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Historic Firebrick Recipes?


Case Draughn

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I posted this to give an idea what is possible using home-made ceramic refractory..

 

Formulating home-made refractory materials from scratch is a fairly torturous process but if you survive it you come out the other end with a very deep knowledge of refractory chemistry and engineering...

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

In total, I have about 35 gallons of clay. Got some firewood too. I should have everything ready for actually making the bricks soon. I don't think this clay even needs refining.image.jpeg

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  • 2 weeks later...

The weather has set back my progress quite a lot, and school has started back too. I have some clay pancakes (about half what I need) drying out to fire for making grog. Naturally, they're cracking a bit, but I suppose it doesn't matter since they're just going to be crushed after firing. I also took a little scrap piece and fired it. I tried it by a fire for bout 30 minutes, placed it in the fire and kept it going for about an hour and a half then let it sit in the embers for another half hour. After it cooled I took it out and put it in a bowl of water to see if any clay would come out, but there was nothing. I broke it to see the inside. There's a few layers, starting with brown, then light gray, then dark gray. Totally ceramic it seems. No issues with it, but there's definitely a little iron in the clay as little balls that I mostly pick out when working the clay. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

A little update. I fired two sets of sherds and ground them into grog. I have one more set to fire and grind. Interestingly, if I leave the fired sherds on the fire they oxidize a brown-red color. Some of the interior sherds in the stack stay gray. I'll add a picture of the sherds after they've been fired and washed. I check every single one to see if they've fired all the way through, and so far I've only found a few that didn't. It'll probably be at least another week before I have the last set finished, then I can start making the bricks.  

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  • 2 months later...

I molded the bricks over the last two days. It was a lot of hard work doing it alone, and not mixing in a pit with my feet definitely made it worse, but I didn't want to contaminate the clay with any sand. First, I mixed 4 or 5 shovels of clay in a bucket with water until it was very muddy. Then I poured it into a wheelbarrow to mix with the temper materials using a hoe. I was really just eyeballing it until it seemed the right consistency. The first 1/3 of the brick definitely did not have enough temper and were too wet for the mold, but the next 1/3 was better, and the last 1/3 seemed to be about as much temper as the clay would hold. I ended up using only about 2/3 of the temper I ground up. After I mixed the clay and formed some balls, I chucked it in the mold. The clay really wanted to stick to the mold no matter what I did. I think one of the boards I used for it was too warped in one dimension, making it difficult to release just by lifting the mold. After the first 1/3 of bricks were molded I realized that I should be throwing down some loose temper material to keep the clay from sticking to the ground, so some of them are a little warped from me trying to carefully peel them off the ground. In the end I made 42 full bricks and 3 half bricks. I moved them all to my garage to dry because there isn't anywhere else that is consistently shady and protected. Once they were dry enough to move, I stamped my name in them too. In a couple weeks, I'll give it a go at firing them. I ought to have enough dry firewood collected now to keep it burning hot for at least 3 hours.

 

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Those are some good looking bricks. The grey clay might be bentonite that was put in the pond to try to seal the bottom.

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1 hour ago, J_Martin said:

Those are some good looking bricks. The grey clay might be bentonite that was put in the pond to try to seal the bottom.

I don't know whether that's the case or it's just the same layer as the clay I found in the creek, just without the sand deposition. My dad said that when they expanded the pond, they used the clay as a foundation for the gravel roads across the farm because it doesn't expand and contract as much as the surface clays. The surface clay in this area is notorious for destroying the roads. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

I fired the bricks yesterday evening somewhat hurriedly. I was out of town for a couple days and planned on firing the bricks today, but the weather forecast was showing thunderstorms, and I knew I would not have time to fire them any other day for several more weeks. I stacked up an assortment of bricks I had laying around into a kiln and loaded the greenbricks inside. I had to use some of them for the upper portion of the kiln walls. I preheated the kiln for one hour with a small fire in each of the bottom chambers. Then I added wood to the upper chambers and kept it loaded for a little over 3 hours. All of the bricks inside were glowing at least a red color, some towards the bottom were nearly orange. After that I let it burn down and finally came to check it this morning. It appears that all of the bricks inside the kiln became ceramic, but the ones on the walls on the kiln only fired about halfway through. Many of the bricks in the bottom of the firing chamber cracked. I think I may have let the temperature rise too quickly from the preheating stage, or maybe I let the fire burn out too quickly at the end. Other than having several more half bricks and irregular shaped ones than planned, they turned out fine. The interior of the brick has an interesting oxidation line. Except for the bricks with cracks, they have a nice metallic ping when I tap them with my finger. I'll end up firing the rest of the under-fired bricks at some point, likely along with some pottery, and will hopefully then have enough similarly sized bricks for a better looking kiln. 

 

 

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That's super cool. Sorry I'm a bit later to the party, but you could have wet the surface of the wooden molds to help release more easily. Usually a kiln has insulated sides to help keep the heat inside more easily (or you fire them in a pit!). Overall though, I think you're doing great!

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