Friday, January 15, 2010

Traditional Smoke Firing

Smoke firing is an ancient traditional African technique. Pots are usually handmade using the coiling technique and the surface may be burnished prior to firing by rubbing with a suitable instrument of wood, steel or stone, to produce a polished finish that survives firing. It is possible to produce very highly polished wares when fine clays are used, or when the polishing is carried out on wares that have been partially dried and contain little water, though wares in this condition are extremely fragile and the risk of breakage is high.
An interesting method is used by Nic Sithole when his hand coiled pots are highly burnished and bisc fired in an electric kiln to 900 °C before the smoke firing. The pot is then covered with cardboard and newspaper, which is set alight. This second smoke firing takes about 20 - 30 minutes and the results are unpredictable and always very exciting. The pot is taken from the hot fire and polished immediately using ordinary floor polish. Once completely cooled, the pot is again polished until the surface is shiny. Only then can the artist see whether he has the results he was hoping to achieve.


  1. Thanks for sharing this Artists techniques, i would have never thought of floor polish.. does it need to be a particular brand? There are so many varieties on the market. would be an interesting experiment.

  2. Hi A'isha, Thanks for the feedback, Love your Blog! We use the cleapest floor polish that we can find in our local supermarket and buy big tins as we use a lot! The Brand we use locally is Cobra, we use the clear one with no colour for these pots but have also used the dark brown, black and burgundy coloured wax, which are also used in many traditional rural African potteries. Let us know how your experiments work! Thanks, Colleen

  3. Do you sometimes have workshops for this (traditional smoke firing)? Please give me some info if you have any.