Governing Oxidation and Reduction Atmospheres When Firing Pottery

Governing Oxidation and Reduction Atmospheres When Firing Pottery

When it comes to firing pottery, one of the most crucial factors to consider is the atmosphere in which the firing takes place. The atmosphere refers to the presence of oxygen and other gases during the firing process, and it plays a significant role in determining the final appearance and properties of the fired ceramics.

In pottery, there are two primary atmospheres to consider: oxidation and reduction. An oxidation atmosphere is characterized by the presence of ample oxygen, allowing the ceramic materials to fully combust and creating vibrant colors and oxidized surfaces. On the other hand, a reduction atmosphere is achieved by limiting the oxygen supply, resulting in incomplete combustion and the formation of reduced surfaces with earthy tones.

Understanding how to govern these atmospheres is essential for potters who wish to achieve specific effects in their fired ceramics. The choice of atmosphere can greatly influence the colors, glaze effects, and even structural integrity of the final piece. Therefore, potters must carefully consider their desired outcome and adjust the firing conditions accordingly.

Expert potters have developed various techniques to control the oxidation and reduction atmospheres during firing. They use kiln design, fuel selection, and ventilation techniques to regulate the amount of oxygen in the kiln during different stages of the firing process. Additionally, the placement and arrangement of the pottery within the kiln can also affect the atmosphere, as certain areas may receive more or less oxygen depending on their location.

By understanding the principles behind oxidation and reduction atmospheres and utilizing expert techniques, potters can achieve stunning and unique results in their fired pottery. Whether aiming for vibrant colors in an oxidation atmosphere or rich earthy tones in a reduction atmosphere, mastering the governance of these atmospheres can elevate the artistic expression of ceramics.

Understanding Oxidation and Reduction

Oxidation and reduction are two chemical processes that occur during the firing of pottery. They refer to the reactions between the oxygen in the kiln atmosphere and the elements present in the clay and glazes.


  • Oxidation is the process of adding oxygen to a substance or removing electrons from it.
  • In an oxidizing atmosphere, there is plenty of oxygen available, which leads to the formation of oxides.
  • Oxidation firing produces brighter colors, especially in ceramic glazes, as it allows the metallic elements to form stable oxides.
  • Oxidation is the default firing atmosphere in electric kilns, where there is a constant supply of oxygen.
  • In oxidation firing, the kiln’s damper is usually fully open to ensure a free flow of oxygen.


  • Reduction is the process of removing oxygen or adding electrons to a substance.
  • In a reducing atmosphere, there is a limited supply of oxygen, and the kiln’s damper is partially closed to restrict the airflow.
  • Reduction firing creates a unique environment that can produce special effects on pottery, such as metallic glazes, reduction lusters, and carbon trapping.
  • The reduction atmosphere can change the color of certain ceramic pigments, resulting in different shades and tones.
  • Certain pottery techniques, like raku firing, rely on reduction to achieve their characteristic aesthetics.

Controlling Oxidation and Reduction:

To achieve the desired firing atmosphere, potters can control the oxidation and reduction by adjusting the kiln’s ventilation and introducing specific materials into the kiln.

Techniques for Oxidation Techniques for Reduction
  • Use an electric kiln with a constant supply of oxygen.
  • Keep the kiln’s damper fully open.
  • Avoid introducing reducing materials.
  • Partially close the kiln’s damper to restrict airflow.
  • Introduce reducing materials like sawdust, leaves, or carbon.
  • Create a reduction chamber within the kiln.

Understanding oxidation and reduction atmospheres is essential for potters to achieve the desired results in their pottery firing. Whether aiming for bright colors through oxidation or unique effects through reduction, knowing how to control the kiln atmosphere allows potters to express their creative vision.

The Importance of Controlling Atmospheres

When firing pottery, controlling atmospheres is a crucial aspect that greatly influences the final outcome of the firing process. The atmosphere refers to the environment inside the kiln during firing and can be either oxidizing, reducing, or neutral.

An oxidizing atmosphere contains an abundance of oxygen, resulting in the oxidation of materials within the kiln. This environment is favorable for the development of bright and vibrant colors, especially for certain glazes and clay bodies.

On the other hand, a reducing atmosphere lacks oxygen and tends to create conditions ideal for reduction reactions. Reduction firing can produce unique effects such as metallic finishes, carbon trapping, and variations in color. It is often preferred for certain types of ceramic artwork, including raku and certain stoneware.

Achieving the desired atmosphere requires careful control of the kiln’s settings, such as adjusting the fuel-to-air ratio and the introduction of specific materials into the firing process. This process demands a keen understanding of the chemistry and behavior of different materials at various temperatures.

