October 3, 2006
CW brickmakers create inferno Oct. 19-23 as annual Brick Kiln burn fires 16,000 bricks
Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Trades brickmakers begin the annual brick kiln burn – the grand finale of the brickmaking season – Oct. 19.
After carefully stacking the 16,000 unfired bricks that were molded and air-dried since mid-May, the brickmakers will ignite the log fires in the bottom of the kiln that will burn for at least five days and raise the internal kiln temperatures to more than 1850° Fahrenheit.
The kiln firing is a 24-hour operation as the brickmakers fuel the kiln fires day and night. Once the target temperature is achieved, the fires are left to die and the kiln begins to cool. During the active firing, the brickmaking site will be open to the public 9 a.m. – 10 p.m.
The brickmaking season begins in mid-spring, after the chance of frost has passed. Brickmakers, eagerly assisted by barefoot guests, tramp through the brick “mud” pit, thoroughly mixing clay and water to the consistency of bread dough. It’s one of those rare occasions when parents actually encourage their children to “play in the mud.” Until early September, the brick mix -- or mud -- is molded into “green,” or unfired bricks, and allowed to dry in the open air for at least five days before being covered to continue the drying process. After a one-month minimum of covered drying, the bricks are ready for stacking in the kiln.
The kiln typically produces three grades of brick, distinguishable by color. Most of the bricks will appear dark red, indicating the strongest bricks. Bricks farthest from the kiln fires acquire a salmon color; these bricks are softer. Bricks closest to the fires often acquire a dark glaze as potash from the wood fuel bonds with sand in the brick clay. These bricks are the most brittle and are often used in decorative masonry patterns.
The brickyard is located north of Nicholson Street between North England and Botetourt Streets in the Historic Area.
Colonial Williamsburg’s brickmaking program began in 1987 with funding support from the Warren W. Hobbie Charitable Trust of Roanoke. The brickmakers began by investigating and testing 18th-century brick formulas, kiln construction and drying and firing techniques. They also consulted ceramics engineers, soil experts and modern brick manufacturers. Because the bricks are used in Historic Area restoration and reconstruction projects, they must pass tests for compression strength and porosity. Bricks fired this year should comfortably pass modern building code requirements.
Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia. Williamsburg is located 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information or reservations, call toll-free 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg on the Internet at www.ColonialWilliamsburg.com.