A back hoe makes digging a
hole this size a lot easier.

 Digging the Pit

In the diagram on the previous page, the dimensions of the pit are 12 ft. long by 6 ft. wide by 4 ft. deep. It is recommended to dig your pit to 3-4 ft. deep. The length and width depends on how much ware you have to place in the pit and how much room you have in your yard. The pit should be rectangular and not square. A square shape probably will not get a sufficient enough cross draft. Also the length of the pit should be parallel with the direction of the wind to help create this cross draft in the pit.

The pit we dug, or I should say Terry Sullivan dug with this mighty back-hoe pictured on the left, is about 15 ft. long by 5 ft. wide by 4 ft. deep. One of Marc Lancet's largest pits that he has fired was 16 ft. long by 8 ft. wide by 8 ft. deep. So the size of the pit can really vary.

 If you don't have a facility or place to perform a pit-fire as large as the above-listed dimensions, you can dig a much smaller pit that is about 4ft long by 3ft wide by 3ft deep. Many people even use a trash can to pit-fire. These smaller pits will work but will not get up to the temperature of the larger pits. If you are someone who is an expert on performing these smaller types of pit firings and would like to share your expertise within this firing guide please email me. Presently, this Pit-Fire Guide is geared towards the explanation of larger pit firings, although most all this information will help out those who are interested in doing smaller pit-fires as well.

Preparing the Ware

Here are some suggestions to think about as you are making a piece that you are eventually going to pit-fire.

  • Make an object that is simple with few or no extended appendages. Appendages are fragile and may get broken off during this rather rough firing process.
  • Burnished surfaces or application of terra sigillata to the surface can create a beautiful finish. Bisque to cone 010 to prevent loss of surface sheen.
  • Non burnished items should be bisque fired to cone 06 for added strength thus, preventing breakage.
  • Greenware can be fired in the pit although it is not recommended because it is usually not worth the risk. Using a very coarse clay and complete drying and slow gradual heating is absolutely required.

  • You should be able to buy all your supplies for decorating your piece at your local hardware store.


    After bisquing your piece, the following preparation or decoration to your piece is the key to success when pit firing. All these materials used to decorate the piece give off fumes that get trapped in the pores of the clay, marking and coloring the surface. For the clay to trap these fumes, you want these materials to be touching the surface of the clay throughout the firing.

    The decoration of the ware is one of the most innovative parts of Lancet's Pit-Fire workshop. Most of the techniques listed below are acquired from his Workshop and one of his handouts.


    This piece is in the process of being decorated. It has just about all the materials on it listed on the right.

     Decorating Materials

  • Twine soaked in wash - Leaves linear trails; color depends on ingredients in wash.
  • Fine Copper wire - Leaves linear trails that may be black, red, or green.
  • Sea Weed - Should be dry and wrapped tied all over piece. May leave orange, peach and red colors.
  • Fine Steel Wool - In very fine spidery form it will leave beautiful and intricate rust brown fine webs of lines. When applied densely, a gun metallic grey color results.
  • Copper Foil (type used in stain glass and gardening) - Leaves very definite black marks in the shape of the foil pieces attached to your clay form. Copper foil usually has a sticky adhesive.
  • Copper Scrubbers - "Chore Boys," - will leave black fishnet patterns on the clay surface.
  • Organic Materials: bananas peels, potato skins, flower petals , etc. Experiment!

     Color Washes

    Washes can be applied to the whole piece by brushing it on or by dipping it in the wash. You can also soak twine or pieces of wood in these washes and then tie it onto your piece. Bailing wire works well to keep the wood snug to the piece. Here are the recipes that Lancet suggests:

    Copper Wash

  • 3 gallons of saturated saltwater solution - Water with the maximum amount of salt dissolved into the solution.
  • 2 cups of copper carbonate - Health Precaution: Copper is toxic so wear gloves and/or wash your hands immediately after using.
  • Copper Wash/Iron Wash

  • 3 gallons of saturated saltwater solution - Water with the maximum amount of salt dissolved into the solution.
  • 2 cups of copper carbonate - Health Precaution: Copper is toxic so wear gloves and/or wash your hands immediately after using.
  • 1/4 cup of Iron Oxide.
  • Metallic Copper Spray Paint
    Marc Lancet has discovered that copper spray paint is a very powerful colorant. This type of spray paint, applied in subtle sprayed layers using torn paper and found objects to cast silhouettes adds a nice final touch to the finish of a piece. Copper Carbonate is the main ingrediant of the spray paint.


     Wrapping the Decoration Materials to the Piece

    The last step in preparing your piece for the pit is wrapping it up so that all the materials you carefully placed on the surface will stay as close as possible to your piece throughout the firing. At the workshop, most everyone wrapped newspaper around the piece with bailing wire wrapped over the newspaper. You could also use a paper bag with bailing wire wrapped snugly over the paper bag. I have also seen chicken wire wrapped over an entire piece as well. Try something else if you can think of a better method. Just as long as the covering keeps everything close to the ware during the firing as long as possible.

    I suggest experimenting and adapting all these decorating techniques to suit you the best. In fact, think about how you could use these techniques in other firings like a sagger firing. After all, experimentation is the key to sucessfully learning the processes related to ceramic arts.

    This piece is wrapped in
    newspaper and bailing
    wire. It is now ready
    to go into the pit.
    Well now it is time to load the pit. To read about loading the pit click on Next Page. 

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