November 23, 2011
If you have never seen a brick firing at Colonial Williamsburg, you have missed out on one of the Historic Area’s more evocative experiences. The smell of wood smoke, burning cressets by night, the intense heat emanating from the kiln, the glow of the oven doors…this is a multi-sensory experience, and among our visitors’ most anticipated annual events.
This year, reconstruction at James Anderson’s Blacksmith Shop and Public Armoury required not one, but two brick firings. The first firing, in July, produced about 9,000 bricks. Last Wednesday, November 16th, fires were lit for a second time, as 12,000 brick were readied for use in the Armoury outbuildings. It’s hard to say if brisk fall temperatures made this a more pleasant experience for the brickmakers. More than an inch-and-a-half of rain fell on Wednesday night, and with temperatures hovering in the thirties, it was a trying start. Interestingly, weather conditions do not affect the length of the firing. This one lasted for five days, wrapping up on Sunday with temperatures inside the kiln at roughly 2000 degrees. Eight cords of wood helped fuel those fires. Now comes the waiting period…more than a week…. as brickmakers wait for the kiln to cool sufficiently to assess the results.
A note about terminology: though commonly called a “kiln,” Colonial Williamsburg’s brickmakers are actually firing a brick “clamp.” A kiln is a permanent structure. Once the firing is over and bricks have been removed, a kiln is still there. A brick clamp, on the other hand, is constructed of the bricks that are being fired. Once brickmakers disassemble the clamp and and deliver them to the Armoury, there will be no lasting evidence of the “structure” you see in the images below.
Although we would like to give all webcam watchers access to the brick-firing, we have been stymied by connectivity issues. The images below should give you a taste of the last week’s activities.