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Selecting a Kiln
Selecting and purchasing a kiln can be a daunting task. Buying a kiln online can be even more so because you can't actually touch the kiln and see it firsthand until it arrives. To help alleviate fears and worries about ending up with the wrong thing, we have come up with a step by step process to assist you in selecting the perfect kiln for you needs. Of course, if you have further questions or concerns or need additional advice, please email us and we will be happy to help.
Step 1: Choose Electric or Gas.
Electric kilns are much easier to fire, are often preferred for bisque firings, and are more common in homes due to the difficulty of getting permits to fire gas kilns. Gas has traditionally been used for Raku firing, although Olympic now has electric Raku kilns that work great. In general, brighter colors are obtained with electric kilns (due to their oxidation environment) and more earthy, muted colors are obtained in gas kilns (due to reduction, or lack of oxygen in the air caused by the fire burning the oxygen away). All gas kilns can be operated with natural gas or propane. The vast majority of kilns sold are electric. Glass is almost always done with electric kilns.
Step 2: Find the right size.
The most common and "standard" kiln sizes are (approximate):
- *Up to 9" x 11" (Ideal for firing doll parts, beads, small items, or as a test kiln)
- *18" x 18" (A perfect size for the "weekend warrior" type potter, especially one that doesn't make a large number of pieces, or makes small pieces)
- *23" x 27" (Most common size sold, good for average potter)
- *29" x 27" (Good for large production use)
As you look at this list and try to determine which size is best, consider the following: What type of ware do you produce? Vases? Bowls? Plates? etc. You'll usually want to fire full kiln loads to get maximum efficiency. Think about how long it would take you to fill your kiln.
If you are looking specifically for a Bisque Kiln, or a High Temperature kiln (Cone 6-10), these will be useful to read.
Glass kilns tend to be wide and shallow. Find a size that fits the items you want to fire. Glass kilns are available in rectangular, round, and oval shapes.
Step 3: Control Options
Computer controller or kiln sitter/limit timer? Neither option is better than the other. However, as more people are discover the ease of firing and reduced firing defects you can get with an electronic kiln, they are becoming increasingly popular. Over 90% of the kilns we sell have electronic controllers.
Manual: With a kiln sitter/limit timer, you put a junior cone in a kiln sitter and set the backup timer for 10-14 hours as a failsafe. You start the kiln with all switches at the lowest setting. It is your responsibility to turn them up as needed. (note: kiln sitters only make sense for firing ceramics, not glass or metals which work on temperature instead of heat work.) Paragon (SnF Models) and Cress (FX Firemate models) kilns use the kiln sitter to shut off the kiln, but have switches that can be set to turn up the kiln instead of you doing it manually.
Electronic: The computer controllers are pretty easy to program, especially using pre-made profiles, such as "cone 6, slow". You can usually choose a delay start, a candling period, ramp speed, temperature soak, etc. The temperature profiles are optimized to ensure good firings, for example by slowing down and critical phase change points in the firing process.
Personally, I find the electronic kilns so convenient and efficient that I wouldn't go back for any price. If you are a person that wants to press a button and go, electronic controllers are for you.
Sometimes people want an electronic controller AND a backup kiln sitter. This option is available on the L&L Jupiter and DaVinci kilns, as well as many Olympic kilns.
Both controller options typically apply only to electric kilns. There are some gas kilns that have controllers, but typically they are fired manually by looking at the cones through peep holes.
Step 4: Electricity Requirements
Most homes have 120v and 240v single phase available. Some industrial areas and schools have 208v (and some even have 480v.) Only very small kilns can work on 120v (normal household voltage). There just isn't enough power there to heat a very large kiln. Sometimes we get asked "should I get a 208v or a 240v kilns?" or "Is 3 phase better than 1 phase." One voltage is not better than another and iIt isn't a choice you make, it is determined by the power you have available. Every location will have a specific voltage, and you need to make the kiln to your voltage. We always confirm voltage with you when you place an order, to make double sure you have checked.
You will need to get a breaker that meets the amperage requirements for the kiln you selected. This my involve calling an electrician to come out and do a little bit of wiring, especially for larger kilns. Most electricians will do free estimates, so you can get a few. They will have to look at your wiring to determine if it can handle the amount of current the kiln requires. If not, more power may have to be brought into the house. (Note: If your wiring can handle it, you may want to wire for the kiln one size larger than what you are considering buying. You never know when you might expand and need a larger kiln.) If you already have enough power and just need an appropriate breaker installed, this usually runs $200-$300. If you need more power brought to the house it can cost $5000 and up! Yikes! Read more about electric requirements.
Step 5: Pick a Brand
In some ways this is the hardest step. We sell L&L, Skutt, Paragon, ConeArt, Cress, and Olympic kilns. That's a lot of brands to choose from! Keep in mind the temperature you want to fire to. Some kilns have a maximum of cone 6 or cone 8. Our best advice for this step is to look at each brand individually, particularly in the size you are considering, their standard features, and options available. Also, if you know anyone that has a kiln already, ask them what brand they have, if they're happy with it, and why. Of course price will be another factor.
Step 6: The Ultimate Decision
Now it's all up to you (and your finances of course). Many of the kilns we sell have free shipping. We are happy to do shipping quotes for the few that do not.
Step 7: The Kiln Arrives!
When the truck arrives with your kiln, understand that it is technically your responsibility to unload the kiln. Most truckers will help, but they don't have to unless you pay the additional liftgate charge. (A liftgate lowers the kiln to the ground.) If you want a liftgate, we charge only $40 in most cases. If you have a few friends around then you are probably ok too. Of course if you have a forklift or loading dock this is not an issue.
After you get the kiln off the truck, while the trucker is still there, unbox it and examine it for any possible freight damage. This is not likely to happen, but we want you to be prepared if it does. Do not refuse delivery of the kiln unless it is severely damaged (For example we had one fall off the truck in front of the customer! Ouch!). If you see anything even remotely questionable, note it on the bill of lading and write "subject to further inspection." Contact us for assistance. We will help walk you through the process of making a claim, and see that the situation is handled to your satisfaction.
Other Kiln Features
Controls the sections of your kiln individually so you get even heating from top to bottom. Generally zone control is a very nice feature. It does typically cause the kiln to fire more slowly, which is fine for most people because slow firing is better. The only real tradeoff is that you have 3 thermocouples instead of 1. So that is 3 more that can break (it is a good idea to have a spare handy), and also you have to avoid them when stacking your shelves.
A vent is essential if you are firing in an attached garage or other area connected to a living space. The fumes from firing are not pleasant or safe. Even if your kiln is in a separate area, vents help even out the temperature, bring a lot of oxygen to encourage good color development, keep colors from affecting nearby colors, allow you to bisque fire without propping the lid at the beginning to let the steam out, and vent the maximum amount of carbon away during the bisque firing, which allows for less glaze defects. As you can see, a kiln vent is a great idea for most kilns.
The shelves and posts that hold your ware. They are best ordered with your kiln because they have to ship by truck and there are minimum truck shipping charges. If you order shelves by themselves they will cost at least $150 or so to ship. Read more about Kiln Furniture (to be linked) here. Other items are sometimes referred to ask kiln furniture as well, such as plate and tile firing racks, and stilts. These can be ordered at any time. You can find these items here.
Make sure the kiln size suits your needs. A small kiln is great if you make dolls, jewelry, or small items. If you make pots, plates, bowls, etc. (especially if you throw which is faster than handbuilding) at least 5 cubic feet is recommended. The most common size is 7 cubic feet.
Many of the manual kilns and some electronic ones can be expanded by adding wired or blank rings to increase the firing capacity. This can be very convenient. Maximum firing temperatures may be reduced in this arrangement, so read carefully. Sectional kilns are also easier to move around, and they can be stacked over a large sculpture that is difficult to move.
Some kilns come with an option for a 3" thick firebrick, slightly thicker and more insulative than normal. This allows the kiln to reach hot temperatures more easily (Cone 5 and above), and also causes the kiln to cool more slowly which is good for glaze development.
The taller the kiln, the more difficult to reach in to load shelves and wares. Watch for this especially when adding blank rings to increase capacity.