The gods are cruel…..

Its times like these that I could get me some old fashioned religion. I mean ‘old’ as in some version of what the ancients believed in, just hooked up to modern appliances.

Most electrical things are beyond my comprehension. I know its all science and technology, things that can be understood, not some absolute unknowable mystery. But sometimes it seems pretty inscrutable to me. And its times like these that I remember that I’m not so smart after all. There are minds that are perfectly at home in the spiderweb of scientific intricacies, and then there are minds like mine, ones that are at home in the nebulous garden of wonder and amazement……

So, with three weeks left until my Summer pottery sale I had the bright idea to swap out my kiln’s elements. No big deal. I’ve done it several times now. Many years ago I had to learn bits and pieces of kiln repair, the mantra being that everything goes somewhere specific, and that when you replace things you do it in exactly the way it had been before. That I can do. But don’t ask me why. Don’t ask me what it means for this to go here and that to go there, or what those parts actually do. I suppose I have some vague ideas. I know the names of things like fuses, fuse holders, relays, switches, but just because you can recognize a name and perhaps point to a part, it doesn’t necessarily give you a measure of control over your fate. No. Your success instead hinges on the workings of unseen forces, of powers and agendas that are beyond your control. The gods have weighed in, and we are helpless before them…..

Three weeks to go, and one last bisque kiln to run, and then something like 350 pots to potentially fire….. Of course I don’t need all of them. I have enough of most things already on my shelves. But I was genuinely excited about some of my newer pots. And I do have a few forms, like mugs and plates, that are far below the desired inventory levels. And then there is also one special order that needs to get pushed through….

“Oh great and benevolent Hephaestus, grant me the wisdom to solve the puzzle of my faltering kiln. Lend me your skill in connecting everything back correctly. Bestow upon me the might of thine hammer that I may smite the nasty kinks from its wires…”

And then there’s the weather…..

About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
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8 Responses to The gods are cruel…..

  1. Adrienne says:

    Big-time sad-face, Carter! As I read this, I found myself hoping you have a friend or friends in pottery-rich Athens who will let you use their kilns in a pinch till you get yours figured out. Technical difficulties *suck*, to borrow a juvenile but oh-so-cathartic phrase, & the timing of this one couldn’t be more stressful from the sounds of it. Here’s hoping all your clay babies get baked before those spring sales! Fingers crossed & all the best to you & your pots…A.

    • Thanks Adrienne, unfortunately I think the logistics of using someone else’s kiln would be too difficult. Not only would I need to get some transportation for the pots other than my bicycle, but I’m in the midst of calibrating already finicky glazes. It usually takes two or three firings before the results are what I really like, if I’m lucky. A short glazing cycle probably means its not even worth attempting until I can get ‘old unreliable’ up and running…..

      Sounds like I might have to rummage through my cupboards for some pots to sell! I’m pulling my etsy shop right now, so that’s at least 36 ‘new’ pots I can count on.

      My hope is that I can figure it out myself, but if not that I can impose on a friend who has bailed me out on just about every other electronic impasse I’ve had. I feel so bad about bugging him every time I have a crisis! I guess with electronic engineering as a livelihood those are just skills that are all too rare in the mainstream world…. (Possible advice to parents: Don’t let your kids grow up to be potters unless they have a minimal background in electrical engineering!) Just think how many technological wonders we depend on in our daily lives, and how little most of us understand their workings! When things go wrong it seems that specialists are often required to get things fixed. Ever opened up a TV or computer to figure out what went wrong? A car or a cell phone? A blender or toaster over, for that matter?

      “I beg you great Hephaestus, have mercy on my poor kiln!”

      • Adrienne says:

        I hear you – there is nothing like the privilege of fine-tuning a fire cycle to get the best results from a specially-honed body of glazes. Hard to have that much control when sharing a kiln. And I’m with you on being mystified by electronic things. My boss & good friend AJ Argentina, who runs Roswell Art Center West, stands by the notion that an electric kiln is essentially an oversized toaster, and, as such, fairly simple to understand and to fix. I still feel dumber than I’d like when it comes to kilns. And there’s a difference between understanding the basic moving parts, and having some sort of “feel” or instinct for just where the trouble lies and how to fix it.

        One way or another, wishing you a break-through. Best of luck!

        • True, what you say about control and feel and instinct…..

          Thanks for the sympathy! Fingers still crossed. Calling tech support as soon as they open on the West coast…..

  2. Don says:

    All I was able to gather is that your kiln is out of commission.
    What is the problem?

    • The kiln is an old 1983 model L&L j236 kiln, for which I have replaced all the internal wiring, fuse holders, sockets, switches at least once. The only remaining original parts in the control box are two of the three relays, and the indicator lights. The elements and the cords to the kiln have also been replaced in the 16 years I have been using the kiln.

      Last firing cycle it was taking waaay too long to reach temp, but since my sale was on the horizon I didn’t replace the elements immediately and just muddled through the last series of firings. This time around I decided I would eek out a handful of bisks before I changed the elements and did my glaze firings at cone 6. The bisks had been running smoothly, and they did again.

      So after replacing the elements I attempt a conditioning firing with the kiln empty, and can’t even get to 1000 before the breaker trips. Check all my connections and everything seems good. An electrician friend pitches in and suggests the breaker is too small (despite 16 years of ‘successful’ firing) and we step it up from 50 to 60 amps. The breaker still trips. Monday morning first thing I call Rob Batty at L&L tech support and he confirms that the breaker is still too small (that it really needs 80 amps), and most likely also the cable from the box to the kiln. Which doesn’t explain the miracle of 16 years of firings and now the sudden difficulty…. Rob did say that I ought to be able to fire with only three zones rather than the four I had been using. I’m in the midst of attempting that right now, so fingers crossed! So far so good. Its definitely beyond where it would trip out previously.

      I guess if I can figure out how to get things back in working order from here on out I won’t even wonder at my good fortune all those years firing hopelessly outside the specs for the kiln! The gods must love me after all! 16 years of improbable grace and only now the hiccup…..

      If you have any ideas I’d love to hear them! Thanks Don!

  3. smokey says:

    I am having the same exact problem. What happened?

    • I wish I could tell you. That was 3 years ago and I have a completely different control panel. That 1983 model electrical panel was apparently on its last legs, and the Frankenstein patchwork of new parts was little more than life support…..

      Good luck with your own kiln! Wish I had words to advise you, but now that my kiln works I’m just happy to move on.

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