Sculptures out of the kiln

The kiln shut off during the night and by afternoon it was cooled down enough to open the lid and after a bit- remove the two pieces with gloved hands, the 137 came out great, it weighs 25#

Kiln firing

I decided to put the first set of two clay sculptures in the kiln now, with the 137 grotesque on the bottom resting on it’s top, and with the shelf furniture I had to stack some posts to get the height above the sculpture so the shelf can be laid on top of them and not touch it. Once the shelf was in, 22-D was laid on her back on some posts to let the heat and air circulate inside from underneath- ditto for the 137 on the bottom which was raised up so it’s top gets the full heat and red color evens out over the whole piece.
Pretty close! the metal rod has only 3/8″ space between it and the nose- showing how close the kiln lid will wind up to her nose when closed!
If it didn’t fit I’d have to fire one 137 at a time, luckily it was just short enough I was able to fit the shelf and a 22-D on top.

Wish I had a larger kiln, as it is I COULD add a blank spacer ring to gain 4″ more height but since it’s blank and doesn’t have any heating elements, adding one in can change how long the firing cycle takes as well as the color of pieces sitting in that zone.

To upgrade to a larger kiln I’d have to have all new electrical supply installed from the weatherhead on down to the breaker box itself, even the meter socket would have to be changed out, and all that would run around $3,000 which I can’t justify right now.
I only have a 100 amp breaker box and the incoming line is less than that I discovered.

A workaround would be having the wire from the weatherhead to the meter, and the meter socket replaced, and a disconnect box installed, THEN I could shut the disconnect off and easily replace the cable from it to the breaker box and the breaker box itself myself, but even that would run around $2,000.

More kiln firing

I now have 3 of the 137’s and 2 of the 22-D’s in pressed red terracotta almost dry, I think I’ll fire one of each in two weeks they should just fit the kiln together, and then repeat the same loading of two each weekend until they are all done.
I still want to make one more of the little 22-D keystones so she can go in with the third 137 and I can get two pieces done together for the same cost.
Think I’ll do the 22-D to-morrow so it can start drying out.
Those 137’s are pretty thick and weigh 30# each.

294 girl keystone terracotta “conversion”

I decided this stunning keystone- a cast I made of the original 1895 one I had years ago, is small enough it can be done in pressed terracotta too, but I have to make a new mold of her first, as the old rubber mold I have which was made with a brand of silicone rubber I stopped buying a decade ago when it started tearing real easily is pretty well on it’s last leg, one more cast out of that and I’m sure by now just removing the rubber from the cast will just tear into pieces.
So I need a new mold, and then I’ll need to make a soft rubber cast and a plaster backer section. So it will take a a few steps to do it, but it’s such a well done face it really needs to be put out there again.

She came from over the window by the blue arrow in the 2nd photo, there were only 2 of them, the other one had been cracked and the face was gone.


July 9

Well shoot, no point thinking about it, I went ahead and just ordered the $205 worth of mold rubber I need to make the new mold so I can do it next weekend, I have the molding plaster on hand too.
I’ll still need to get the cheaper rubber to cast one positive with in the new mold so I can make the plaster mold off that, at least that cheaper rubber is about $80 less.

Westside Highway Art Deco model continued

It took some doing but I managed to print a full sized image of the model to be done, I had scaled the design out a couple of years ago in CAD software but now that software version I used will not run on my newer machine and I could not longer read the existing files. SO I wound going back to an older machine that was archived, that has the software on it AND works with my printer. SO I was able to scale the image 1:1 with the page layout and print it in multiple 8-1/2 x 11 sheets.

I thought about this design and how I was going to get the different levels easiest, so I came up with two running templates to use to set the depth of the “background” which is the riveted plate steel, and the 3 horizontal structural beams top,bottom and near the top, and then the raised portion with the street name which uses the 2nd running template to form it’s parameters nice and neatly too.
The rest of the elements will need to be built up and shaped.

July 7th

Stopped for today on the model now that it is set up and rough laid out.
As planned, I gave the sides a ragged torn look which will be worked on more when the clay is firmer.

137 grotesque pressed terracotta

Pressing #2. I still get defects that have to be hand worked over, tiny seam lines between adjacent portions of clay pressed in next to one another, I don’t know if in the old days they used a wetter clay or if it was just technique.

Another time-lapse video, hand pressing another 137 grotesque keystone, starting with 40# of red clay and ending up with 35# after cleaning it up.

