In China, the technology of wood-fired kilns, capable of firing up to 1000 C°, dates back to pre-dynastic times (at least 2000 BC). During the centuries, they were subject to great innovations and changes. The south of China developed the “Dragon” kiln around 200 AD (Eastern Han Dynasty), the North of China started using the “Mantou” kiln at around the same time (some scholars date the first production of porcelain to this very period of time).
Jingdezhen, which had started making pottery in the 6th century BC changed from the dragon kiln to the more effective gourd-shaped kiln, which was used throughout the 14th century; towards the end of the Ming Dynasty, it was then replaced by the egg-shaped (or “Zhenyao”) kiln. All of these innovations were capable of firing higher quantities of wares at higher temperatures in shorter times, compared to their predecessors.
The wood-fired kilns in Jingdezhen are famous for the pinewoods used in the process. A typical wood-fired kiln can be used for 60-80 years until it needs a complete overhaul. It takes 2-3 kilogram of pinewood to fire one kilogram of porcelain, which is one of the reasons, why wood-fired porcelain is more expensive than others. Different kinds of woods as well as the weather have an impact on the production yield.
The kiln´s masonry wall with common bricks lets the air stream intentionally. Ideally, the wood is fired when the outside temperature is low with strong winds. Otherwise, the wood could not be fired completely because of the lack of oxygen. This would reduce the porcelain that could be produced. Thus, a great piece of porcelain does not only rely on one or two conditions but requires close cooperation of many craftsmen in every team.
The biggest difference between wood-fired porcelain and the one from modern, gas fired kilns is that burning ashes in the air fall down on the surface of the porcelain, which then turns into a grey glaze during the firing. As a result, every piece of porcelain burned in a wood-fired kiln is different from each other. Even the craftsmen cannot fully control and predict what the porcelain will look like. That has a certain magic to it, which you cannot experience in many other industries.
A key difference for you as a tea lover: you can “cultivate” these precious pieces of art with different kinds of tea! The surface of wood-fired porcelain becomes smoother than ever after being exposed to tea. When cultivating a piece of wood-fired porcelain, you should rinse it with 80 C° water or tea several times a day, for 2-3 days. Now you can start to enjoy your perfect tea time with this unique piece of art.