What's RAKU?

Raku is an ancient Japanese firing technique that was initially used to decorate ceramics used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies.

 

This exciting process gives a unique and rustic crackle effect to the ceramic and glaze, it also often leaves beautiful flashes of copper in the finished piece.

 

 Raku involves a rapid firing to 1000C, followed by placing the red hot ware into a metal drum filled with combustibles, such as sawdust, news paper or grass cuttings.  This instantly bursts into flames.

 The lid is then quickly closed to create a reduction and hence a crackle in the glaze. The fire and smoke then enhances these Crackles.

 

The piece is then plunged into cold water, creating a thermal shock, that crackles and crazes the glaze further and sets the effects.

 

 Once cooled, a layer of black soot must be removed using wire wool. For me this is the most exciting part, as its when the soot is removed the beautiful Raku effects beneath are discovered.

No two pieces ever turn out the same!

 

 

After hand building the individual piece using stoneware clay.

 

I then 'Biscuit' fire it in my electric kiln.

This firing takes approximately 5-7 hours.

I then glaze the piece using specialist Raku glazes.

Biscuit Fire

About 5-6 pieces are placed on kiln shelves inside the outdoor Raku kiln.

 

A gas torch is then used to rapidly fire the ceramic to 1000C.

This takes approximately one hour. Using the gas torch is a very noisy process!

Raku Kiln

Once the lid of the kiln is removed, the now glowing hot ceramic is then removed using black smiths tongs.

Fire retardant clothing and heat protective apron and welders gloves are required for this processes, along with a breathing mask, as the fumes are toxic.

Lifting Kiln Lid

The ceramic is now placed in a metal container containing various constables

that set alight.

Some artists like to experiment with various conbustables such as news paper, leaves and hay.

 

However in ten years of Raku firing I have found wood shavings to work  the best.

Conbustables

Closing the lid on the container rapidly reduces the oxygen within and creates a reduction process that causes the crackle effect within the ceramic and glaze.

 

This often weakens the ware and breakages are sadly common.

Reduction

After allowing the Ceramic to smoke and cool for approximately 20 minuets, I then remove it from the container using metal tongs and welders gloves.

 

I then plunge each piece into water. This helps to set the effects on the glaze and also to create  thermal shock that adds to the crackle effect.

Taking the Plunge

Each piece is now covered in a thick film of black soot.

 

This needs to be scrubbed off using wire wool to expose the Raku effects beneath.

 

This can be a tedious job, however it is also the most exciting, especially if the piece has crackled well.

Wire Wool Scrub

The Raku effects are very unique, each firing is different so no two pieces are ever identical.

Any un-glazed parts are blackened by the smoke.

 

Sometimes flashes of copper can be seen along with beautiful blue,green and orange tones.

I still feel excitement and anticipation with every Raku firing and love to experiment with mixing my own Raku glaze colours.

The Finished Piece

A: Weymouth, Dorset, England, DT3 4AN

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E:  Belinda_sales@msn.com

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