West Side Highway (Miller) Art Deco model

I think I will go ahead and start this model I planned to do back in Dec 2015 but didn’t get past setting up the form for the shape.
The model was to depict one of the large cast-iron Art Deco styled ornaments once gracing the elevated West Side (Miller) Highway that ran along Manhattan’s West coast along the Hudson (North) River. The elevated highway was built starting at the end of the 1920s and construction of additional extensions continued into the 30s.
The city hired noted sculptor Rene Chambellain to model replicas of the 5 historic city charter seals as well as these ornamental pieces at the foor of each street to have the street name and shipping pier number. For this model I chose the Desbrosses St/ pier 29-31 because the Library of Congress has a set of high res tif photos of this detail taken around 1968 for the Historic American Building Survey program (HABS)
Chambellain made plaster models of these for approval and casting in iron. The “wings” of the piece span about 16 feet, so these were massive pieces!
Above the “wings” under the top railing is a separate ornament with “wings” and an hour glass motif, I owned 2 of those at one point and they weighed a little over 500# each!
The design symbolizes the machine age and air flight, which in the 20s was still fairly new. An alternated design to the hourglass on that were those having a set of 3 propellors.
The highway and it’s iron superstructure was so poorly maintained by the city that by 1973 a 100 foot long section of the roadway collapsed onto the streets below under the weight of an asphalt truck ironically on it’s way to a paving repair further up the highway. The cause was corrosion from poor maintenance, and the elevated highway was closed permanently and demolished in stages over 20 years.
My model will have “torn” ragged side edges symbolic of how the highway was cut up into sections, ripped apart and scrapped.
Only one of these large ornaments apparently survives installed on the facade of a city pier, all the others were scrapped.
“Desbrosses Street” was named after an influential local family by that name who oddly enough and despite contemporary attempts to pronounce it differently, according to the 1892 book “Everyday English” By Grant White- they pronounced their name “De’ broose”

137 grotesque mold done

I have #137’s mold finished, it took the whole 50# bag of moulding plaster. it will be a couple of weeks before it’s dried out but it will be about 3 weeks before I order more clay and materials anyway.

First 22-D keystone firing

The first pressed 22D is dry, so she is stuck down at the bottom of the kiln where she fits nicely and also an inch away from the kiln walls. I decided the best position to fire these is flat on their backs rather than standing upright on their tops where the center webbing and the bottom could possibly sag downwards a bit from gravity when the clay gets soft from the heat. I can fit two of these in laid flat.
So to do that I can use 5 of my nice tall posts to support the octagon shelf which in turn supports the 2nd sculpture. The 7 small posts laid flat on the shelf are there to raise the sculpture up off the shelf so heat and air can circulate inside it while at the same time supporting it well and evenly all around it’s back so it won’t likely warp.
I was going to put the 2nd beaver panel in with the one 22D but they won’t fit together with 22D laid flat, so now I have to change gears and press another 22D but using the remaining red clay I have which should be JUST enough, and that will be about 3 weeks before that one is dry enough to fire. So it’s going to be about 3 weeks wait until I can do another load.

All the posts and shelf, shelves since I have several half octagons as well- are called “kiln furniture” so a different meaning for an old word most people never knew!
This kiln came with a nice selection of included furniture in the package- a variety of posts, shelves, and wired stilts used under glazed pieces.

Beaver panels done

I took the two sculptures out of the kiln a little while ago, they look good. The beaver started out 22″ x 13-1/2″ and when the clay was bone dry he measured 20-7/8″ x 12-3/4″ and then after firing the final measurements are 19-1/2″ x 12-1/4″, so the shrinkage through the processes amounts to about 11% for this clay.
He weighs 28#
The white clay I won’t be using, I got some of that thinking it could be glazed, but having white clay and red clay in the same molds will cause cross-contamination with white bits getting on the red and vice-versa and that could be a lot of trouble trying to control. As it is, a slight bit of the residue of the white clay wound up in the beavers’ beard.
I have another red one that can be fired next weekend.

The 2nd 22D is pressed with red clay.

137 mold continued

I did a little bit of cleanup work on 137’s plaster backing block, so I’ll probably soap it up and start making the side pieces of the mold once I smooth and clean up the one side and top which I had to add a little more plaster to the other day to line up the sides of the plaster block with the sides of the rubber better.

