hey folks,

i’m new, so if i’m asking a common question, sorry!

i’m just now entering into this whole idea of survival and rewilding, so i’m trying to figure out what i can do to start off that doesn’t involve dead animals (i’ve seen a lot on tanning skins lately, which i’m interested in, but later when i’ve developed a stomach for it). it occurred to me today that pottery should be really easy to do and really good for my area (this is red clay country), though aside from some exercises in elementary school, i know nothing of pottery (they kept us away from the kiln). i guess my question is, pottery isn’t much more than clay shaped and exposed to high temperatures, right? so if i go out, dig some clay and throw it in a fire, it will get hard? i know most contemporary work in pottery involves a glaze of some kind. are these necessary? if it’d be a good idea, what could i use? does it matter what kind of clay i get? are there dangers?

any wisdom, pointers, or links to primitive pottery pages are appreciated. thanks fellow travelers.

be well,

I have yet to try this myself, but I read that if you make a basic pot, and let it solidify to an extent, a small fire can be put inside of it when laid on its side. This small fire should bake your pot fairly well. It’s fairly important to continually turn and roll the pot to keep the heat equal throughout. Come spring I’ll try it out and get back to you.

here’s a webpage that may be of some interest:

Pottery Containers: Pitfiring Earthenware- http://wildwoodsurvival.com/survival/containers/pottery/aa/aafiring.html

As I hear it, wood firing makes something like a glaze from all the smoke absorbed.

Another easy way to wood fire some pots, which I’m paraphrasing from Evard Gibby’s “How to Make Primitive Pottery”, goes like this. Dig a shallow pit, probably around 6" deep. Lay some long thin logs on the bottom parallel to one another, and place your dried, unfired pottery on top of those. Cover the pottery with dried leaves, cow chips, sawdust, or whatever sort of tinder and kindling you have around. Make sure there’s plenty of this stuff. Cover again with thin logs, again parallel to the ones below. Then build a tepee fire-lay on top. When lit, the fire should work its way down and eventually you’ll get some really nice coals that will heat the pots slowly enough and hot enough. This takes a long time, perhaps most of a day for all the fuel to burn. Then you should wait for it to cool, anywhere from several hours to overnight, and finally take the pieces out and clean them. Voila, you have usable pottery, with little chance of them being completely destroyed, and little cracking.

Since this takes a freakin’ long time and a lot of fuel, people usually wait until they have a number of pieces to fire. I’m hoping to fire some this spring, if I get off my ass and shape a few more pots and cups and stuff.

I made a coil-pot out of clay from my backyard and fired it by building a fire over it in my home fireplace. I did a shitty job making it so it cracked a little when it dried, and a little more during firing but it stayed in one piece so I dont consider this a complete feral failure.

Firing definitely changed the clay: made it feel harder and gave it a lighter color. Didnt get the smoke-glaze look i saw on pots at wintercount though, so maybe i need to make the fire more intense next time… dont know.

I read more about coil-pottery online and so hopefully the next tries turn out better. I dont know anything about the quality of my clay though.

Good information here everyone.

I’d like to be able to add from my own mind, but I can’t remember much about pottery. I found this site that gives a basic explanation and might be useful.

The techniques you’re speaking of seem much lower-temperature, which is obviously more immediately practical. Good kilns require I imagine a somewhat more stationary lifestyle and much energy is needed to build them and to produce the charcoal needed to fire most pottery. Things like this, along with metalworking, can be too much of a drain in certain areas that aren’t as forested or quickly growing as say Europe or the American Northwest, so I’m glad we have some alternatives that still allow for the wonderful thing that is pottery.

I do remember learning in pottery class a few years ago about a technique used in Ecuador I believe (maybe SW Mexico…) wherein pottery (perhaps a special type of clay) was fired without any glaze but ended up very smooth and black.

There are really many great techniques and traditions in crafts such as this that have been lost or almost lost. You can still learn and reproduce some of them, but much of the knowledge of past societies when it comes to craftsmanship is sadly gone and might never be known again. Pottery, carpentry, jewellery and other cast art–it’s all astonishingly primitive throughout the world today.

If I remember or find anything about the way I mentioned, I’ll certainly post about it.

A year ago I found a cave at the beach that had clay in it. I pulled a few hand fulls out, put them in a baggie to keep it from drying out and brought it to Echoes in Time to show to Zach the pottery guy and ask him if it was good for making pots. He said it had some inconsistencies but that with enough work, they could be worked out and it would probably fire well. Rather than work on it I just fired it in the pinch pot style. It fired well.

So this year I went back to that cave and filled a 5 gallon bucket. But this time there were three different looking clays. A red one that seemed more like clay, most, flexible, non cracking. And a gray clay that seemed more dry, cracky. and a little bit of black mixed in with the gray. I tried to fill it with the red clay first, then the gray clay and black. I did the figer wrapping test (make a pencil thick coil and wrap it around your finger, if it doesn’t break its good clay) and the red worked very well and the gray cracked a bit.

It’s been in the bucket for a couple months but I just started processing it and mixing it. I’m keeping the gray with the gray/black and the red with the red. But the more I mix the red, it turns into a very sticky mess, and it changes color to a more mud like brown. Now when I try to make a coil… it breaks. WTF? I thought maybe it was too moist so I let it dry out a bit. That helped with the sticky aspect, but not the cracking coiling aspect. The gray clay on the other hand feels very nice, had remained the gray color and now does not break in a coil. This is very confusing to see the clay changing over time in a bucket and mixing. I don’t quite understand it.

I’m going to make a gray clay cooking pot and a red clay cooking pot and let them dry out for 6 weeks and then fire them at Echoes in Time.

Anyone have any ideas about this?
the gray on the other hand, has been worked nice,

found a cool blog post on the Oko Box site about a primitive pottery experiment.

Nobody mentioned how much sand there has to be in the clay? This is a very important consideration and can spell doom for your piece if there is not enough or too much sand.
Also, coil-building requires certain techniques and the right moisture content in the clay to work well. I know about pottery because I signed up for ceramics class at my local community college. We have several types of kilns, but unfortunately, no wood kilns.