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1 Dish, stoneware, porcelain slip, 2013

,
Ø25cm 2 Bowl, porcelain, 2013, Ø28cm
3 Bowl, porcelain, 2013, Ø28cm 4 Bowl,
porcelain, 2013, Ø22cm 5 Bowl,
stoneware, celadon glaze, 2013, H16cm
6 Mug, stoneware, shino glaze, 2013,

H7cm 7 Teabowl, stoneware, black slip,
2013, H9cm 8 Bottle, stoneware, shino
glaze, 2013, H20cm 9 Teabowl,
stoneware, nuka glaze, porcelain slip,
2013, H9cm 10 Opening the anagama
kiln at Phantassie Farm, near Dunbar,
May 2012

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‘I found working with my hands
and with clay to be an intensely
therapeutic antidote to academic
research and became hooked’

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CERAMIC REVIEW 269 September/October 2014

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Earth, Wood, Fire
Giles Sutherland reveals the inspiration
behind, construction of, and firing
schedule for Philip Revell’s
anagama kiln.

Revell came to engineering through an interest in the ‘Small is
Beautiful’ philosophy as espoused by E F Schumacher (1911-1977).
After returning from working with farmers in Zimbabwe, Revell
spent time at the Centre for Alternative Technology in mid-Wales.
It was here that he set up his first pottery workshop.

Philip Revell is a man of multiple talents. As a research student
of engineering (a profession that he went on to work in for a
number of years) at Warwick University in the 1980s, he met
David Jones. Jones, who now lectures at Wolverhampton
University and is author of a number of titles on raku and firing
techniques, had set up a pottery studio on a farm on the edge of
the Warwick campus. It was here that Revell got his first taste of
potting: ‘I found working with my hands and with clay to be an
intensely therapeutic antidote to academic research and became
hooked,’ he says.

from the basement of an elegant Georgian townhouse in Dunbar,
near Edinburgh. The flagstone floor, range, pantries, and other
original fittings somehow seem an appropriate place for such a
venture. The sprays of elemental clay, the kickwheels, and the kiln
all chime with the simplicity, harmony, and solidity of the surroundings.
Near the beginning of the new millennium, Revell began
organising a number of projects at Pishwanton Wood, an
experimental bio-dynamic land management centre based on
Goethean principles – that nature is a seamless whole, that our
inner life is part of the outer world – in the Lammermuir Hills.

FINDING PHANTASSIE Since 1990 Revell has operated his pottery

11 Pine off-cuts for the anagama kiln at
Phantassie Farm, near Dunbar, May 2012
12 Philip Revell opening the anagama kiln
at Phantassie Farm, near Dunbar, May 2012

These included the building of a wood-fired, two-chamber,
noborigama climbing kiln, so-called because they are traditionally
built on slopes with each chamber higher than the one before.
After leaving Pishwanton to set up the environmental organisation
Sustaining Dunbar, Revell began to develop the idea of building
a kiln nearer to his pottery. Eventually he found a site at (the
wonderfully-named!) Phantassie, an organic smallholding, ideally
placed only a few miles away – and with a ready supply of slabwood
from the on-site sawmill.
KILN CONSTRUCTION Revell used the recycled materials from his

Pishwanton kiln to construct a simpler anagama kiln. This name
is a Japanese term meaning ‘cave kiln’ and probably alludes to how
the first types of the structure were created. In this instance, because
of the vagaries of the Scottish climate, Revell began by building a
simple, open wooden shelter under which the anagama kiln was
assembled. Starting with cement slabs on a hard-core base, he used
high alumina firebrick, high temperature insulating brick, and a
mixture of locally dug clay, sand, and sawdust for insulation to
complete the elongated, curving structure.
Revell’s kiln, which he built in his spare time in the evenings
and at weekends, took about a year to complete. It was built to his
own design with a fire-box in the front, and extra stoke holes along
its three-metre length, which allow for the creation of additional

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CERAMIC REVIEW 269 September/October 2014

fly ash. Inspiration for the design came from photographs and
drawings of other kilns, especially those of potters John Butler,
Svend Bayer, and the late Patrick Sargent (1956-1998). Revell
explains, ‘I was getting a little bored… and was keen to build a
new kiln with the potential for more “extreme” wood-fire effects
on the fired pots – a design that encouraged more ash to fly through
the kiln during firing.’
FUNCTIONAL AESTHETIC To date the kiln has yielded some

impressive results. Revell’s pots have clean lines and a no-nonsense,
functional aesthetic. His mugs often curve inward from the base
and then outward towards the rim. The handles are broad and
roomy, allowing the thumb to rest comfortably and afford easy
tipping while drinking. These are complemented by capacious, but
elegant, teapots, which are balanced and pour well with the aid of

Inspiration for the design came from
photographs and drawings of other
kilns, especially those of potters John
Butler, Svend Bayer, and the late
Patrick Sargent

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handles that have space for three fingers while allowing the thumb
to sit on top. Revell’s plates have a similar, well-made solidity with
broad bases and a shallow lip. He also makes jugs, bowls, pitchers,
and larger garden pottery, such as plant holders.
‘As a largely self-taught potter I find the attempt to master the
many facets of this exacting and technical craft to be an ongoing
challenge, which is what keeps me at it. Apart from the physical
challenge of throwing and manipulating clay, there is also the need
to develop an appreciation of form, to understand the raw materials
that can make up a clay body or create a glaze, to experience how
these materials interact and are transformed by fire,’ he comments.
FIRING & GLAZING The process of loading the kiln is, in itself, a
time-consuming and skillful business. Space is at premium and care
must be taken to allow the flames to seek out all areas of the kiln
unimpeded. Revell uses a series of spy holes through which he can
check on a series of cones that indicate appropriate temperatures. The
optimum firing temperature for the kiln, stoked with softwood, is
around 1340°C. The entire process of loading, firing, cooling, and
unloading takes many days and the potter must be present for
much of this.
Revell fires his kiln based on the reduction principle. This means
that the oxygen supply is restricted by blocking up the intakes with
bricks, resulting in a saturation of ‘free carbons’ in the atmosphere,
mostly in the form of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Because
the fire needs oxygen to burn, the flames seek oxygen within the
clay and glaze. Reduction firing combined with the wood-flame
and ash can bring out a wide range of colours from the clay body,
from black through purple to orange, pink, and red.
The fire-box is situated at the front end of the kiln with the

chimney at the far end. The forced draught from the chimney
creates a current of hot gases and flame that move between the pots,
carrying a quantity of fly ash from the wood fire with them. It is
the current of burning gases and fly ash, heated to full temperature
and settling on the pots, which forms the patterning on the pottery.
Revell uses glazes on the areas that are least likely to be affected
by fly ash and ‘flashing’. He uses celadon and nuka wood ash glazes
– the former comprises wood ash, felspar, and clay in a 4:2:1 ratio.
The nuka mimics a straw ash glaze by adding quartz to a wood
ash/felspar glaze, with clay, in a 3:3:3:1 ratio. The nuka gives a
glossy white glaze – with a tinge of blue where it works well. Revell
also uses a simple shino glaze, made up of ten parts nepheline
syenite to four parts clay.
ANCIENT TECHNOLOGY Perhaps the most nerve-wracking part of
any potter’s business is the process of opening and unloading the
kiln. With Revell’s anagama kiln, the anticipation is augmented
by the experimental nature of the undertaking. As the bricks are
removed to reveal the fire-box, the first pieces are removed, still
hot and using gloves. On one of the first pots removed from the
front of the kiln there is clearly a line of blue-ish glaze along the
rim of the bowl. On the left area there are clear signs of ‘burning’
caused by the current of flame, smoke, and gases – one of the
effects of reduction. The bowl is therefore a witness not only to
the potter’s hand and eye, but also to the complex chemistry
and physics within the kiln itself. Flames and gases have created
patterning and tonality, dictated by their passage around the
contours of the vessel. An ancient technology is able to provide
unpredictable, beautiful, and unexpected results while still keeping
some of its secrets intact.
CERAMIC REVIEW 269 September/October 2014

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lip,
ng
near

13, 14 Philip Revell opening the anagama
kiln at Phantassie Farm, near Dunbar, May
2012 Photography (excluding images 1-9)
Giles Sutherland

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Stockists Buy Design Galley, near Jedburgh,
Scottish Borders (www.buydesigngallery.
com); Revell also sells direct from his studio
Email philrevell@gmail.com
Web philip-revell-pottery.co.uk

Giles Sutherland has been a freelance
writer for more than twenty years. He
contributes to UK and US newspapers and
magazines, is currently Art Critic for The
Times in Scotland, and is a doctoral
candidate at Duncan of Jordanstone
College of Art and Design

FIRING SCHEDULE FOR THE PHANTASSIE ANAGAmA KILN
• Pre-heat, ten hours or so, to get the front of the

kiln up to about 300°C and ensure everything is
thoroughly dry.
• Gently raise the temperature to about 900°C at the
front over the next twelve hours, then start side-stoking
to raise the temperature at the back of the kiln.
• Gradually raise the temperature to about 1000°C over
the next three to four hours.
• Start stoking more frequently and restrict the air
inlets as necessary to ensure heavy reduction as the
temperature is gradually raised to 1340°C over the next
twelve hours, side-stoking at intervals to bring the back
of the kiln up to temperature (in practice the kiln will
move in and out of reduction continuously each time
wood is stoked and the pyrometer readings are not a
particularly accurate indication of actual temperature).
• Continue stoking and side-stoking to maintain the
kiln at this temperature for fourteen hours or more,
maintaining a light reduction for as much of the time
as possible and aiming for cone 11 to be completely
over at all five spy holes – along the length of the kiln,
top, and bottom.
• Start reduction cooling – close the chimney damper
and air inlets completely and occasionally stoke with
very green wood and spray water into the fire-box as
necessary to maintain reduction as the kiln cools to
about 1050°C. This takes about four hours. (The water
reacts with the charcoal in the fire-box [in the watergas-reaction] to create carbon monoxide and hydrogen,
creating a strongly reducing atmosphere.)
• Open the chimney damper slightly and crash cool in
oxidation to about 900°C.
• Close damper and all air inlets and leave to
cool naturally.
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An ancient technology is still able to
provide unpredictable, beautiful,
and unexpected results

CERAMIC REVIEW 269 September/October 2014

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