Fired up: Colonial Williamsburg kiln ready for November brick baking

srobertsjr@vagazette.com

Down a lush green path at the end of North Queen Street in Colonial Williamsburg, stacks of sandy-colored unbaked bricks tower about six-feet high inside unwalled sheds.

It’s brick firing season in the Historic Area, and historical interpreters are ready to fire the brick kiln with long rows of seasoned logs.

Every year, the brickyard uses about 150 tons of clay — seven dump trucks full — to make red common bricks, according to interpreter and master brickmaker Bill Neff.

The process starts when brickmakers take the clay to pits where interpreters and Colonial Williamsburg guests stomp through the wet clay to mix it together and remove large pieces of hardened rock, according to interpreter and brickmaker Julia Jones.

From there, the clay is rolled into a ball and thrown into lightly sanded molds, before they’re removed and put onto a drying bed for several days, Jones said.

Later the bricks are stacked tall inside the sheds in preparation for firing inside an on-site brick kiln, Neff said.

For every 1,000 bricks fired, about a cord of wood — a stack of wood that’s 4-feet high, 4-feet deep and 8-feet tall — is required to stoke the fire, Neff said.

After they’re baked there are three types of bricks: klinker, red common and salmon, and each type indicates how close to the fire the individual brick was, Jones said.

Klinkers are the hardest of the bricks, but they’re brittle and that can make them unsuitable for some finer masonry projects where lots of cutting is required, according to Jones.

Red common bricks are average — the type of brick most brick buildings are constructed out of, Neff said.

Salmon bricks are named after their color, but the porous face of the brick makes them suitable only for the interior walls of a building, according to Jones.

The date for Colonial Williamsburg’s annual brick kiln firing has not been set yet, although it is typically the week before Thanksgiving.

Find more information on the event, go to colonialwilliamsburg.com or check in with the Colonial Williamsburg Facebook page at facebook.com/ColonialWilliamsburg/.

Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329 or on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.

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