I’ve had a weekly reminder in my calendar to check Craigslist for a raku kiln for the past two years. No luck.
So, imagine my delight when “Raku Kiln for Sale” jumped out at me on Craigslist. The pictures looked exactly like an older version of a Laguna Raku kiln I’d been considering. My interest piqued, I shot an email to the seller, asking for details. In reply, I was referred to the parents’ phone number, which I recognized as Pacific Palisades phone number. Wow—just 20 minutes from here!
I asked the gentleman who answered the phone if he was selling the kiln, but it turned out he was an in-home caretaker for an elderly couple who owned it. He handed the phone to the husband, who told me it was his wife’s kiln. He wasn’t clear on the age of the kiln, and whether it was gas, propane, or electric, so he encouraged me to see it in person.
The kiln was in the couple’s back yard, covered with a ratty blue tarp. The caretaker let me know that this was to prevent it from getting wet when the sprinklers went on. I peeled back the shredded plastic to have a look. The rails of the lift, a spring loaded pulley system used to raise the top of the kiln from the base, looked a little rusty, but not bad. A lift makes it easier to access red-hot items being fired at 1900 degrees, so they can be removed 360º around the kiln with a large pair of tongs and put into reduction chamber. In most cases, this is metal can with a lid, loaded with combustible materials such as newspaper, straw, sawdust, or whatever is available.
With help, I raised the top of the kiln.
The inside was pristine. The refractory fiber lining the inside was white as snow, with only a small smokey spot about 6” in diameter on the upper corner. It looked like it had been fired two, maybe three times. I’m totally stoked, until the thought occurs to me, “How the hell am I going to get this out of here?”
I measured the kiln width in multiple directions. Then, I measured (and remeasured the gate openings on either side of the back yard. Both gates seemed too narrow. There were stairs and a concrete walkway on the side of the yard closest to the kiln, and on the other side, there were tree roots and rough, gnarly ground. I thought to myself, this is not going to be easy.
The couple was firm on the price. When pressed, they were willing to take $50 off the asking price of $600. Doing the math in my head, I figured how much it might cost to have the kiln professionally moved, converted from natural gas to propane, and set up the propane to fuel it. Hmmm… I didn’t feel qualified to make a decision.
So, I made a second visit to the kiln with Jim, my kiln expert. Poring over the kiln, he admitted that it did seem to be in excellent shape. He noticed some cracking in the castable refractory material base that I’d missed in my first inspection because it was covered by a kiln shelf. He advised me of the additional cost for hooking the kiln up to the propane at my house.
We measured and re-measured the kiln and the gates, and could not see a way to fit it through the existing gates without dismantling part of the fence. The couple told us they had redone the fence and gate since acquiring the kiln, so the access was definitely more limited. After discussing it with Jim, I decided there wasn’t a way to extricate the kiln from the yard, and gave up on getting it.
But a nagging sensation about the kiln stayed with me. I decided to call raku master Dale Ferguson at Laguna Clay, to ask his opinion. I described the kiln to him, as well as the crack in the base and the seemingly insurmountable difficulty moving it.
“A crack, you say? I call that an expansion joint. There’s no way the base is going to crack in half and fall apart. There’s a giant metal ring and metal support underneath the base. Don’t worry about that,” he scoffed. “How much are they asking for it?”
“$600,” I replied, “but they’d be willing to let it go for $550.”
“You know what?” Dale replied. “I’d RUN back there and get that kiln. Find a way to get it through the gate”
I felt better after talking it over with Dale. I called some moving companies and got estimates ranging from $300-700 to move it. Yikes!
Then came Honey to the rescue.
“Moving companies?” he snorted. “Come on. I move heavy stuff like this all the time. I have a truck. All we need is a couple of day laborers. Piece of cake.”
I thought about what he was saying. It made sense. As a metal sculptor, he’d spent the last 30 years moving life-sized horses, camels, even 12’ rabbit. A feeling of relief washed over me.
I added up the costs for moving the kiln and setting it up and I negotiated with the couple for a price I could live with: $400. After that, everything fell into place.
We borrowed a large dolly from my neighbors. Honey went ahead in his truck, while I picked up two day laborers.
We were going on pure faith that the kiln would fit through one of the gates. Once there, Honey assessed the situation, he and the laborers agreed that the kiln should go up the walkway with the stairs. We estimated the kiln at around 300 pounds, so this was no small feat. But the gate opening on that side was wider, and the paved walkway more easily traversed.
The laborers took the gate off the post and painstakingly pried the post off the stucco wall of the house. It took much longer than I planned. One step at a time, the three of us slowly navigated up the winding stairs with the kiln on its side. At the top, with considerable swearing and jostling, the kiln managed to squeak through the gate. Everyone cheered!
At home, we rolled the kiln into its place. I was so thrilled, I paid the laborers twice what I’d promised.
A couple of weeks later, Honey surprised me with beautiful 4” locking swivel casters for the kiln, welded and bolted to perfection so I could roll it out into a designated area for firing. Some women are moved by lavish chocolates or jewelry. I am moved by casters. Don’t ask me how he did it, because I have no clue. I only know that this is love.