In 1987, Ken Shenstone designed and built the largest privately owned anagama.
My anagama is constructed of industrial hard brick reclaimed from a steel foundry here in Albion. The front of the kiln is an ovular dome inspired by the industrial design of a furnace in the foundry, while the tail of the kiln is a roman arch derived from the Japanese cave kilns built into the sides of hills, and fired with wood.
The kiln was inspired many years ago by a visit to a local steel foundry, where I was on a trip to collect firebrick. I saw a steel melting furnace that had a lovely, rounded shape, and I thought if I could somehow stretch out the design it would make a beautiful anagama with considerable firebox space.
The length of the kiln is 54 feet (16 m). The dome has a width of 13 feet (4.0 m) and is nearly 6 feet high (2 m) at its highest point. We load with a crew of two or three people at a time, and the load usually takes three or four days. Firings last from nine to eleven days, followed by ten days of cooling. Each firing begins with a very small fire, much like a campfire, that lasts for several days. The middle part of the firing is a steady 10 degree per hour increase until things just begin to melt. During the last few days, the kiln is held at temperatures between cone 8 and 12, manipulating variables to achieve the surfaces we hope for.
The unusually large firebox of this kiln allows many pots to be in direct contact with the coal pile. Such contact leaves dramatic marks on the surface of the pots. The dome is mainly loaded with large jars, platters and sculpture. The tail of the kiln produces more subtle surfaces caused by finer ash. There are dramatic flashing and colors, and the surfaces are more functional.
Length – 54ft
Dome Height – 6ft
Dome Width – 13ft
Total Volume – 960 cubic ft
Firing Time – 10 days
Cooling Period – 2 Weeks
Building began in 1985
5,000 bricks used in construction
Completed in 2 years
loading & Firing
3,000 pieces needed to fill the kiln
50 face cords of wood used each firing
Fired around the clock for 9-10 days
Peak temperature about 2400 degrees F