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What is Raku?

What is Raku?

Raku originally comes from a tea ceremony of the Japanese Zen culture from the 16th century. Here, the glowing hot tea bowls are taken out of the oven and then tea is poured in. The tea settles in the hairline cracks and colors the bowl.

Based on this, western raku was developed in the 1960s, whereby the pieces are placed in sawdust by the kiln.

So, in this firing technique, a scalded sculpture or vessel is fired in a gas kiln at temperatures around 1000°C. The red-hot works are gradually removed from the kiln with long raku tongs and then sealed airtight in a heat-resistant container with organic fuel – such as leaves or sawdust. This is where the typical effects of this firing technique are created, more on this below. Finally, the workpieces are cleaned with water and/or sand to completely remove the rest of the organic material from the surface.

What do I need for raku firing?

The most important thing is your own safety, so make sure you have suitable protective clothing beforehand. Here, especially raku tongs, heat-resistant gloves and a respirator mask are very important.

Synthetic clothing or nylon jackets are taboo for raku firing! You should also wear closed-toe shoes. Pets should also not be allowed to roam free during this process.

To be able to create something, you first need a suitable mass, raku glazes – we have some ready-made glazes for firing, but you can also mix them yourself – and a raku kiln. The latter is also available from the DIY brand -> Here you can find the materials you need for this.

In addition, as mentioned before, you will need a heat-resistant container with combustible material and a larger bowl in which you can thoroughly wash the remains of the organic material from the workpiece. If you don’t want to use sand as a rubbing agent, you can also use steel wool, reetzi, etc.

Since a lot of smoke can be produced during raku firing, depending on the technique, and the workpieces are taken out of the kiln in a glowing state, it is practical to fire outdoors – the weather therefore also plays a small role.

What exactly happens during raku firing?

The bisqued ware is fired at approx. 900°C – 1000°C and taken out of the kiln with long tongs. Since it is much colder outside, the workpiece suffers a shock and cracks appear in the glaze layer, i.e. the typical craquelé effect. After that, one waits a few seconds or even a few minutes in the case of larger works and now places the product in a barrel with a lid and combustible material. A lack of oxygen now occurs in the closed barrel, which causes the flame to turn into smoke. At the right temperature, this smoke penetrates into the cracks of the glaze, thus bringing out the craquelé effect even more. In the places where no glaze was applied, the smoke creates gray to black areas. After about half an hour – an hour, the works can be taken out of the barrel, the soot cleaned off and the result marveled at.

Since a lot of smoke comes out of the barrel during this process, Ed and Ine Knops have set out instructions for systems without smoke nuisance in their book Rakuvaria 2. In this way, odor and visual nuisance are much lower, which promotes one’s own healthstinkt and the neighbors are happy about it too! 😉

There are also many variations of raku, maybe another time.

Raku courses?

As with many other techniques, it is always advisable to attend a course or workshop lasting several days at the beginning, because there you can study the processes in detail and try them out. Here you will also learn valuable tips & tricks for later solo attempts without guidance.

As with many other techniques, some companies, as well as private individuals, offer courses from spring to fall. For example Ed and Ine Knops from the Netherlands. From them we have already offered several times workshops, which usually take place over two days.

Also we have this year again a small selection of Raku courses -> here more about it.

You want to learn more about raku and its characteristics? Here you will find a few books that deal with exactly this topic:

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