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How Terracotta Tiles are made: A visit to a Kiln
Be passionate about life… Be passionate about food and wine… Be passionate about stone and terra cotta!
On a recent trip to Italy the CoorItalia team got to see and experience all three! We toured from Siena up to the Vicenza region of Italy. We got to tour stone yards, terra cotta factories, iron makers, window and doors manufacturers and more, and will share these trips in a series of blog entries.
We start with one of the more interesting places we visited: a Terra Cotta maker in the Padova area. This particular company, and family, has been making terra cotta for over 200 years in the same “traditional” way they did back then, and when we say that technology has not sullied their production methods we mean it. There was not a computer in sight!
The heart of the operation is the huge Kiln, housed in a building with a chimney stack visible for miles:
The chimney was actually damaged in an earthquake last spring.
However the journey of a tile begins with the local clay. Behind the kiln is a field of clay some of it reds, some of it a lighter straw color:
In the spring time and early summer the clay is dug, and distributed along the edge of a field. It is then mixed with water to create the working clay and then it is thrown into a mould, the excess is cut off, the mould removed and the tile is then stored and allowed to air dry in the Italian summer sun, in a huge field:
Each one of these rows will allow the tiles to be gently air dried – by the sun in the day, and each night workers lower the wicker “curtains” (in the photo they are rolled up) to protect the tiles from frost and rain. At the end of the summer the tiles are stacked onto pallets for the one firing in the huge kiln.
The pallets are stacked inside the kiln which is a huge oval “racetrack” over 150 ft long:
The walls are 6ft thick and each door is then bricked up and sealed with mud.
In between the pallets wood is stacked in various strategic places along the kiln floor, the stacks are lit and the final door is sealed shut. The workmen then go upstairs to a floor directly above and start pouring coal through small holes in the roof.
The firing lasts for days, is monitored by foremen that have done this for generations, and they only fire once a year. The outcome is as unique as Italy itself. The tiles are complex, colorful, multi-dimensional and beautiful!
In the above photo you see two tiles, the one of the right with mixed clay, rather than blended clay. Tiles are rough, brushed or honed according to client preference, each piece is unique, each piece is the product of a tradition that has not changed in centuries, and judging by their lack of technology will not change any time soon. Time and love – the old way of doing stuff.
Here is one of the paterns that is possible with their tiles: