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The Mirror as an Aid in Firing a Kiln

Using the mirror to test for moisture inside the kiln.


The Mirror as an Aid in Firing a Kiln

Recent Q&As: Pyrometric witness cones

More videos added to Paragon’s website

Interview with PMC teacher Tim McCreight, author of the new book “PMC Technic.”

Click here for information on Tim’s new book



A small mirror has several uses around a kiln:

1) Angle a mirror in front of a peephole to see into the firing chamber of a top-loading kiln. You won’t have to crouch down as far.

2) Check the element grooves for debris such as pieces of clay.

3) Use a mirror when loading a cone into the Kiln Sitter.

4) Check for vapor during the venting period of a ceramic firing. Hold the mirror near a peephole for several seconds. If it fogs, moisture is still coming from the kiln. Leave the lid in the vented position until you can no longer detect moisture on the mirror.



Q. Should you put pyrometric witness cones on every kiln shelf?

[Note: A witness cone is placed on the kiln shelf of ceramic firings. The cone indicates whether the ware has received the correct amount of heat.]

A. Yes, it is a good idea to place cones on every shelf when you are firing a ceramic kiln that you are unfamiliar with. Cones will help you to get a feel for the way the kiln fires.

Once you become familiar with the kiln, you will probably feel comfortable firing with only one set of cones on one shelf.



Three weeks ago I announced Paragon’s new on-line videos. Today I added five more videos:

M002 Accessing the Electrical Parts

M016 Replacing a Lid Heating Element (Plunge Type Groove)

M017 Cementing a Broken Firebrick

M018 Replacing a Lid Heating Element (Ball Groove Type)

M020 Door Rotary Safety Switch Adjustment

Click here for video page



Click here for information on Tim’s new book

Q. When did you first get interested in jewelry?

A. I started making jewelry as a diversion when I was in college, where I was studying philosophy and English. It took several years before it dawned on me that what I was doing to balance my academic activities was really what I wanted to be doing full time.

Q. What area of metalsmith work do you find especially interesting?

A. When I started I was most intrigued by form, which led me to casting and forming techniques like raising and die forming. Along the way my interest shifted to a fascination with surfaces, which has led me to engraving, chasing, and similar techniques. In metal clay I am perhaps most interested in surface, but these distinctions are only noticed after the fact. When I'm working, I just follow my curiosity.

Q. What was your reaction to PMC in 1994 when you saw samples for the first time?

A. Frankly, disbelief. I was sitting around a kitchen table at a farmhouse in northern Maine, flanked by an American engineer, a respected mentor, and two Japanese businessmen. Language was an issue, so when they said the metal objects laid out on the table in front of me had started out in the form of clay, I thought there was a translation error.

Q. How did your first attempts with PMC turn out?

A. Very mixed. Some outright failures, some pieces that could have been made in other ways, but with enough successes in the mix to keep me moving forward. I found (and continue to find, for that matter) that I am more open to experimentation with metal clay than with conventional techniques.

Q. What were your first mistakes with PMC?

A. A general shortcoming was that I over-worked my pieces. The more I work with PMC, the more I value the deliberate gesture and the quick escape.

Q. Please describe the 1995 Haystack Mountain School think tank where the group analyzed PMC. [This group studied PMC for the manufacturer in Japan to decide whether PMC should be marketed in the United States.]

A. First, it was a remarkable collection of talented people, each one a leader in the field. Second, we all noted that even though the 15 people represented a wide range of age and experience, in this material we were on a level playing field. There are many special memories I carry from those important days, but perhaps the most vital is the absolute openness of the artists. Each person was willing to share whatever they encountered, including their disasters. There wasn't an ego in the studio.

Q. In a few sentences each, please describe the personality and artistic style of the ten artists in PMC Technic.

A. Wow, this is difficult. With apologies in advance if I get it wrong, I'll give it a try (in alphabetical order):

• Tonya Davidson brings her many years of ceramic work to her innovative use of the metal clay syringe. Her energetic approach to materials and techniques leads her to invent new ways of working.

• Celie Fago is well known as a gifted teacher and a maker of elegant designs. In addition, she devotes untold hours of research to develop the techniques for which she is known. This is true of the polymer technique called Tear-Away, her work with keum-boo, and in metal clay hinges, which is what she covers here.

• Jennifer Kahn has worked with Celie for several years, and along the way developed a particular method of making thin metal clay bezels. Perhaps because she has picked up Celie's devotion to perfection, we know her instructions will be carefully tested and refined.

• Doris King was familiar with metalsmithing techniques before she came to metal clay, so it is natural for her to research ways to bridge the two fields of metalworking. She has a jeweler's love of precious stones and developed ways to combine conventional settings with metal clay.

