Hors d’Oeuvres, Poplar Firing

As promised in the last post, I have images of some nice pots fired with Poplar instead of the usual Tamarack. Previously, I had mentioned that I thought the poplar we were getting was Populus tremula, or Trembling Aspen, based on the widespread occurrence of that tree here. I’m going to revise that assertion and say the wood is more likely Populus balsamifera, aka Ontario Balsam Poplar, due to the bark patterns and the alluvial location of the harvest forrest east of here. I could be wrong.

Anyway, the Poplar we get doesn’t have a terribly high heat value compared to Tamarack (Larix laricina), though it builds a better ember bed and seems to have a softer flame, better able to evenly heat the back of the kiln and to wrap around pots in the chamber. Firings with Poplar see much less of the wind-side/lee-side effects of the Tamarack firings. Our last firing with Poplar was 56 hours, but for this Open House weekend fire we kept it to 33 hours.

Also, notice the much lighter and more varied colors from the Poplar ash and the much more varied surface effects from this wood. The ash color can be almost dead white: John Balistreri calls it, “white snot.” Regardless, it seems able to produce the full range of colors and effects that I am looking for. The pots from this firing have stunning opaque white drip lines over charcoal black grounds with glassy green islands between. It’s really a sight to behold.

The first pot is a Chawan that I call Rain. It is standard stoneware with a thin coat of Schiller slip (EPK, Goldart, OM#4). The results are nothing short of stunning. This pot was fired in the throat of the kiln, but was protected by a brick and so did not receive the full brunt of the flame, just plenty of fine ash. Notice the light-colored ash beads on the warm yellow and orange ground transitioning to the cooler ground to the right. The far rim has good warm coloration as well.

Bowl for the Tea Ceremony, named "Rain"

Here’s the back side of “Rain,” fully illustrating the varied effects of Poplar ash on a small pot. This side has much cooler colors than the front, but there’s a nice white cascade over orange and brown on the far rim from the flame curling over the lip of the pot.

Back side of the teabowl named Rain

The second pot in tonight’s lineup is an ovoid vase, about 14 inches high, thrown with a standard all-Grolleg Kaolin porcelain body. The inside is lined with a white shino-type feldspathic glaze (Great White shino), but there’s nothing applied to the outside of the pot. (I suspect there’s a little soda deposition from the liner glaze, though.) This side obviously faced the firebox, and there’s an enormous cascade of white ash glaze to show for it. The top third of the vase shows signs of late-deposition coarse ash in the rough texture. This is material that landed on the pot in the last hours of the firing that never had the time to melt.

Vase in the shape of a football.

Ovoid Vase.

Three more views of this pot follow. The rich, charcoal-gray background from the heavily reduced porcelain is noting short of spectacular in my book. Pay special attention to the yellow-green crystals floating in the glossier areas at the bottom of the pot on the back side.

Here’s the right side, showing the dramatic transition from front to back.

Shows both front and back

Ovoid vase, Right side.

Here’s the back of the Ovoid vase, showing the effects of much finer ash deposition. There’s more color here, but it’s subtle and within the cooler end of the color spectrum.

shows the much finer ash deposition.

Ovoid vase, back side.

And here’s the left-rear side of the vase. This side was quite close to the wall of the kiln, so you don’t see the cascade of white from the front over here as you did on the right side view.

Left side of Ovoid Vase.

Ovoid Vase, Left side.

Finally, a little detail shot of the green crystals near the foot of the vase. They look like lilly pads. Wow.

Lilly pads.

Ovoid vase, reverse. Crystals growing in the glaze.

The last pot for this evening is a large porcelain bottle, also made with a standard Grolleg porcelain. This pot was right in the front row of the firebox, and bears the scars of the ember bed piling up against the lower portion of the body and neck. The erosion line is quite evident, as is the heavy accumulation of late-deposited, unmelted ash on the top of the neck.

Fired in the front row!

Porcelain bottle with heavy ember buildup.

Here, we have the right side of the bottle. The drips are quite white, indeed, especially over the nearly-black body.

nice white streaks!

Right side of Porcelain Bottle.

Here’s the back. Notice the effects of the fine ash deposited here. Great colors.

light ash

Porcelain Bottle, Back.

And here’s the right side. More dendritic rivulets of white ash over the black ground.

more fine white ash.

Porcelain Bottle, Right Side.

Lastly, a couple of macro shots for your amusement. Here’s some encrustations.


Crystals growing in the glaze on the back side of the bottle.

Lilly Pads.

That’s all for tonight. Tomorrow afternoon, I hope to photograph some pots that have been sitting around, waiting for me to grind the slag off the bottoms. I’ll try to post the good ones over the weekend.


About mcleanb

Jump/Web Training Coordinator
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3 Responses to Hors d’Oeuvres, Poplar Firing

  1. Dave Grimmer says:

    Thanks for sharing. Beautiful work and narrative.

  2. Patricia Grimmer says:

    Fantastic! Fun to learn how the different materials influence color and texture of the clay.

  3. Eva Gallagher says:

    Thanks for sharing – I’m new to woodfiring and its good to find out what different woods do. Wonderful effects you got! I’m not up to 30 plus hours of firing but hope to get something worthwile after 18 or so.
    Eva Gallagher

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