Firing 

  • as demonstrated by Judy Armstrong and Jan Barnes

    This type of firing was originally a Native American technique, although many other cultures have used similar techniques, where greenware or bisque ware is placed in a shallow pit and covered with twigs and branches, then lit and allowed to burn down. Such a firing can reach temperatures of around 1500o F (800o C). It was revived and popularized in the 20th C by American studio-potter Peter Voulkos. In this variation, slip-coated paper covers the cone, allowing for a hotter burning. It probably also slows the firing down a bit since it dampens the palings and also creates some reduction by reducing the airflow, thereby producing richer colors on the ware. Some tepee firers put up to 20 layers of slip-coated paper around their teepees, which often remain standing after all the wood has burned away. Using only 2-3 layers, it tends to collapse gently down onto the ware.

    The reason we call it “tepee” instead of “teepee” is because the different method we use. Our way of tepee is a variant on the paper kiln which has many layers of paper and slip and which is sometimes left standing when the firing has finished. It just depends on the layers of paper and slip the artist feels gets the best results.

    Disclaimer: The instructions below are incomplete and are meant as a guide only. Firings of this type can be dangerous and should only be done under the supervision of an experienced adult – preferably a potter! Practitioners of any type of firing need to take adequate safety precautions. Use of heavy duty leather gloves and a gas mask are recommended. Due to smoke generation, this type of firing may not be suitable in an urban environment. In some cases, fire authorities may need to be notified in advance of such an event. Please also see the Terms of Use.

    laying the gound placing the pots covering the pots
    1. Find a spot where smoke won’t be a hazard. Level the ground to a diameter of about 3′ (1 m), placing bricks around the edge for supporting the palings. 2. Spread sawdust on the ground to a thickness of about 3″ (7-8 cm). Sprinkle with salt, copper carbonate (careful – toxic!), seaweed or other materials that are known to give interesting effects. Place a single layer of pots and sprinkle with more copper carb and salt. 3. Cover with newspaper to protect the work from dripping slip (see point 6) and add dry kindling in a rough cone shape.
    the stack the stack
    4. Start to build the skeleton of the tepee by laying palings in a cone teepee or shape.

    5. The palings are held together with wire or a metal ring. Leave a small hole on one side for lighting.

    6. Getting ready to apply the slip-coteed paper to the cone.
    applying the slip coated paper
    7. Dip glossy paper into slip, covering the entire tepee except the lighting hole and the top which will be the chimney. Use between 2-5 layers of slipped paper, more if you’re feeling energetic!
    8. Applying the slip and slip coated paper.
    9. Light the ‘kiln’ through the hole you have left on one side.
    after lighting firing the 'kilns' firing
    10. Ignition!

    11. The tepee kilns firing away.

    12. Another angle…
    smouldering ashes
    13. Smouldering, after burning down
    14. The tepee will burn down leaving the ware to ‘bake’ in the hot ashes. These will cool down after a few hours after which the pots can be removed!
    14. Example of a fired pot showing flashings from salt, copper carbonate and seaweed by Jan Barnes: ‘Driftwood’.
      Jan and Judy
    16. Fired piece by Judy Armstrong.

    17. And another one by Judy.

    18. Jan and Judy pose next to one of their tepee ‘kilns’.

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