It is important to note that maintaining the desired atmosphere throughout the entire firing process can be challenging. Even slight variations in conditions can have a significant impact on the final result. Therefore, close monitoring and adjustments are necessary to ensure the desired outcome.

In conclusion, controlling atmospheres is a vital factor in achieving specific aesthetic qualities in fired pottery. Whether aiming for bright and vibrant colors or unique reduction effects, understanding and manipulating the kiln atmosphere plays a key role in the success of the firing process.

Benefits and Challenges of Oxidation Firing

Oxidation firing is a common technique used in pottery to achieve specific effects on the clay body and glazes. It involves firing in an atmosphere with an excess of oxygen, which causes the combustion of combustible materials, including organic materials, in the kiln.

Benefits of Oxidation Firing:

  • Consistent results: Oxidation firing provides more predictable and consistent results compared to other firing techniques. The controlled levels of oxygen help ensure that the clay body and glazes fire to their desired colors and textures.
  • Brighter colors: Oxidation firing promotes the development of bright and vibrant colors in glazes. The excess of oxygen allows metal oxides in the glazes to fully oxidize, resulting in color clarity and intensity.
  • Reduced risk of defects: Compared to reduction firing, oxidation firing reduces the risk of certain defects, such as carbon coring and bloating. The excess of oxygen helps burn off impurities and combustible materials, resulting in a cleaner firing process.
  • Easier firing control: Oxidation firing is relatively easier to control compared to other firing techniques. It allows potters to fine-tune the firing process by adjusting factors such as temperature, ramp rates, and soaking times, resulting in desired outcomes.

Challenges of Oxidation Firing:

  • Limited range of effects: Oxidation firing can limit the range of effects and finishes that can be achieved on pottery. For example, it may be challenging to achieve certain reduction-fired effects like carbon trapping or metallic finishes in an oxidizing atmosphere.
  • Glaze fit issues: Some glazes may have poor fit with the clay body in oxidation firing, leading to issues such as crawling, peeling, or blistering. It is important to test and adjust glazes to ensure good fit and reduce the risk of these problems.
  • Incomplete reduction: Despite being an oxidation firing technique, some reduction can still occur in certain parts of the kiln. This can result in unintended reduction effects or uneven firing across the kiln. It is important to properly manage the kiln environment to minimize these issues.
  • Challenging color development: While oxidation firing is known for producing bright colors, achieving certain color effects can be challenging. For example, some colored slips may not develop vibrant hues in an oxidizing atmosphere, requiring experimentation and adjustments to achieve the desired outcome.

In conclusion, oxidation firing offers a range of benefits such as consistent results, brighter colors, reduced risk of defects, and easier firing control. However, it also presents challenges including a limited range of effects, glaze fit issues, incomplete reduction, and challenging color development. With proper knowledge, experimentation, and adjustments, potters can maximize the benefits and overcome the challenges of oxidation firing to achieve their desired pottery outcomes.

Benefits and Challenges of Reduction Firing

Reduction firing is a technique used in pottery to create unique and interesting effects on the surface of the finished pieces. It involves altering the atmosphere in the kiln during the firing process to create reducing conditions, where the amount of oxygen present is limited. This reduction atmosphere has both benefits and challenges for potters.

Benefits of Reduction Firing:

  • Rich Colors: One of the main benefits of reduction firing is the ability to achieve rich and vibrant colors on the pottery. The lack of oxygen in the kiln causes certain minerals in the glazes or clay bodies to undergo chemical reactions, resulting in unique color variations. For example, iron-rich glazes may turn from green to deep red or brown in reduction firing.
  • Metallic Effects: Reduction firing can also result in metallic effects on the surface of the pottery. The limited oxygen environment can cause metals, such as copper or manganese, to vaporize and deposit onto the surface of the pieces. This can create interesting and unpredictable patterns or lustrous finishes.
  • Texture and Depth: Another advantage of reduction firing is the ability to create textured and layered surfaces. The reduction atmosphere can cause glazes to interact with each other in a way that produces interesting effects, such as crackling or a sense of depth. This adds visual interest and complexity to the finished pieces.
  • Traditional Aesthetic: Reduction firing has a long history in pottery and is associated with traditional pottery styles and aesthetics. By using this technique, potters can achieve a more classic or rustic look in their work, evoking a sense of tradition and craftsmanship.

