A day making raku pottery

On this page: Six go mad in Sidford. On April 30th 2000, I and some of my fellow potters from the St Clare's evening class at Seaton spent a sunny Sunday making some raku pottery. Here's an introduction to this enjoyable pastime, and some photos of the process. If you are a potter, do try and have a go if you can!

What's it all about?

Raku is originally a Japanese technique, bound up with Zen Buddhism. Westerners have adapted the technique to make all sorts of decorative ware, and I suspect traditional Japanese potters would be surprised at the garish results of some!

The essential idea of raku as practised here is to start with biscuit-fired ware, which is glazed and fired to a low temperature (usually about 1000 °C), removed from the kiln when red-hot, and put straight into a container of combustible material (typicaly sawdust or leaves), to create a strong reducing atmosphere. After about 15 minutes, the piece is retrieved and quenched in cold water. Then the real magic happens - scouring off the soot and burnt bits to reveal the serendipitous effects of the flames, as shown left.

One of the best things, apart from the fact that you never know exactly what the finished surface will be like, is that it only takes about 2-3 hours from starting the firing to having a finished pot in your hands.

The making of Bob

photo of rabbit pot being lifted from hot kiln with tongsI decided to make a raku companion for the terracotta rabbit. He was built from coils and rolled slabs of white clay, and biscuit-fired in the electric kiln. He came out looking OK in a pale sort of way, but I hoped that the raku firing would transform him. I put splashes of white crackle glaze on his front paws and nose, and left the rest unglazed.

First, he was put into the hot kiln to dry out and then melt the glaze. The kiln was fired to just over 1000 °C, which took an hour, so we had lunch in the mean time. Here he's being lifted out (still very hot) ready to be smoked in the sawdust bin.

Above left - adding more sawdust to cover the rabbit. After 15 minutes smoking in the sawdust, time to remove the blackened and reduced pots (above right). This is very unpleasant - you have to fish for them in the smouldering sawdust, which gives off choking fumes; hence my lugubrious expression. I was also aware of the considerable heat through the gloves, and concentrating on not dropping the pot.

photo of Lois trying to sink hot rabbit pot in bucket of waterThen, you have to quench the pots in cold water to fix the glaze effects - because the pot only had a tiny hole in the base through which hot air was escaping, it was impossible to sink in the water. I had to hold it down - difficult when the heat from the clay is making the water boil. This is how he got his name, because he bobbed about.

(And yes, my bum did look big in this, so I sliced it off the picture!)

photograph of real rabbitphoto of finished rabbit potHere, left, is the finished article. The white crackle glaze on his nose and paws contrasts with the semi-matt black finish where the clay was carbonised during the smoking process.

"Thinks, my copyright has been infringed here" (photograph of our elderly pet rabbit, Snowdrop, snoozing on the lawn. Now long deceased).