Beaver panels firing

I decided to modify the kiln firing schedule for the two large beaver panels- adding another hour to the first segment, slowing it down between a couple of critical temperature points, and then adding a couple of cool-down segments that will slow that down from 1600 to 950 degrees as it passes thru a critical temperature in the 1100 range.
I didn’t add a slow down before now, when the kiln shut off it shut off and cooled, and 2000 degrees cools pretty fast with the power off, so now when it reaches 1600 the heat will turn back on to slow it to 175 degrees drop an hour down to 950 when it shuts off, that will help avoid potential problems from cooling these heavy pieces too fast.
All added up it looks like the estimated time now will go from 24-26 hours to about 32 hours, so if I switch it on at 2pm on Friday it should shut off around 10pm Saturday.

Actually, I think I’ll turn it on to-morrow at 7AM instead


Turned on this morning  (Thursday) at 7:10, it’s started it’s inexorable temperature climb from 195º around 6 pm to 2,070º by to-morrow afternoon, so it will be slowly increasing all night into to-morrow. I won’t be able to open it until Saturday late afternoon to see if both beaver panels made it, though as soon as it hits about 1,000º I should be able to at least see the tops of the panels through the upper peep hole, if I can see them through the peephole then they are still standing and didn’t explode, so that will at least be a preview of sorts

Right now @ 272º it’s above the boiling point of water, so the sculptures would be steaming off any moisture, at this stage the programmed segment has a temperature rise of 50º an hour to 300º. It was 80 or 100º previously and all went fine, but I decided to slow it down to be safe even though it adds a couple more hours time.

Looks like the kiln shut down around noon, it was on the cooldown from 2,070º when I checked at 12:30 and it was 2,015º. Now it’s still idling according to the programming I did- until it hits 1,600º and then it will provide enough heat to keep the cooling rate to 175º an hour down to 950º when it shuts off. The first hour it started cooling down it went down 250º, the higher the temperature the faster it’s lost per hour when the heating elements shut off, but that rate per hour falls as the temperature drops.
Probably by the time it’s 1,600º it may naturally only fall 175º/hour or less and not even need the elements turning on, we’ll see.

“converting” 294 keystone to terracotta

filled the mold for this with water to see how much it takes, it too just about 2 gallons, so that gives me an idea how much rubber it would take to make a positive cast to turn this design into terra cotta too, it would fit in my kiln easily.
Interesting thing about this piece is, way back around 1978 I was looking for work and not having much luck finding anything, somehow or other I got the idea to look in the yellow pages and one thing led to another I called this place uptown called “Gargoyles” and I remember trying to see if they might take some casts on consignment or something.
One thing led to another and they had me come up to the showroom/factory with one of these, turned out the piece was too big for them to use, but while they couldn’t do anything along those lines they offered me a job instead!
Turned out one of the two plaster casters was leaving in one week- talk about luck!
I was there for about 5 years casting small statues and mirror frame piecs until I had to move out of the city completely.
Still keep in touch with the boss all these years later!
Odd thing was they were at 221 E 21st st in Manhattan, bought a building in Brooklyn about the time I had moved to Brooklyn, and their new address in Brooklyn was 221, 21st st! Meanwhile I moved from 621 Broadway in Manhattan to 621 Bergen St Brooklyn, same number, street name starts with a “B”


Subway beaver panel update

Seeing how the first beaver panel fits in the kiln, cutting it close for height with only 5/16″ between it and the lid but it will work. A second one- red- will go in when it’s drier. I had to stack a couple of shelf supports behind this first one so that if it tends to want to lean backwards it will be stopped by them, the second panel will need the same behind it.
I think next Friday I’ll turn it on. I modified the firing program just a little by adding another hour of pre-heating @195º making it 9 hours so these are good and dry for sure. I also added 5 minutes at the end making it hold at 2,060º for 15 minutes. So overall it will take about 25 hours for the firing process and then “overnight” for cooling down.

What most people know is water boils to steam @ 212º and is gone, but what they don’t know is the chemically bound water in apparently bone dry clay stays in the clay up to at least 700º before it finally burns out.

I could use a larger kiln like the Olympic oval model which would be large enough to lay pieces like these flat, but besides the cost being dramatically higher than this one was, I’d have to upgrade my home power line from the weatherhead on in, the 100amp breaker box and incoming line isn’t enough capacity.

I put the first red one in with this one earlier, and decided to turn the thing on and let it run the first segment @195º until I turned it off now, so they had a good 6-1/2 hours of that amount of heat as an additional tomake sure they are as dry all the way through as they can be so Friday after work I can turn the kiln on and let it go through the whole 24 hour cycle and shut off Saturday afternoon when I’m here.