Challenges of Reduction Firing:

  • Unpredictable Results: Reduction firing can be challenging because the effects are often unpredictable. The same glaze or clay body may produce different results from firing to firing, depending on factors such as temperature, atmosphere, and kiln placement. This can be both frustrating and exciting for potters.
  • Technical Skill: Achieving consistent and desired results in reduction firing requires a certain level of technical skill and experience. Potters must understand the chemistry and behavior of different glazes and clay bodies in reduction conditions, as well as have a good understanding of firing techniques and kiln operation.
  • Increased Time and Fuel Consumption: Reduction firing typically takes longer than firing in an oxidizing atmosphere, as it requires slower heating and cooling rates. Additionally, the limited oxygen environment can increase fuel consumption, as more fuel is needed to maintain the reducing conditions in the kiln. This can result in higher firing costs.

Despite the challenges, many potters find the benefits of reduction firing, such as the rich colors and unique effects, to be worth the extra effort and time. It allows them to create exceptional and visually stunning pottery that stands out from the crowd.

Testing and Monitoring Oxygen Levels

Testing and Monitoring Oxygen Levels

Testing and monitoring oxygen levels during the firing process is essential for controlling the oxidation and reduction atmospheres in pottery kilns. This ensures that the desired glaze colors, surfaces, and finishes are achieved.

1. Oxygen Probe: One of the most common methods for testing oxygen levels is using an oxygen probe. This probe is inserted into the kiln and measures the oxygen content. The readings from the probe help determine the level of oxidation or reduction happening inside the kiln.

2. Visual Observations: Visual observations can also be used to monitor oxygen levels. Changes in flame color, smoke, and the appearance of the kiln atmosphere can indicate variations in oxygen levels. A blue flame with minimal smoke indicates an oxidizing atmosphere, while a yellow or orange flame with smoke suggests a reducing atmosphere.

3. Firing Logs: Keeping detailed firing logs is crucial for monitoring and understanding the oxygen levels. These logs should include information about fuel types, fuel amounts, kiln temperature, and any adjustments made during the firing process. By reviewing the logs, potters can identify patterns and make necessary adjustments for future firings.

4. Oxygen Controllers: Oxygen controllers are advanced devices that automatically monitor and regulate oxygen levels in the kiln. These controllers help maintain consistent and desired oxidation or reduction atmospheres throughout the firing process. They can be especially beneficial for potters who require precise control over their firing environments.

5. Tests and Experiments: Conducting tests and experiments with different firing techniques, fuel types, and kiln setups can help potters gain a better understanding of how oxygen levels impact the final outcome. By purposely manipulating oxygen levels, potters can observe the effects on glaze colors, clay reactions, and overall kiln atmosphere.

Conclusion: Testing and monitoring oxygen levels is a crucial aspect of firing pottery. By utilizing methods such as oxygen probes, visual observations, firing logs, oxygen controllers, and conducting experiments, potters can achieve the desired oxidation or reduction atmospheres for their pottery. This knowledge and control contribute to the creation of unique and visually appealing pottery pieces.

Techniques for Achieving Oxidation Atmosphere

Creating an oxidation atmosphere in the kiln is essential for achieving certain effects on pottery. Here are some techniques to help you achieve an oxidation atmosphere:

  1. Proper Ventilation: Adequate ventilation in the kiln is crucial for oxygen supply. Make sure the kiln has proper vent holes or a venting system installed.
  2. Placement of Wares: Arrange your pottery pieces in the kiln in such a way that there is enough space for the flow of oxygen around them. Avoid overcrowding, as it may lead to reduced oxygen circulation.
  3. Use of Oxidation Stacks: Using oxidation stacks, also known as chimney stacks, can help improve the airflow in the kiln. These stacks are placed vertically to encourage the upward movement of the gases and promote a more even distribution of oxygen.
  4. Controlled Combustion: Monitor the temperature and fuel supply during firing to maintain a controlled combustion process. Avoid introducing excessive fuel or opening the kiln door frequently, as it can disrupt the oxidation atmosphere.
  5. Proper Kiln Design: Consider the design and construction of your kiln. A well-designed kiln with efficient burners and insulation can help promote an oxidation atmosphere.

Remember that achieving the desired oxidation atmosphere may require experimentation and adjustments based on your specific kiln setup and firing technique. It is important to understand the behavior of your kiln and make necessary modifications to achieve consistent results.

