In the rush to embrace the latest technologies, we can easily overlook the potential in discarded and surplus materials. Penn State students and faculty in the ceramics area of the School of Visual Arts have explored this potential by constructing a new ceramic kiln that is made up almost entirely of recycled components.
Students in the course Kiln Building and Glaze Formulation, taught by professor Tom Lauerman, researched, designed and built an efficient natural gas kiln capable of reaching temperatures in excess of 2,300 degrees fahrenheit.
The new kiln combines traditional brick building techniques with contemporary equipment. While the walls of most kilns are between 4 and 9 inches thick, the new kiln, nicknamed “Reclaim,” has walls that are 11½ inches thick. This extra girth is provided by an outer layer of hundred-year-old red bricks recovered from a building that was recently torn down. A range of glaze colors was developed in class and applied to this outer layer of bricks, giving the kiln its distinctive multi-colored jacket.
The kiln also benefits from several modern amenities. It has a digital pyrometer providing a real-time display of its current temperature, as well as a sophisticated oxygen sensor that allows the gas and air present in the firing to be precisely monitored. This helps to create a range of visual effects in the fired result.
“Reclaim” required a significant amount of labor, but was built at almost no cost. Hundreds of damaged bricks were cut by students and faculty into smaller sizes so the broken bits could be discarded. The result is a very much handmade product whose patina, inside and out, reflects the long history and many previous uses of its constituent parts.