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Pit firing ceramics makes a kiln unnecessary

Firing pottery in a pit eliminates the need for a kiln.
Photo by WPA Pool

One of the requirements for Girl Scouts is to fire pottery without a kiln. For leaders or art teachers interested in doing this, a step by step picture guide can be found at.

Some of the local streams and rivers in the Pensacola area have clay deposits along the shore. Ceramic clay is usually gray in color. The red clay soil found in places like Cantonment can also be used, but it has a lot of sand that needs to be removed from the clay before it can be worked. This is done by turning the clay into a “slip” or a solution in water. Swirl the slip in a bucket so that the clay is suspended in the water. Let the sand settle to the bottom of the bucket, and then pour the slip into another bucket, leaving the sand behind. This has to be done several times to get all the pebbles and rocks out of the clay. Let the final bucket of slip settle until the clay is on the bottom, and clear water is one top. Use a ladle to remove as much water as possible. Then the slip has to be allowed to evaporate until it becomes thick enough to work.

A river does this naturally, depositing the clay in still water bends. So if your troop takes a float trip on a public river, or goes camping at the Girl Scout’s camp in Defuniak Springs, be on the lookout for ceramic clay deposits. Be aware that you can’t take anything from a state or Federal park, including dirt, but private property is under the supervision of the owner.

Be sure to make your pots at least a week before you plan to fire them. The clay has to be completely dry. Small amounts of water trapped in a thick slab of clay can cause the pot to explode or crack when fired. To test a pot, hold it up to your cheek. If it feels cool, it probably has water in it yet. If it feels room temperature, it is most likely dry enough to fire.

The method used on the web site does not call for a glaze. Another method for glazing a pot is to make a thin “slip” or a paint of clay that is about as thick as gravy. After applying the slip to the pot, roll the pot in white sand, pressing the sand into the slip. The sand will melt and turn into a glaze.

If the pot is made from gray clay, and the slip is made from red clay that has iron in it, designs can be drawn on the pot with a red slip. It can be dribbled, poured, or brushed on. This will end up making a pot that is red and white.

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