Techniques for Achieving Reduction Atmosphere

Creating a reduction atmosphere is an essential skill for potters and ceramic artists. This firing technique involves reducing the amount of oxygen present in the kiln, resulting in specific color and surface effects on pottery. Here are some techniques to achieve a reduction atmosphere:

  • Damper Adjustment: Adjusting the kiln’s damper can help control the flow of air and gas in the kiln. Closing the damper partially or completely reduces the amount of oxygen entering the kiln, creating a reduction atmosphere.
  • Flame Control: Monitoring and controlling the flames in the kiln is crucial for achieving a reduction atmosphere. A reducing atmosphere is created when the fuel-to-air ratio is adjusted to produce a flame that leans towards orange and yellow rather than blue.
  • Introducing Reducing Agents: Adding specific reducing agents to the kiln can aid in creating a reduction atmosphere. Commonly used reducing agents include sawdust, wood chips, or other organic materials. These materials release gases, such as carbon monoxide, which consume oxygen and create a reduction atmosphere.
  • Reduced Firing Schedule: Following a specific firing schedule can help create a reduction atmosphere. Many potters employ a slow and gradual temperature increase during the early stages of the firing, followed by a reduction of oxygen towards the end of the firing. This schedule allows for the establishment of a reducing atmosphere in the kiln.

It’s important to note that achieving a reduction atmosphere requires practice and experimentation. Every kiln and firing situation is unique, so potters should be prepared to adjust and refine their techniques based on their particular setup.

By mastering the techniques for achieving a reduction atmosphere, potters can unlock a wide range of beautiful and unique color effects on their pottery, adding depth and character to their work.

Expert Tips and Tricks for Firing Pottery

  • Preheat the kiln before firing: To ensure even heating and avoid thermal shock, it is recommended to preheat the kiln to the desired temperature before loading the pottery.
  • Use witness cones: Placing witness cones inside the kiln can help you monitor the temperature and ensure that the firing reaches the desired range. These small ceramic cones will melt at specific temperatures, indicating when the firing process is complete.
  • Create a proper airflow: Proper airflow is essential for uniform temperature distribution and oxidation/reduction atmospheres. Use kiln shelves with evenly spaced stilts or posts to allow air to circulate freely around the pottery.
  • Position pottery carefully: The placement of your pottery inside the kiln can influence the final result. Avoid placing pieces too close together as this can hinder airflow and create uneven heating. Experiment with different arrangements to find what works best for your desired effect.
  • Consider using kiln props: Kiln props, such as small ceramic or metal stilts, can be used to raise pottery off the kiln shelf. This allows for better airflow around the piece and helps prevent glaze runoff from sticking the piece to the shelf.
  • Maintain a proper firing schedule: Different types of clay and glazes require specific firing schedules. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions or seek advice from experienced potters to determine the best firing schedule for your specific materials.
  • Be cautious with fast temperature changes: Rapid temperature changes can cause pottery to crack or shatter. When opening the kiln after firing, allow it to cool down gradually to room temperature before removing the pottery.
  • Use firing cones for accurate temperature readings: Firing cones, also known as pyrometric cones, are small ceramic devices that bend or melt at specific temperatures. Placing these cones inside the kiln during firing allows you to accurately monitor the temperature and make adjustments if needed.
  • Experiment with oxidation and reduction atmospheres: Different firing atmospheres can produce unique effects on pottery. Experiment with both oxidation (plenty of oxygen) and reduction (limited oxygen) atmospheres to achieve different colors and finishes. Refer to specialized resources or seek advice from experts to learn more about the effects of different atmospheres.
  • Learn from experience and practice: Firing pottery is an art that requires practice and experimentation. Keep detailed records of your firing processes and results to learn from them and improve your skills over time.


What is the importance of governing oxidation and reduction atmospheres when firing pottery?

Governing oxidation and reduction atmospheres during the firing process is crucial in pottery because it directly affects the final appearance and color of the pottery. It also plays a role in determining the strength and durability of the piece.

How does oxidation and reduction atmospheres influence the appearance of pottery?

Oxidation and reduction atmospheres can have a significant impact on the appearance of pottery. In an oxidizing atmosphere, the pottery tends to have brighter colors, while in a reducing atmosphere, the colors can become more muted or even change completely. The choice of atmosphere depends on the desired final outcome of the pottery piece.

What techniques can be used to create an oxidation atmosphere during pottery firing?

There are several techniques that can be used to create an oxidation atmosphere during pottery firing. One common technique is to introduce more oxygen into the kiln by adjusting the damper and the kiln ventilation. Another technique is to use oxidation materials, such as copper oxide or iron oxide, which can promote the oxidation process.

How can a potter achieve a reduction atmosphere in the kiln?

A potter can achieve a reduction atmosphere in the kiln by limiting the amount of oxygen present during the firing process. This can be done by adjusting the kiln damper and reducing the kiln ventilation. Additionally, the potter can introduce reduction materials, such as sawdust or carbon, which will consume the available oxygen and create a reduction atmosphere.

Reduction vs.Oxidation in Southwest Pottery – Q and A

what is oxidation and reduction simple

Kilns and Firing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *