Raku, the firing method, originated in Japan. This method flourished in the 16th-19th centuries. Raku was used to create bowls for the Zen ritualistic tea ceremony.
The process was modernized in the 1960's in the Western world by adding a post-fire reduction. Today's Raku firing is a very dramatic experience.
The process begins with the application of hand-mixed glazes which contain different metal oxides. The glazed pieces are loaded into a specially-built kiln that is heated with a propane torch. The lit torch pushes approximately 200,000 btu's of fire into the kiln. When the kiln's atmosphere reaches between 1,600-1,850 degrees Fahrenheit, the torch is turned off. The red-hot pieces of pottery are immediately removed from the kiln with special tongs and placed into reduction containers that are filled with combustible materials such as straw, sawdust and paper. Once the combustible ignites and the flames dance around the pottery, the reduction container is covered and sealed.
This starves the fire of oxygen from air, leaving the combustion no choice but to utilize molecular oxygen from the glazes and clay body, leaving bright metallic ion and irridescent luster behind. Reduction also turns unglazed clay body black.
This firing method is very stressful to the vessel (as well as to the artist), as many pieces are lost during this final stage of creation. The pieces that survive thus become very precious. Raku-fired pieces of art are not intended to hold food or liquid. Most often they used decoratively; however, if used for a vase, you may insert a plastic or glass container. Because of the chemical reaction, I recommend displaying Raku out of direct sunlight.
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