I have been working most of the month of August on taking down a Bourry box wood kiln named Ana, about an hour away from my studio at Creek Road Pottery LLC here in Laceyville, PA. It was a rather large task.
I had never taken down or rebuilt kilns, so the process and techniques were new. I had plenty of time, as no one else was going to move the kiln, nor was it going to grow legs and walk away. I quickly concluded that one good way to deconstruct a kiln was to safely take it apart one brick at a time, break as few bricks as possible, and stack them all on pallets. I aimed to deconstruct and stack the whole kiln by the end of August. I needed it done before the weather turned cold.
Deconstructing The Bourry Box Wood Kiln
I started first on the large fire chamber, a “Bourry” box with an old-time style handmade tatami brick dome top. The Bourry box was built to make loading the wood easier, as the grates and side stoking are about waist high or taller. Many configurations of the Bourry box involve how the kiln heats and draws in air.
I photographed the set-up and porthole configuration for the reconstruction process. I wore my safety glasses, gloves, and mask and took the kiln apart. After removing the high-temperature kiln insulation, chicken wire, and a fire clay mortar mixture holding everything down, I removed the firebox brick by brick after lightly tapping them with a rubber mallet. As I worked, I began to appreciate the kiln’s construction and saw the wood kiln as a work of art.
The handmade cone-shaped tatami bricks that made the dome of the fire box were held together with a fire clay mortar was a technique used on the tube kiln in Japan. The tatami brick process was also used in the wood kiln Hamada Shōji and Bernard Leach created, after meeting in Japan and traveling back to St Ives in 1921. The history behind the tatami brick is quite interesting. To learn more about the tatami brick and recipe to make them, click here.
I collected all the tatami bricks that were in the firebox dome and put them in crates, and I shoveled up all the scrap fire clay and shards to use as a weight for the covering of the kiln when I reconstructed it. So, parts of this kiln will be repurposed. Even the somewhat melted bricks of the firebox were saved for later use. I went out on days off between work at the paper factory and simply stacked brick.
It was very labor-intensive, but my farming background and good work ethic paid off as things went quicker than expected. I listened to podcasts on my headset to pass the time and get into the repetitive workflow. Taking out the grates, I noticed that the previous owners must have introduced soda to the firings as the glazed-over drips of unique colors were on the bottoms of each rod.
After the firebox, I then moved on to the wear chamber. The wear chamber went quite quickly as most bricks slid right out. I was relieved as the inside of wear chambers can sometimes be coated from the wood ash passing through, which can fuse the bricks. I also thought I needed to place the wooden arch form back inside the chamber so the arch would not simply cave in when the bricks were removed. However, I could lightly tap the bricks with the rubber mallet, and they slid right out almost in the order they seemed to be stacked. When I reached the top keystone, the text at the top said the kiln was reconstructed at the current site in 2011.
Over the next few weeks I made time on my days off to take down the kiln. Once the wear chamber bricks were apart and stacked, I deconstructed the 20-foot chimney. This was more of a challenge as I needed to climb above the kiln shed roofline and pull the bricks out of the angle iron frame that held the stack together. It took about ten pails being lowered before I was far enough below the roofline, sufficient to where I could reach the bricks underneath. I thought I could have simply tossed them into the lawn, but the gravel pad the kiln shed was built on was challenging and would have broken the bricks in the landing.
With the help of the previous owner, Nan. I lowered pails of brick while she unloaded them. Once the piles were large enough, I would stack them all on pallets. This part of the process went painfully slow, but it gave me time to chat with Nan, catch up on 23 years of the past, and learn more about her story and firing Ana the kiln. I was very relieved to have this part of the task completed. I took images of the bottom of the chimney set up of the draft, inlet ports, and damper configurations, then took a break.
While I write fiction stories about my hometown here, what I am about to write was very tragic and true and, at the time, came as a rather sudden and shocking surprise. On the day I left to deconstruct the wear chamber, a murder-suicide occurred next door. All looked normal that morning as I left the studio around 8:00 a.m. to work the kiln, but little did I know a tragic event was unfolding most horribly. I will not go into detail here on such things, but I wanted to say Fay Ann Pedro, age 45, of Silvara, PA, passed away on Friday morning, August 11, 2023. A life cut short by violence in a tragic way.
I will never forget Fay as a hard worker, working the same job but on different lines at the paper factory. I would see her out working her yard and waving, but they mostly kept to themselves. I am unsure how I could have been a better neighbor, but going to work will never be the same for many people because she touched many lives and will be sorely missed. So, as a small tribute to a life cut short early, I wanted to write here about the event as it impacted the community terribly. My heart goes out to the family and loved ones Fay was forced to leave behind.
I need to now start prepping for the Fall and Winter shows. The Susquehanna County Artist Tour is right around the corner, and then comes my big Fall show on the local Pumpkin Trail. Until next time, do justice and love mercy. If you’re a maker, do good work for people who care.
Artist/Owner of Creek Road Pottery LLC