Terry Sullivan and the rest of the crew at Nottingham light the pit at sunset.

Lighting the Pit

The Lighting Ceremony

One aspect about working with clay that has drawn me towards the medium is the wonderful sense of community I have felt when working with other clay artists. This feeling and idea of community certainly was presented well by Marc Lancet and the hosts of this workshop at the Nottingham Center for the Arts. The pit lighting ceremony was one specific moment I really felt this great sense of community.

All workshop attendees gathered around the pit as Terry Sullivan and the rest of the crew at Nottingham started to light the pit during sun down. Marc Lancet advised us earlier in the day to think of a quote, poem, or personal statement that addresses a truth, beauty, or art. As the fire begun to spread across the surface of the pit, members started shouting out their quotes, poems, and personal statements. Everything people said seemed to have more significance as the flames grew larger and larger.


Soon the shouting stopped and all attention was given towards the massive fire. Peoples feelings were mixed. Some were scared, some were excited, some were mystified and some were paranoid that the fire department would soon be on its way.

As the flames rose from five to ten then fifteen to even twenty feet everybody certainly was getting very hot.

This was the plan though, you need the fire to be well established before putting the corrugated steel or cover on top.

Everyone gets quiet as the flames spread fast throughout the pit.


The fire is now well established with flames 10-20 feet high. It's as hot as it looks.

Tips to Get the Fire Established

Certainly the fire pictured on the left is burning well. Here are a couple of hints to get the fire burning well.

  • Use wood pieces that are similar in size and dryness.
  • Light wood with a burning torch of some sort and light the pit in several places evenly throughout the surface of the pit.
  • Use lighter fluid for a quick catching fire. Make sure you add the fluid evenly throughout the pit.
  • Let fire burn for fifteen to twenty minutes before covering, to make sure fire is established.

    Covering the Pit

    Now that the fire is well established it is time to cover the pit. Covering the pit slows the fire down and creates a good environment for the formation of burning coals. To cover the pit we used sheets of corrugated steel. Other types of materials can be used but for a pit this large corrugated steel works very well.

    Pictured on the left is Marc Lancet and me covering the pit. I am hidden behind the flames holding on the other end of the corrugated steel. We are putting about 10 sheets one by one slightly over lapping each one over the pit. As soon as you get all the sheets placed into position, place cinder blocks on each end of the corrugated steel keeping them firmly placed into position.

    This is a picture of the pit right after it was covered. Flames bursted out of the sides of the covering like an erupting volcano.



    This is Marc Lancet and me covering the pit. I am hidden behind the flames holding on to the other side of the corrugated steel.


    This is Mark Lancet using a steel rod and cinder block prying the corrugated steel upwards to create a flu.

    Creating a Cross Draft

    Now that the pit is entirely covered you actually want to slightly uncover the ends of the pit to create a cross draft. To do this you need a 6-8 ft. steel rod and cinder block. In the picture on the left Lancet demonstrates this process. He inserts the rod through top space of the cinder block and then under the sheet of corrugated steel. He then pushes downward on the rod thus, levering up the corrugated steel. He then repeats this process on the other side of the pit. Now the pit is completely set-up with a nice cross-draft going through the pit. That is if the length of the pit is somewhat parallel with the direction of the wind. In any case expect the fire to continue burning between 4-12 hours, so relax and enjoy the fire but stay a safe distance away because many of the fumes are toxic.

    The fire at this workshop continued to burn throughout the night into the early morning hours. To see the final results of this firing click on Next Page.

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