Our New Urban Wood Kiln!


I am currently on a hiatus from making work. That does not by any stretch of the imagination mean that I am not very busy. The current project is the construction of a new wood kiln at the University of Louisville, where I teach. After more than month of planning and some very in depth investigations, Todd Burns decided that for our program, the Manabigama design would be the best choice. I agreed.

The Manabigama is a new and highly popular kiln design, the brainchild of John Thies and Bill Van Gilder. These kilns are springing up all over the country for their practicality in the group studio, educational, and workshop settings. Basically a miniaturized and super-powered anagama kiln, the Manabigama apparently reaches target temperature with ease, has highly directional firing effects, and is small enough that a single person could make enough work to fill it regularly, and a class can do a single assignment and fire it as a group. It uses very little wood in woodkiln standards, about a cord per firing.

We began construction of our new kiln on Tuesday. We have gotten some help from a number of our students, as well as some local potters and students from a neighboring university, IU Southeast, and my friend Ryan Shortridge from Bloomington. We have been chugging along and making good – but meticulously careful – progress. Sore from head to toe only a few days into the build, I will not soon forget how much labor it takes to build one of these things.


So far, we have laid the cinder block to make the foundation the right shape for the kiln, then put in the firebox (where the wood will actually be burning), the floor of the kiln, and have constructed a form to build the arch around. Each of these things has taken twice the time we had planned. Both Todd and I are quite anal retentive with everything concerning craftsmanship, and hold firmly to the belief that things we make can only be perfect. As with making art, it takes however long it takes to do it right, no half-assing anything just to save time or energy.


Perhaps my favorite thing about this new kiln we are building is that it is right out the back door and will be totally covered by our kiln pad roof!


More updates to come…


  1. John Bauman says:

    What a cool project! Any chance I could get a “tour” if I made my way down there?


  2. Zygote says:

    I’m green with envy… mabey it time to finish off that degree…

  3. […] the last article, our new urban wood kiln construction project at the University of Louisville has jumped some major hurdles, but continues […]

  4. I’m getting ready to build a Manabigama myself, using refractory block and brick that I got from a brick yard.

    Have you done anything different than the plans call for? Just curious.

  5. Jeff Campana says:

    We significantly changed how the steel goes on there, and doubled the amount of fiber to 2 inches. Todd rigged up a chimney top that we are hoping will cut some of the smoke and flame on the way out. We are right in the middle of a huge city, and need to make an effort to curb those emissions. I will do one more blog entry about that.

    Things that come to mind:

    Make a pad of cinder block to put the whole thing on, to give more space between our kiln pad and the firebox while keeping everything nice and dry. Seems pretty thin down there.

    Make the cinder block chunk flush on both sides with the firebox, so that steel could be run better around the whole thing.

    We find it easier to run steel and do a sprung arch rather than the catenary. That way a shell of softbrick could insulate everything, and the stacking space would be nicer. We would then be able to hang a nice swinging door on it. Not fans of bricking doors here at U of L. The kiln would probably last longer too. The plans as they are have a lot of uninsulated hard brick, hope it doesn’t get way too hot to hang around the kiln.

    If you followed the ordering list, you will have a lot of 18x9x2.5 floor tile left over. Use those for any soldier courses you put in. Those things rock for that.

    The plans do not match the disc you get, so always look at both, then make the call based on your better judgement.

    We put just one spy hole in the back, to line up with the front of the back shelf. The plans call for one towards the front, but we will just put some cone packs where we can see them through the door holes. Didn’t really see the point in a front spy hole. We did not install salt ports. We have a salt kiln right next to it if we want to do that.

    I’ve never seen aluminum foil used the way they call for it to be used. We did it on the firebox but decided it wasn’t for us by the time we got to the floor of the chamber.

    We tried really hard to not use a mortar joint in the cinder block chunk, but ultimately that is the way to go. We ended up using 3 courses of cinder, 1/2 inch of wonderboard, a course of 4 inch pavers, and about a 1/4 inch of mortar.

    Plan a whole day and get about 10 people for the skin coat. It is time-sensitive and actually ended up being 1000 pounds of stuff!

    Good luck!

  6. […] have been tracking the building of our new Manabigama Kiln here at the University of Louisville. In Part One I discussed the basics design and some of the process of building. In Part Two I explained the […]

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