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Campsite Crafting 03: Pottery

Posted by on 2011/04/07

Requirements: Fire, Axe, Shovel, Pick
Materials: Wood, Clay

We’re flying through the stone age now, bitches.  Pottery is one of the first techs you discover in the game civilization, and it allows you to build a granary and speed up your population growth.  For us, Pottery means the same thing, we’ll be able to store water, food, and most importantly, build structures that will help us survive the elements and make better tools.  Pottery is amazingly useful, and the goal thus far, has been to get here.

There are a lot of tricks involved in pottery, which I won’t get into here; Our goal is to make simple containers and, eventually, bricks.

So we need two things to get started with pottery – Clay, and a Pit Kiln.

Clay is found in abundance just about everywhere in the world.  When it’s wet, it will look like mud; when it’s dry it will look like rock. However, it will be of very fine grain and will maintain a plasticity in almost any condition except completely dry.  Most of the time it is red, but it can be brown or grey, making it easy to confuse with soil or rock.   Exploratory digging into naked earth, like all prospecting, is a luck based endeavor.  You may find clay, you may not.  Biologically rich areas are more likely to have clay close to the surface, once you get past all the dead leaves and moist soil, it will be a hard layer that will give under pressure from your pick or knife.

Unless you’re extremely lucky, and have found a pure source of highly concentrated clay, you’ll need to process it… which can be a bitch if you’re working with primitive tools.  If it’s really workable, very plastic, you’ll be able to use it as is to make your first container (which you’ll use to process more clay) however that’s not likely going to be the case.   First you’re going to dry out the clay.  While it’s drying, you should find a stone basin or split a log and dig out a bowl.   You’ll also need a slab of stone or wood to work the raw clay.

Alright, you’ve got a bowl and a slab, and a lot of dry clay.  On the slab, break up the dry clay into small pieces using your hammerstone, and remove any foreign materials, like twigs or pebbles, and pour it into your bowl.  Now add water on a 1:1 ratio until you have a thick mealy soup. Stir that shit, then reach in and make sure its totally saturated, breaking up any clumps. Feel around for any more particulates that may have settled to the bottom and scrape them out.  Once you’ve got a smooth liquid, let it settle.  While it’s settling (it will take a couple hours) you can ladle off excess water and any particles that rise to the surface.  Until we learn how to make wire or cloth, we can’t count on being able to filter the solution through a screen, so we have to get it as pure as possible without technological assistance.    The clay will continue to settle over time, and the excess water can continually be removed or left to evaporate; eventually you’ll be left with a thick muddy paste.

Take that mud and spread it on your slab, again, you’re leaving it to dry for a while.  Making clay is one of those ongoing processes that will become part of your campsite routine, but the first batch is crucial.  Once the mud has reached a workable consistency, you’re ready to shape it. The two most important things we’re going to make here are containers and bricks.  So make as many urns and pots as you can out of your clay, and while you’re at it, make a few bricks as well.  After this batch, you’re going to be focusing on bricks quite a bit.  When you’re done, leave that shit to dry, because you’ve got more work to do.  Make sure you make at least one large pot and lid for charcoal making – we’ll get to that very soon.

The Pit Kiln.

Dig a hole about two feet deep, floor it with gravel, stone, or slate, and carefully place your pottery inside, you can build up walls with wood or stone, but it’s not a vital step at this point.   Make a ‘roof’ for your kiln out of thatched wood and spread a decent layer of earth over the top.  Build a ‘pyramid’ fire directly above the kiln, mixing dried hardwood with some thick live wood and tend it often to get the fire as hot as possible.   Having your fire above the kiln will lead to a slow, controlled increase of temperature within your pit, and safely dry and bake the clay.  Keep the fire burning for a good twenty four hours. After a decent cool down period, you can carefully clear away the remnants of the fire and check on your clay.  Hopefully most of it will have survived.

A quick and dirty method is to simply build a log-cabin style fire directly around your pottery and hope it survives.  In the very least, your bricks will.  It’s recommended that before you set a bonfire and stick your freshly shaped clay in the middle, that you shuffleboard your clay closer and closer to the fire over a few hours, so It has a chance to warm up gradually.  The big risk is that air or water trapped inside your clay will violently escape while your pottery is heating, causing a crack.  That would suck, considering how long it takes to get and prepare clay.

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