A History of Wood-Fired Pottery and Hot Holiday Deals

Fired with Love: Wood-Fired Pottery and Giveaway

Fresh out of the kiln, we’ve got some hot pottery deals coming your way, including deals on Guinness World Record Planters, Nuka Cobalt Pottery, Mountain Pottery, plus a free Wood-Fired Serving Bowl giveaway.

The bottom of this post shows more about the deals. First, we want to celebrate another fantastic year of pottery by taking a look back through history to the origins of influence for Cherrico Pottery. To do this, we’re giving you a brief introduction to traditional wood-fired pottery, what makes it so unique, and why Joel chose to use this process for his Guinness World Record Planters.

A Brief History of Wood-Fired Pottery

Japanese potter at his wheel in 1914 (Left), A Two Story French Porcelain Pottery Kiln in 1880 (Right)

As long as there have been people, there have been potters. Modern potters typically fire with gas or electricity, but many historical potters fired with wood. The historical lineage of wood-fired ceramics that Joel practices comes from historical Japanese pottery, practiced as far back as the 5th century. The kiln design brought to Japan at this time was the anagama kiln, meaning “cave kiln” in Japanese.

Anagama kilns have a single chamber that does not separate the pottery from the flames of the fire, allowing the kiln to naturally color the pots from direct contact with fire and ash. The kilns are shaped in long, tunnel forms, with fire placed at the opening and pottery stacked in the back. Pottery is fired over several days or even over one week straight, depending on the size of the kiln.

Wood-Fired Pottery in Rural Minnesota

For a time, wood kilns became increasingly rare with the introduction of the electric kiln in the 20th century (which is what Joel uses to create most Cherrico Pottery). Thanks to a handful of pioneering potters, wood-kilns have since spread to the US, and more particularly to Joel’s neck of the woods in rural Minnesota.


Richard Bresnahan (Left), Bresnahan blessing the Johanna Kiln at a lighting ceremony (Right)

Joel’s alma mater, the College of St. Benedict/Saint John’s University, is world renowned for revival of wood-fired pottery made by Richard Bresnahan. Bresnahan is a Master Potter who apprenticed under world class Japanese potters, the Nakazato family. He is currently serving as the director of The Saint John’s Pottery Studio and founded the studio in 1979. During this time, he found a clay deposit near the studio, which is still used to make nearly every one of the thousands of pots created by the studio annually. Bresnahan and his team also built the Johanna Becker Wood Firing Kiln, the largest of its kind in North America. Named after S. Johanna Becker, OSB, whom Bresnahan studied under, the kiln is fired about once every 1-2 years with artwork by Bresnahan, his apprentices and resident artists, other local potters and student work.

Cherrico Pottery’s Wood-Firing Process

Joel used a similar wood-firing process to create our Guinness World Record Pots. After these pots were dry, they were brought to a local kiln built by Joel’s mentor Sam Johnson, who apprenticed at the St. John’s Pottery decades ago. Sam now teaches at Joel’s alma mater CSB/SJU and fires one small anagama about twice each year. You can see the kiln and learn about it in this news article.

Each Guinness World Record Planter was fired by Joel in this small anagama in Saint Joseph, Minnesota (small is a relative term- it’s actually the size of a big car!). These planters were fired nonstop for 4 days at a heat up to 2400°F, meaning that the fire had to be stoked day and night to keep the temperatures up. Joel took the night shifts, firing midnight to 8am for four days straight.

Once the firing was completed, the pottery is finished and fully functional for everyday use. Joel also added blue paint to the pots to highlight the record numbers. This was inspired by artist Peter Voulkos, who commonly painted on his wood-fired pots and sculpture.

One of the benefits of the wood-firing process includes a more sustainable firing method than electric-powered firing, since trees are carbon neutral. The kiln is also fired almost entirely with waste cut-offs from a local lumber mill and dead fall from around the college campus.

The Guinness World Record pots were required by Guinness World Records to be planters of a certain size and shape. Clunky, little planters were a fun form for this historic project, so Joel chose an equally fun, historic firing process. A wood-fired kiln built by his mentor seemed like the perfect way to finish the world record pottery.

Limited Time Holiday Savings

These planters will cozy up your home with a natural form, rustic colors and the warm feeling you get knowing that you are an officially sanctioned participant in art history. Show your love to everyone this Holiday season by joining in this truly amazing, historical project. If you shop with us before Christmas, we’ll even give you a special deal.


  • 1 FREE Nuka Cobalt Mug of your choosing.
  • 1 FREE Cosmic Mug of your choosing.
Here’s how you claim your free pottery:
  1. Simply purchase a Guinness World Record Planter before Thursday 12/15.
  2. View all of our available Cosmic Mugs and Nuka Cobalt Mugs.
  3. Email contact@cherricopottery.com a link to your favorite two mugs (one of each that is not sold out, please!)
  4. Or, simply email contact@cherricopottery.com and say, “Pick out two gorgeous mugs for me” and we will choose two of our best mugs to include with your order, totally free! We’ll even cover the extra shipping charges.

Plus we’ve got a few extra special deals for the holidays:



Use coupon code HOLIDAYCOBALT50 on your cart to save on all Nuka Cobalt Pottery.


Use coupon code HOLIDAYMT40 on your cart to save on all Mountain Pottery.



You also have a chance to win a unique wood-fired serving bowl completely free. In addition, we will include free shipping to the US and Canada with expected arrival by Christmas.

Get all of your holiday gifts checked off the list with these special deals. Coupons end on December 15th and our serving bowl giveaway ends on December 16th, so act fast before these deals are gone.

“It is a campfire of love. It is the incense lying on glowing charcoals, filling the air with sweet memory of breath. It is the fire of community, feeding a central flame and bonding humans to the planet in overlapping and diverse patterns.”

Richard BresnahanMaster Potter speaking on wood-firing pottery in First Fire

Photography by: Nicole Pederson

Glazing Ceramics with Wood Ashes: My Version of the Japanese Nuka Glaze

The Nuka glaze originated in Japan centuries ago. Potters traditionally made the glaze by using ashes from burnt rice hulls. These ashes were high in Silica, which is a glass former, so some Nuka glazes could be made with almost entirely ash.

Phil Rogers describes the Nuka glaze in his book “Ash Glazes” along with a huge variety of other glazes. I learned many of my glazing techniques from this book, like creating custom glazes from raw materials which is how I develop all of my glazes.

Check out the awesome Nuka glazed bottle below, made by Japanese folk potter Shoji Hamada. He was renowned for making skillfully crafted pottery inspired by his natural surroundings, and made with natural materials that he harvested locally. This Nuka was made with 50/50 ash and stone, and a black Tenmoku was brushed over.

Press-Moulded Bottle, Shoji Hamada, 1963, from “Ash Glazes” by Phil Rogers, pg. 19

Ash as a Glaze Ingredient

Every other year, I pick up about 200 gallons of wood ash from my friend who heats his family’s home with wood furnace.  He harvests most wood from deadfall trees in the St. John’s Arboretum. I like using this ash because it’s a natural material that I can get from a local waste source. It’s also free, but takes a lot processing to get rid of all the charcoal and debris. The image below shows some tools I made to sift the ashes through 12, and then 40 mesh screens.

Developing Glaze Recipes

I’ve spent about three years developing recipes for my Nuka glaze. Technically, it many not be a ‘Nuka’ anymore due to all the materials I’ve added. I still call it a Nuka because I’m inspired by the materials and surfaces used historically, but my glaze has become pretty complex.

Traditionally, Nuka glazes were fired hotter than most glazes. While I was still in school at CSB/SJU, my professor Sam Johnson and I got great results with the Nuka when firing upwards of cone 12, or over 2500 degrees F. Since graduation, I’ve lowered the temperature to cone 10, or just under 2400 degrees F. I did this by using line blend testing. I could write another blog post on line blend glaze testing, so for now I’ll just refer you back to Phil Rogers, “Ash Glazes.”

For all you potter readers, here’s my Glossy Nuka glaze recipe for cone 10. If you dry-sift ashes through a window screen you could probably get similar results. I keep this glaze at about 145 specific gravity to keep it from dripping off the pots:

Glossy Nuka Parts Percentage
Wood Ash – dry sifted 33 18.5
Custer Feldspar 50 28.1
Silica (325 mesh Flint) 30 16.9
Frit 3134 15 8.4
Whiting (High Purity) 20 11.2
Bone Ash 10 5.6
Bentonite 10 5.6
Talc 10 5.6
total 178 100.0

Brushing Iron and Cobalt

I accent each pot with iron or cobalt washes on the rim. These naturally drip down each pot during the firing, creating a surface that reminds me of wet paint. I like to think of each pot as a canvas for glaze. The cup on the left was also electric fired at cone 10, while the mug on the right was gas fired. I think that the extreme oxidation of the electric kiln contributes to the crystal growth in the cup, which is highlighted by the iron as yellow specks.


The cups above were gas fired at cone 13, back in 2011. This is one of my favorite versions of the Nuka because of the glossy, milky surface and the color complexity of the iron drips. I’ve spent years adapting my new recipes to reproduce this surface, and I’ve discovered a huge variety of colors and textures within the Nuka color pallet. The lower cone 10 temperature has been a good challenge for this glaze, and I hope to develop a cone 6 Nuka in the near future.

I’m also exploring more ways the Nuka relates to my other 2 glaze choices: Copper Red and Tenmoku:

*Added November, 2016:

To view the most recent evolution of my Nuka Glazed “Standard Ware” pots, including “Nuka Cobalt” and “Nuka Iron” color pallets, view our online store: store.cherricopottery.com/standard-ware