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      International Wood-Fire Ceramic Symposium Watermill Wittgendorf – Upper Lusatia

Margrit Keller – Night shift at the first firing in the Sasukenei Kiln

Things that we experience for the first time remain especially finely etched in our memory. Everything new is accompanied by a curiosity as well as a certain nervous anticipation. Every kiln has a soul and you have to get to know it like you do a human being. You have to listen to him, listen to what he tells us.

The fire crackles, the flame travels through the kiln, there is hardly a wisp of smoke to be seen at the tall chimney. Orange-yellow is the color within the kiln. We have reached 1220°C. It is after 11:00 p.m. Sensei Masakazu Kusakabe, our firing master, says goodbye and goes to enjoy his well-deserved night’s rest. The task is: to maintain this temperature until morning. There are two of us on night duty. A team of women until four in the morning. A stack of wood next to the kiln awaits its turn. They are short, thick pieces.


The reserve supply. The kiln is hungry, the flames devour piece after piece, but the temperature drops. What to do? It is not my first wood firing, but it is my first with such a kiln. Should we adjust the primary or secondary air flow? Slightly open the slider by the fire opening? These attempts do not lead to the desired success. The pieces of wood are too thick. We need thinner wood. So we women have no choice but to split wood with an axe in the middle of the night. We take turns. Splitting, firing, splitting … It is a race for degrees and time. But then the temperature in the kiln goes up again. We’ll make it!

Then Klaus appears out of the dark. He is our replacement. But where is the second man? He does not show up.

So I stay on to fire with Klaus. With him, the wood-splitting goes twice as fast. The hectic pace relaxes, and there is time for conversation that is not just about temperature and air supply. Slowly the night gives way to the day… With the chirping of birds in the trees and the crackling of the fire, I feel a very satisfied kind of tiredness.

We now know to prepare enough split wood for the night, ahead of time. And over the years the night shift has come to be my favorite shift.