•Terry Kovalcik's other life is as a professional illustrator. He brings to his PMC work the same narrative whimsy, attention to detail, and commitment to perfection that distinguishes his graphic work.

• Noorte Meijerink is a ceramic artist from the Netherlands who has found ways to embellish her raku vessels and panels with silver. Her work is highly graphic and has been met with immediate popularity.

• Kelly Russell storms into the metal clay world with great energy and a child-like willingness to try anything. The result is techniques and hybrid approaches that give her work immediacy and power.

• Barbara Becker Simon, like many of the other contributors, has training and experience in several craft media. With backgrounds in traditional metalsmithing, polymer clay, and lampworking, Barbara continues to push the envelop of technical innovation. What is remarkable is that all her experiments come out as fully resolved pieces.

• CeCe Wire has made her mark on the field of metal clay through a busy teaching schedule and two successful books. She learned about water etching from a potter and has developed it for metal clay, sharing her ideas freely as she goes.

• J. Fred Woell could have retired before he even touched metal clay and still have earned a reputation as a leader in American jewelry design. Unable to walk away from the field that he has influenced so much, Fred continues to bring his self-effacing charm and Yankee inventiveness to this new material.

Q. How did you choose Portland, Maine as a location for your publishing business? [Tim McCreight started Brynmorgen Press in 1985.]

A. I moved to Portland in 1988 to take a teaching position at the Maine College of Art. I taught there until a few years ago and feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with such wonderful students there. I had only visited Maine briefly before then, but once I arrived, I felt like I belonged here. Maine has a rich history of craft and an active arts culture.

Q. How can you tell, visually, if PMC is over or underfired?

A. It is not possible to tell by looking if PMC is properly sintered. One possible way is to trace the piece before firing, then gauge the rate of shrinkage by placing the fired piece on the tracing. For a large symmetrical piece this might work, at least as far as offering an educated guess, but it is far from precise.

Q. What is the temperature latitude in firing PMC?

A. The "original recipe" version of PMC had a very narrow firing range. Proper sintering only occurred when the metal was held at 1650F for two hours. PMC+ not only fires in a shorter time but provides a much broader range, running from 1470F – 1650F. PMC3 pushes those limits even further and can be fired as low as 1110F. In all cases, there is a trade off between time and temperature — the lower the temperature, the longer the work needs to "cook" to become dense.

Q. What major design trends has PMC artwork gone through since 1995?

A. Well, that's another huge question… As with any new material, early work often copies existing technology as artists explore the unique properties of the newcomer. In the case of metal clay, early work probably looked like cast and fabricated jewelry.

Also, and this may be unique to metal clay, the material was developed by scientists working in a lab, so it was not until working artists got started with it that real technical innovations were made. These are still happening, and coming along with great speed, which is why the field is so exciting.

Q. To what extent are you still interested in philosophy and English?

A. I spend a good bit of my time with language—writing, reading, and editing—and I continue to be fascinated with written communication and the power of storytelling. As for philosophy, I remain interested in trying to understand why we humans think the way we do, though the formal aspects of academic philosophy are beyond me.

Q. If you were to give a beginner with PMC only one pointer, what would it be?

A. Lighten up! I fully appreciate the cost of metal clay and the fact that its ease of use, paradoxically, makes us tense up for some reason. I get questions all the time from people who haven’t opened their first package, but they have already rehearsed a dozen problems that they anticipate. Imagine someone about to play tennis for the first time who starts with lots of questions. I’d tell them the same thing — lighten up, trust your instincts, and see what happens. When you stop defining success as a predetermined state, you open yourself to kinds of success you couldn’t imagine before.

Q. How did you become interested in custom knifemaking? (Tim is the author of “Custom Knifemaking.”)

A. As much as I love jewelry, there is some frustration over the delicacy of work in silver and gold. Knives not only get around that but also offer exciting opportunities for working within functional parameters. I enjoy the process of making a tool designed for a specific task.

Q. Who are your favorite knifemakers?

A. There are fabulous artists making knives around the world, too many to mention, but to be honest, my first thoughts go to the students I've worked with as they made their first knives. There is nothing to compete with the satisfaction of mastering the skills that transform raw materials into elegant tools.

Q. Do you heat treat your own knives?

A. Yes, my approach is traditional and old-fashioned. I cut my blades from 01 carbon steel, create the shape by hand filing, then heat treat with a torch.

Thank you,

With best wishes,

Arnold Howard Paragon Industries, L.P. – Better Designed Kilns 2011 South Town East Blvd. Mesquite, TX 75149-1122 Voice: 972-288-7557 & 800-876-4328 / Fax: 972-222-0646 /

PRIVACY NOTICE: Under no circumstance do we share or sell your email address.

Copyright 2007, by Paragon Industries, L.P.

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