Thursday, 5 July 2012

Thick Uneven Pieces

Occasionally fused pieces come out of the kiln with one side thicker than the other. There are several things that need to be done for the present piece and for the future.

First check how level your kiln is. The best for this is to begin with a check of the bed of the kiln. Check the level in four directions – left-right, front-back and the diagonals. If it is practical, wedge up the legs of the kiln to make the bed of the kiln as level as practical.
Then check how level your shelf is. Put in your shelf supports and then place the shelf on them. Again check with a spirit level the four directions. Place pieces of fibre paper under or on top of the supports to level the shelf. It is only after these checks have been made that you can consider firing your piece to help it return to an even thickness.  As part of your kiln maintenance you should check the level of your shelf at least monthly, if not every time you prepare to fire.
Variation in Thickness
Now that you know the shelf is level, you need to consider what the variation in thickness across the piece may be. The firing schedule needs to be more conservative than just for the thickest part. As the thinner parts will heat through more quickly than the thickest parts, you need to fire less quickly than you normally would for the thickest area. A rule of thumb – not always correct of course – is to add the difference of the thick and thin areas to the thicker and fire for that calculated thicknesses. This will make the firing schedule slower and so allow the thicker part to be the same temperature as the thinner. For example, a piece 6 mm at one side and 10 mm the other would have a difference of 4 mm. Add this 4 mm to the thicker 10 mm and then fire for 14 mm.
Temperature and Soak
You also need to consider the top temperature to use and the length of soak required. Glass flows relatively slowly at kiln forming temperatures. The conservative approach – one that allows further work if necessary – is to use the previous fusing temperature and extend the soak by at least twice the length of time on the previous firing, even perhaps to a couple of hours.
One thing that will happen is that the bubbles that previously were near the surface will rise and burst giving pin holes on this extended soak. So you should consider cleaning the bottom and putting the top face down on a separator between the shelf and the glass.   This will reverse the direction of flow for the bubbles. Few if any will break through the new top and there should be no pin holes when flipped.
Further Firings
When the piece is cool, check it for the even-ness of the piece all around. If it is not even enough, you will need to consider re-firing again. If you decide to do so, you should go no faster than the rate of advance as previously – probably even slower - but consider raising the temperature or extending the soak. Remember that achieving the heat work required at the lowest temperature is the guide line for kiln forming. So an extended soak should be preferred over a higher temperature, unless there are strong indications that a higher temperature is required.
Fire Polishing
Of course, you will now need to throughly clean the face down side and re-fire to fire polish the original top. The rate of advance should be the same or slower than the firing to even the thickness. Once you have achieved about 600C, a soak of about 30 minutes will ensure that the glass is thoroughly heated through. Then you can advance at a quick rate to the fire polish temperature with a soak of no more than a minute. This allows the surface to change without giving the rest of the glass time to begin to move.  Of course, a thorough annealing is required.

This procedure for re-firing  can be used when re-firing pieces for any reason. You only need eliminate the considerations on the uneven thicknesses.