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At Colonial Williamsburg's kiln, firing up bricks is a good thing

Jimmy LaRoue
Contact Reporterjlarouejr@vagazette.com

Even after 10 years, the process of making bricks doesn’t get old for Colonial Williamsburg’s Josh Graml.

Graml, who has been a journeyman in the masonry department for the past 10 years, said in his first couple of years, he used to sweat out making sure he got everything right.

Now, he said the process is like second nature.

“It’s the culmination of everything you do all summerlong,” Graml said. “It’s the end game for a long hot summer of making bricks.”

The actual process of making bricks at Colonial Williamsburg begins in April and runs through September, when the masonry department molds the bricks. The public is involved from Memorial Day through Labor Day by helping the masonry department’s full time staff of four mix up the clay with their bare feet.

Often, Graml said they’ll let people take the bricks out to the sand beds, where they dry.

If the kids have done that, they can write their names in the bricks, he said.

Firing the brick kiln doesn’t begin until the fall, when the weather is too cold to do any more molding.

This year, the masonry department will build the brick kiln in October, and the process of firing it up begins Nov. 15 and goes through the 19th. This process typically starts on a Wednesday, Graml said, so that the hottest part of the burn is during the weekend when more people can see it. At its peak, the burn can reach around 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

The brickyard will stay open Wednesday until through Saturday until 10 p.m. since the masonry department has to staff it 24 hours a day. On the first day, the masonry crew will light the fires between 9 and 9:30 a.m. On Sunday, the final day of the burning, Graml said the time it ends varies, because the burning can end at any point between midafternoon Sunday and early morning Monday.

“The tunnels where we light the fires will be glowing, there’ll be lots of smoke coming out of the top of the stack, and it’s really impressive at that point,” Graml said.

However, Graml cautions that the first day of the fire will not be as large as other days.

“You’re starting off slow and you’re building your way to the big heat,” Graml said.

This year, the masonry crew will stack up about 25,000 bricks — in a typical year, the group will work through about 20,000 to 25,000 bricks. The bricks will eventually get used for restoration projects at Colonial Williamsburg.

Some of the bricks made last year were used in the restoration work for Raleigh Tavern, Graml said, and in the past bricks have gone to other museums or historic sites. This year, the masonry department is also making larger, square bricks for some paving work in Colonial Williamsburg.

“It’s a big impressive stack of bricks,” Graml said. “The whole thing gets coated over with mud, so when you come down to see the kiln, technically you won’t really see under the bricks. You’ll just see a big mud covered stack, which does not sound as romantic as it actually looks.”

Firing the Brick Kiln

Where: Colonial Williamsburg, on Nicholson Street, down the hill from the cabinetmaker’s shop.

Dates: Nov. 15-Nov. 19

Times: 9 a.m. through 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and on Sunday until the kiln finishes burning; the end time varies.

Cost: Free with admission to Colonial Williamsburg.

LaRoue can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342, by email at jlarouejr@vagazette.com or on Twitter @jlaroue.

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