Enriching lives through art and craft

Testing testing: Low Temperature Soda Fire at Arrowmont

Shortly after returning to campus at the start of the year, Studio Technician and ceramic artist Sam Chumley got to work – outdoors.

Calling on fellow ceramic artists on the Arrowmont staff including Bill Griffith (outreach and partnership liaison), Rebecca Buglio (program and studio manager), and Gracie Herbert (supply store manager), Sam organized a test for one of Arrowmont’s three atmospheric kilns. Specifically, he planned a low-temperature soda fire test.

Atmospheric Kiln Yard at Arrowmont

A typical soda fire places ceramic pieces in a kiln and introduces baking soda (sodium bi-carbonate) and soda ash (soda carbonate) when the kiln reaches a certain temperature. The soda compound is vaporized, and carried throughout the kiln on the flames – creating a glaze that produces unique surfaces and textures as the chemicals react to the inherent compounds of the clay. Often the colors are rich pastels; sometimes shark-like gray textures; at all times, a discovery for the artist once the firing is done.

Sam describes the inspiration and process for testing low-temperature soda kiln firing:

“In recent years there has been an effort to explore atmospheric firing processes at lower temperatures. Traditionally, atmospheric firing has been focused on higher temperatures upwards of cone 10 (2345 degrees). But for a variety of reasons, ceramic artists have been exploring atmospheric firing in the cone 1 to 4 range (2124 degrees).”


“As with any atmospheric firing process, low fire soda requires a bit of experimentation and research to understand the process of the firing and possibility of aesthetics.”

The benefits of low temperature soda fire are personal and environmental. A low-temperature soda fire uses less energy and is of a shorter duration, easing the impact on resources and the environment. For ceramicists, it also offers new opportunities in color, texture, and finishes for their work.
This was Sam’s first time using the low fire soda process. He said,


“For me, this was my first attempt so I really was just looking to learn a bit, and the firing turned out quite well. I had some nice pots come out of the kiln but more importantly I gained a lot of knowledge that I can apply to future firings.”

Pictured in front of the Soda Fire Atmospheric Kiln (left to right): Rebecca Bulgio, Sam Chumley, Gracie Herbert

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