In the Studio: 8 July smoke firing

I mentioned a couple months ago the struggle I have with posting my personal studio fare on a blog I hope to be a place for some discussion beyond technical issues related to my craft. Like I said, I’m comfortable at this point with mingling the deeper thoughts and my personal work. This may change in the future, however, especially depending on what The Aesthetic Elevator looks like with it’s additional contributors.

Then again, I hope this will be a place for future contributors to share their own work as well. So we may just roll with it.

The following images are from a smoke firing in my electric kiln.

A few small funnels, designed to hang.
One of the tornadic forms I’ve been exploring,
smoke over a very dry titanium glaze.
Smoke over a commercial lead-based glaze.

I’m still perfecting this technique, but it’s coming along. Some of the time I don’t use enough newsprint to get enough color and variation. I’ve begun using other organic matter as well for the smoke, including sawdust, leaves and last night a large dead beetle that seemed to give a nice sheen to one of the funnels.

Adding: Julie asked for more about the technique in the comments below, and I thought I’d elaborate on what I know here in the post instead of in the comments.

I don’t actually know much about the smoking process. I learned of it last year some time on a website, but can’t find that same site again for the life of me. It described the technique well. Other internet references to smoking in an electric kiln are cursory at best.

Surfaces finished with a terra sig seem to take the smoke better than those without. So, in my mind, the first step is to apply a sig to your greenware. After bisqued, apply any glaze that will be on the finished piece and glaze fire. The once I tried firing glaze over the smoke, the smoke disappeared entirely. As you can see above, how glazes react to the smoking process can be very different.

I then place individual pieces on a sheet of foil and wrap them in one or two layers of very moderately crinkled paper, preferably newsprint. Other papers seem to simply gray the surface of the clay. Don’t use too much or too little paper. Leaves and sawdust work as well. Pretty much anything dry and ready to burn can be used with some success. I then wrap the foil around the paper and object. Saggars can be used instead of foil.

I usually only fill the bottom of my old electric kiln with pots or sculptures for smoke firings. I run the bottom element on high for 45 minutes to an hour (an hour is probably longer than necessary), let it cool and remove the works. Some of the smoke will discolor the bottom of the kiln, but this goes away during the next higher temperature firing.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

8 Responses to In the Studio: 8 July smoke firing

  1. Julie says:

    These are beautiful. Could you share more about your procedure/technique for the firing? All details welcome…

  2. Julie says:

    That is rather helpful! Thanks! How hot do you go, give or take?

  3. TAE says:

    I have no idea how hot it gets. I need to acquire some cones in the near future to figure out what actually goes on inside my old kiln. At this point I just use bars for the sitter . . .

  4. Jeri says:

    Give this site a try, do a search on the site and you’ll find a wealth of information regarding smoke fireing.
    I just recently learned about it as I’ve recently started a renewed interest in the art… well, not exactly true, I’ve only recently been able to renew my skills and knowledge, goodness, things seem to have changed a bit in the last 40 years.

  5. maria gutierrez says:

    thank a lot very useful
    i have been looking forever
    i’ve needed help to try smoke firing in an electric kiln
    do you know if it produces a lot of smoke?
    because my schools kiln is indoors.

  6. pcNielsen says:


    There is some smoke although, from what I can tell, not all that much. However there is some that I can smell; my kiln is next to the garage door, which is open whenever I fire.

  7. Pingback: Anna Keiller smoked ceramic sculptures « The Aesthetic Elevator

  8. Maria says:

    These are really nice there is not many artist that do smoke firing in the electric kiln. I found a guy named russel fouts he does a variety of smoke firing in the electric kiln. I followed his techniques and they turned out really good.
    1. Apply terra Silligata on a bisgue fired piece
    2. Apply cut out newspaper, make desirable design
    You can also use tape . 3.Cover it all tighty with aluminum foil
    4. Set kiln at 480 degrees
    5. keep it in for about 7 hours, the longer the better

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