Horse Hair Pottery
Don't Say Nay Until You've Seen It

Horse hair pottery – hmmm let’s see. Horse hair from the mane and tail, were used in the 1700’s for that Gibson girl look, the bows for musical instruments, shaving brushes, at one time it was used as paint brushes and I’m pretty sure hair cloth is made from horse tail and mane. I haven’t seen haircloth for years though.

BUT, we sure have seen something else Pottery Artists do with horse hair. They decorate their work with it as an embellishment or a detail to the piece. Horse hair pottery as it is known is one of the Raku arts.

horse hair pottery, raku, horse hair

Usually the horse hair pottery designs are done at a bisque heat (1825 degrees F) in the pottery kiln. For that reason you could even make your own Raku kiln. There are a number of web sites that can show you how to build a kiln and I figured we would let it up to them, as there is some danger involved.

Then there are the factory made pottery kilns. The prices we found weren’t too bad. Some were between $180-$700. And if you happen to do metal clay or cloisonné jewelry these little kilns would work just fine, especially for the hobbyist.

So you want to give it a try. Well it goes something like this.

  • Throw a low fire clay pot or urn
  • Let dry then bisque fire at about 1825 degrees F, a cone 06
  • Remove piece from kiln.
  • Note:This next part is the stuff that makes the work, “art.” You must move quickly because once the piece’s temperature drops below 900 degrees the horse hair will not carbonize and you will have to start over.

    Place small amounts of horsehair on the piece to start with until you have a better understanding of how it all works. The hair will burn and the carbon it leaves behind is the horse hair pottery design.
  • Let it cool.
  • Brush off or wash off the excess and let it stand until completely dry.
  • If you wax the piece with a good paste wax it will make the carbon design stand out.
  • Hey, I’m no expert potter artist, but, I sure have met experts on the journey that this website has taken us. This is basic; wet your whistle sort of stuff. And that’s the kind of stuff that eventually turns people into Artisans and Craftsmen.

    Lets take a look at the 8 steps.

    Step 1: The kind of clay you use is very important. It must be porous. When the horsehair burns the carbon from the ash adheres to the millions of small holes in the clay. For this reason you can’t store liquids in Raku. Burnishing works well with horsehair Raku also. That’s when you polish with a stone or wood, sandpaper, glass, or any slightly abrasive material when the piece is in the “green” state. In other words, before the first firing.

    Step 2: Now, after your piece is where you want it and dry it is put into the kiln and fired at a cone 06. Cone is short for pyrometric cone, a way to measure heat in the kiln as it is working. Select the proper cone and watch through the spy hole. Check about every 10-15 minutes. The cone will start to bend. When the angle is at 90 degrees you are at temperature. Less then 90 degrees of angle the lower the temperatures more then 90 the higher the temperatures.

    Step 3: Gets its own paragraph for a lot of reasons. First, you could get burned. A good pair of gloves made for this sort of work is a must. Safety glasses and or a good face shield are essential. This art happens because of flare-ups. Some get fairly big; the horsehair flare- ups are fairly small. Be safe: Ladies tie you’re hair back, you don’t need jewelry on. Nylon should not be in the same room. If nylon ignites it will melt and stick to you. Don’t ware loose cloths; a shirttail could light up. And one of my favorites, keep you’re work area clear of none essential tools, materials, equipment and people. Yes its very cool to see the kiln open, no pun intended, and the pieces come out, but you need you’re work space, so have your friends and spectators stand clear.

    So, the tongs and you are holding the piece very carefully, simply lay on or sprinkle on the horsehair. Don’t get carried away and throw a hand full on, that’s way too much. If you aren’t satisfied all you have to do is reheat and try again.

    Step 4: Allow piece to cool.

    Step 5: Brush off the excess or wash it off, it gives different affects. Also the hotter the piece is the deeper and wider the burn will be. When cool, dry and clean, you’re horse hair pottery can be waxed.

    Step 6: The wax keeps the fingerprints off, as people will want to touch it. A good high-end, hard paste wax works well but a friend of ours uses a spray wax and she does well with that.

    We know a number of Raku artists, but not very many do the horse hair pottery. It’s a hot seller and also one of my favorites. Its beauty is in its simplicity and the care given to the piece while it is thrown and created.

    To the crafts people out there, keep making horse hair pottery. To the buyers out there keep going to craft shows and coming to

    And to the hobbyist. This is one that won’t cost an arm and leg to try out. For one thing at a very nominal fee you could enroll in an art school like the Banana Factory (Bethlehem, PA), the Goggle Works (Reading, PA), the Spruill Center (Atlanta, GA), or one in your neighborhood. Many Art Centers teach Raku pottery which is the basis for horse hair pottery designs. Most fine art schools have pottery programs and they would get you started on your way.

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