The Kiln Book Revisited

It’s not an eBook yet. There isn’t a fancy edition for the iPad. But the brand new fourth edition of Frederick Olsen’s The Kiln Book is very fancy compared with the first hippie-homespun edition released in 1973. It’s been a decade since he last published a revision, so this new one is welcome indeed.

I still have my seventies copy, slightly tattered, read I don’t know how many times. My younger self believed that if I studied the sections on gas often enough, it would all become clear. In fact, my first burners were homemade from pipe iron. But even today, all these decades of firing with gas later, I do not retain a fraction of what Olsen knows and explains so patiently.

But it was the Tambo kiln and Bizen kiln and Kyoto kiln that most fascinated me in the early version, and I would pore over the drawings and not so sharp black and white photos (the book was emphatically not printed on glossy paper) for hours. Sometimes my heart literally raced looking at all the kilns, the updrafts, the downdrafts, the crossdrafts. I still like to look at kilns.

The new edition, like its more immediate predecessors, has a vertical aspect and coated paper. It is filled with Olsen’s famous charts of information and kiln drawings and color photos of various kilns around the world. Also fun, are the short pieces on his mentors, and glimpses of Olsen himself, as a young man in Japan, an older man in Japan, with other potters, under the beating sun working on a project.

Surely, there is no one, living or dead, who has understood pottery kilns so thoroughly. Usually we come to understand our own kiln but to be a maser of the intricacies and science of gas, and oil, and wood, and electricity is truly astonishing. Olsen is an expert on combustion, bricks, and refractories. He looks back, deep into kiln history and forward, always ready to experiment.

For all his visibility, we do not often see Olsen’s own work. There are not enough images of them here either, in the fourth edition of The Kiln Book, but thankfully there are a few of his bottles and whisky cups.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *