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Monday, 17 November 2014

Opacification of Glazes

Glaze opacifiers are materials which when added to a glaze change the level of transparency of the glaze. Glazes are often described as clear/transparent or opaque. In order to achieve color tone and hide the body color it is often necessary to add opacifier particles which stay discrete in the glaze after firing. Materials which have a significant difference in refractive index from the parent glaze produce the most effective opacification. To the right you can see the effect of adding an opacifier to a transparent glaze. It becomes whiter and milky (opacified ) in nature and flows less.

Below you can see the effect of adding opacifier to a transparent glaze containing different colored pigments


Top = transparent glaze            Bottom = opaque glaze


Typical glaze opacifiers are zircon (zirconium silicate), tin oxide, and titania (titanium dioxide). 

Zircon opacifier powder

Zircon

Zircon is the preferred opacifier for glaze due to the low cost, inertness and stability in glaze. To achieve full opacification, the opacifier content and the particle size are important factors. For addition of zircon to the glaze mill during grinding a particle size of 95% less than 3 microns and a content of 5-10% ensures sufficient opacifier is dispersed to create optimum opacity.  

However an exceptional level of opacity can be achieved by pre-melting the zircon into a glass (called frit) and then using the frit as part of the glaze recipe. These frits are transparent before firing but crystallize zircon during the glaze firing process to give a high level of opacity. 

Tin Oxide

Tin oxide has historically been used as a glaze opacifier but its high cost has limited its recent use to low temperature majolica or special effect glazes. At a level of 5% in a transparent glaze a high level of opacity can be achieved. Its lower solubility in glaze compared to zircon means that lower levels of tin oxide can be used to create the same level of opacity as zircon.. Tin gives a slightly blue white tinge and also has a lesser effect on the glaze appearance than zircon which increases glaze viscosity during dissolution.One major drawback of tin is it reactivity with some oxide pigments. For example, with chrome oxide a pink discoloration may result from the formation of a chrome-tin spinel crystal.
Titania reactive glazes


Titania

Titania is also a very costly opacifier and is used primarily where reactive special effect glazes are required. Like zircon it has a higher solubility than tin in the glaze and even at levels of 4%  tends to give a yellow tinge to the glaze after firing. It readily reacts with other materials in the glaze to create many unusual crystalline phases on cooling.This is ideal for special effect glazes but undesirable for standard opaque glazes.




Happy Potting
The Potters Friend

More information and other technical articles on pottery and ceramics can be found at my website The Potters Friend.

Go now to sign up for my free newsletter.


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Wedgwood Collection and the changing face of UK pottery

Wedgwood Museum

Staffordshire pottery manufacture changed forever in the late 1980's and early 1990's. The power of the supermarket buyers, the draw of low cost manufacture overseas and the changing markets in Europe all contributed to the massive decline in pottery manufacture in the UK. So many big names like Royal Doulton, Spode, and Royal Worcester, to name but a few, now exist merely as brands with the factories closed and demolished. Bleak as it was for the thousands of workers who lost their jobs during that time, many of those workers still talk fondly of the friendships, skills and pride of working in the hundreds of potbanks which existed at that time in north Staffordshire and especially Stoke on Trent.

Staffordshire Oatcakes
It was not just  the potteries that demised but also the services to those factories, the engineers, the material suppliers and sandwich and oatcake shops that provided breakfast and lunch to the hungry workers at break times.For the lucky few they found work elsewhere and the humble Staffordshire Oatcake lives on mainly through online marketing and Social Media.

Many of those pottery workers now rely heavily on their work pensions created during their employment at companies like Wedgwood. However Wedgwood pension trust has a big pension deficit that is causing  problems.

Over the last few years the importance of this pension deficit has been highlighted as the struggle to keep the magnificent Wedgwood Collection at its home in the Wedgwood museum in Stoke on Trent continues.

For those who have not seen the collection I urge you to do so. You will not be disappointed. At over 80,000 historical pieces, ranging from early experiments for new bodies and glazes through to modern production as well as rare manuscripts and letters, pattern books, works of art and photographs, covering the 250-year Wedgwood history, it is one of the most unique industrial archives in the world. The importance of the collection is explained in more detail in this Wedgwood video link.

The collection is under threat because a legal loophole allowed a Wedgwood previously in liquidation to place pension debt in the Museum trust. The trustees have no option but to try to pay off this debt by selling some or all of the collection.

We cannot lose this collection from the UK or allow it to be dispersed around the world to private collectors. It is OUR heritage and I urge you to donate to help meet the £2.74m shortfall still required to keep the collection together in the UK.

Thank you for your support.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Pottery Glaze Safety

Introduction

The safety of pottery manufactured by credible large scale pottery manufacturers particularly in Europe and the USA is a priority. However many smaller scale studio potteries have a lesser understanding of the leaching of toxic components from glazes. Why? Because it is difficult to understand and even more difficult to test accurately without specialist equipment.

However everyone involved with pottery manufacture needs to understand about glaze toxicity in the 'sue everyone' culture of today.

Changes to legislation in the USA in the early 90's provided the springboard for worldwide change.
A case of lead poisoning in the USA caused by pottery which did not conform to any legislation worldwide (YES NON CONFORMING WORLDWIDE!) led to big changes. The result of the political intervention that followed was to effectively ban lead glazed ware (under proposition 65) in California and many other US states.Whether this was a justified scientific solution to the original problem is still debated by many in the industry. However the result is here to stay.

Lead in Glaze

Lets start with some facts about lead :
  • Lead in large quantities is known to be toxic. Indeed the ancient Egyptians used it for homicidal purposes.
     
  • Lead in small quantities is known to be harmful. It can seriously affect the learning ability of small children and cause other harmful effects in adults.
     
  • Lead glazed pottery leaches lead when subject to strong acids. However this may be as low as parts per billion; less than might be found in drinking water!
     
  • Lead leaching from the glaze surface is not directly related to the lead content of glaze. Many other factors such as firing have an equal or greater influence.
     
  • Lead glazed pottery has been in existence for thousands of years
Clearly the picture for lead glazes is not good. However the technical understanding gained over many years of industrial research and manufacture allowed them to be used with relative safety. Nonetheless the pottery industry has moved forward.

 Environmental as well as political pressures has ensured that millions of pounds have been spent to research and develop unleaded glazes and colours by major manufacturers. Unleaded glazes and colours have now become the norm and are available for most types of pottery body.

But unleaded glazes are not without issues. Lets consider why:

Unleaded Glaze

Unleaded glazes are mainly glass, sometimes with a crystalline phase and are considered as long-lasting and indestructible. This is not strictly true as all glass leaches to some extent when it comes into contact with acid foodstuffs even water. In the case of acids,  contact with the glaze surface over a period of time can cause a much greater leaching effect. The intermittent use of alkali dish-washing agents can also dull the glaze surface leaving it more prone to acid attack. Early unleaded glazes were particularly prone to this type of attack by strong dishwashing detergents.

Some unleaded glazes contain elements such as Barium, Zinc and Cadmium which are also considered toxic when released in large quantities from the surface of the glaze. Indeed some countries legislate for this by imposing limits on the release of cadmium and zinc elements and other heavy metals in their metal release legislation or guidelines. The safe handling of barium carbonate and cadmium compounds in the manufacture of glazes is also a concern for glaze producers.


Coloured Glazes

Copper green glaze
Coloured glazes have long been known to give greater problems than white glazes in terms of toxic metal release. This is due to the often overlooked fact that the choice of pigment greatly influences the ease at which acids can attack the glaze surface. For example it is well established that the combination of copper and lead in a glaze gives significantly greater lead leaching than from the lead glaze alone.

Other colouring elements such as cobalt, manganese can act in similar ways even in unleaded glaze. Therefore it is important to know the effect of pigments and intrinsic durability of each glaze you make.

Toxic Metal Testing

Toxic metal testing of pottery intended for food contact is carried out by specialist testing organisations who are accredited to carry out standard tests such as EU 2005/31/EC or ASTMC738 in the USA. The most recent European limits for this test is specified in 2005/31/EC. To reduce cost and avoid testing of clearly unacceptable glazes quick tests can be used to screen out poorly durable or lead glazes. Cutting a lemon in half and placing it overnight on the glaze surface is one such quick test. Another is using a quick lead test such as lead inspector.

However it is recommended that all glazes produced for food contact use are tested by certified test laboratories to ensure compliance.

Summary

To produce safe ceramics that comply with current legislation it is important to understand the formulation and firing of glazes. It is  more complex than most people think and testing by a recognised testing laboratory is the only true way to ensure compliance. The problems of safety of  lead glazes are well known, and these glazes are being phased out and replaced with unleaded equivalents. However unleaded and coloured glazes are not totally free of issues and reference to the health and safety glaze documents of suppliers is strongly recommended.



Happy Potting
The Potters Friend

More information and other technical articles on pottery and ceramics can be found at my website The Potters Friend.

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Thursday, 19 June 2014

Pottery Materials-Potters You've Never Had it So Good!

Sources of materials

Materials dug from the ground have been the source of pottery making for thousands of years. However early potters relied heavily on local materials, especially the clays and sands. This was certainly the case in my beloved Staffordshire, England where local marl clays formed the major source of clay for early industrial potters.

Borax granules
Today materials are shipped around the world to areas of high industrial scale ceramic manufacture. For example the high quality white china clays from the south of England are often shipped to Asia to make the finest bone china and porcelain bodies. Similarly borax and boron minerals from Turkey and the USA are used in Europe to make glazes and frits for tile, tableware and sanitary ware manufacture.

However it is not just the source of available materials but also the quality and consistency that has helped modern potters and potteries to improve their quality, designs and efficiency.

Materials for body making

Body materials
The main materials used to produce a clay body are silica or quartz, felspar, and clays. These materials come in various purities, particle sizes, and qualities. To produce the finest white bodies, high purity low iron materials are used and these materials are sourced locally where available. However most areas of pottery manufacture do not have the required purity or consistency required from all their local suppliers and are therefore forced to consider other supplies. It is the consistency in purity, and control of of material properties that has made a significant difference to large scale pottery manufacturers. They can automate processes and improve efficiency to reduce costs. Materials are now stardardised to fit processing routes. For example 30 mesh and 200 mesh materials are common in the UK. These improvements in materials for industrial scale customers also has a knock on benefit for craft, hobby and studio potters who can also purchase these same materials from distributors and use them with greater confidence.

Materials for glaze making

Frit granules
Like body the main materials used for glaze making are silica, china clay, and felspar. However frits (fused glass fragments) and other minerals such as limestone, dolomite, wollastonite, zircon are often added to control the fired properties of the glaze. Expensive technical grade chemicals such as zinc oxide, barium carbonate,and boric acid are also used in small quantities in the glaze or frit to meet the most demanding glaze requirements. However it is in the use of boron products where industrial scale and craft scale differ the most. Large scale glaze manufacturers predominantly use frits as a source of boron, where craft glaze makers use boron products such as Gerstley borate. The benefits of using frits for industrial scale glaze manufacture are far reaching. The recipe of the glaze is designed to be lead free and often fine tuned to give the widest firing range and technical performance. Control of glaze slip properties, glaze application, and firing properties are of paramount importance especially in automated plants which are not suited to the use of borates in glaze. Slip control of the glaze involves controlling both the solids content of the slurry, the viscosity (fluidity) and the drying time by means of chemical additives.

This differentiation in supply is a benefit to craft and hobby potters who can choose a from a wide range of frits or borates depending on their scale of operation or cost needs. .

Materials for decoration

A whole range of  methods are now available for decoration of pottery. When colour was introduced to pottery in early years it was in the form of naturally occurring coloured minerals usually high in iron. Consequently the colour range was restricted to brown- red to grey blue in colour depending on the firing condition. However with the development of pigments from the eighteenth century many more colours became available with Chinese blue colour on white glaze becoming very popular.                                      
range of onglaze decorating colours


Today a full range of stable mixable ceramic colours are available ranging from bright yellow to blue to red. Together with a wider range of decorating techniques the modern potter now has the opportunity to design truly unique ware that is also repeatable.

Range of ceramic stains


To put this into perspective an anology might be to compare Fords "you can have it in any colour as long as its black" to the current range of colours and effects used to paint modern vehicles.

In a similar way to body and glaze materials, decorating colours such as onglaze have become standardised and more consistent in both their application and firing. Colours have been developed without lead and are available in the best medium (liquid) to allow optimum application whether that is hand painting, machine banding or screen printing. Introduction of digital printing has allowed digital images to be translated from computer to ware using ink jet decals or even direct printing in a similar fashion to paper printing. For the hand made purists in pottery computer support to design has not always been welcomed but it has extended the range of design to new levels.

In the future design will be pushed even further by 3D printing which is in its infancy in the pottery industry.

Summary

Clearly material technology and control in the pottery industry has progressed almost unnoticed since the early eighteenth century pottery manufacture. However it has progressed and the development of more consistent, environmentally friendly colours together with a wider colour palette has been of great benefit to modern potters, large and small..  The advent of digital printing in recent years and the potential of 3D printing is set to revolutionise the industry further creating even more design possibilities.

Yes Potters it is true! You've never had it so good!
Comments welcomed?

Happy Potting
The Potters Friend

More information and other technical articles on pottery and ceramics can be found at my website The Potters Friend.

Go now to sign up for my free newsletter.



Wednesday, 23 April 2014

How to Make Coloured Pottery

The Appeal of Colour

Copper Ruby glaze
The addition of colour to pottery adds so much to its appeal. Whilst white pottery can emphasise the distinctive form of a piece it is often colour which catches the eye! Colour is often associated with a mood or feeling and this varies between cultures and countries. For example red is a very emotive colour and can mean anything from love and romance to danger and fire! Choosing the right colour to make or decorate your pottery however is a matter of personal choice and allows for much creativity and freedom of expression.

Colour can be added to pottery in many ways including body colour, underglaze, inglaze, onglaze and also as a component of the glaze itself.


In this article I will try to review the two main types of ceramic pigment ( raw oxide and ceramic stains) available and how they can be used to produce highly decorative pottery.

In the second of my series on glaze I described how to make a white textured stoneware glaze. 
Simply adding inorganic colouring oxides such as Iron Oxide to such a glaze produces colour but not always the desired colour!  Carry on reading to find out why!

Raw Oxides in Coloured Glaze


Top = Oxides in transparent glaze
Bottom = Oxides in opaque glaze
Copper oxide crackle glaze
It is common for raw oxide pigments to be used used in pottery making. Many studio and craft potters prefer to use cobalt oxide, chrome oxide, Iron oxide and copper oxide as colouring pigments.These oxides give blue, green, yellow-brown, and green-blue respectively on firing in or under the glaze. Often the fired colour of the starting oxide is not the same as the original oxide colour e.g. cobalt oxide changes from black to blue on firing in a glaze. However mixing of these oxides in a glaze, gives variable but often aesthetically pleasing artistic effects on firing. It is for this reason, and the lower cost involved that many studio potters often use these materials.

Iron Oxide and cobalt oxide in glazes
In using oxides as pigments It is important to match the pigment type and content to the glaze to achieve the most consistent results. In the example above iron oxide gives a yellow colour when added to a glaze in small percentage (eg 1%) compared to a brown colour in high percentage (eg 15%). In combination iron oxide and cobalt oxide often give grey or a black glaze colour (see example right). The difference in the colour between an opaque and transparent glaze containing the same pigment content is also marked. In the example above the same pigment content is compared in a transparent glaze (top) and an opaque glaze (bottom). A stoneware textured glaze will produce colour tones similar to those of an opaque glaze.


Organic pigments such as those used in paper printing are clearly not suitable and will simply burn away during firing

Ceramic Stains in Coloured Glazes



Top = Ceramic stains in transparent glaze
Bottom = Ceramic stains in opaque glaze

In contrast to raw oxide pigments, ceramic stains have been specially formulated to create a wide range of colour tones in glaze. In their manufacture they have undergone a heat process and a fine grinding process so that they are highly temperature stable and capable of being mixed together to generate intermediate colour tones. This property is highly valued by large scale manufacturers who need consistency of colour tones. However this all comes at a cost compared to raw oxides.

Onglaze and Inglaze Decoration


Pantone Mugs showing onglaze colours
It is common for high quality whitewares such as bone china and porcelain to be decorated with special colours called onglaze (low temperature) or inglaze (high temperature). These colours use a mix of special fluxes and the ceramic stains identified above to create a wide range of intense, durable colours and bond them to the already fired glaze surface.. Whilst a few studio potters try to make their own, they are best supplied by specialist manufacturers to ensure they meet current legislation and perform satisfactorily in use. These colours are often supplied as powders or pre-dispersed in a liquid allowing them to be applied by hand painting or screen printing. This type of colour is very versatile and is often used to make precision decorative decals for water slide application onto pre-glazed pottery. A new development called Digital printing now allows these decals to be personalised and produced in small quantities making it a cost effective method of decoration for craft and hobby use.

Summary

Clearly there is more to making coloured pottery than is immediately obvious. For those who want consistent colour that can be mixed to give intermediate shades then use ceramic stains either as a glaze component or in decoration products such as inglaze or onglaze colours. For those who want unpredictable but aesthetically pleasing results use oxides as a glaze component or under the glaze. Whichever option you choose using colour creatively will only add to the appeal of your pottery.

Happy Potting
The Potters Friend

More information and other technical articles on pottery and ceramics can be found at my website The Potters Friend.

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Thursday, 13 March 2014

How to Choose Your Pottery Clay Body

What is clay?

Flat plates of clay particles
Before choosing your pottery clay body it is first important to understand a little about clay and why it is used as a component of a clay body. Clay is a mineral extracted from the ground which can be readily moulded like plasticine. At microscopic level, the particles of clay have a flat plate-like structure giving them this plastic like property. The 2 most commonly used pottery clays are Ball Clay and China Clay (Kaolin). Ball clay tends to be very plastic-mouldable but off white in colour. China clay is less plastic but has a whiter fired colour. Many other clays are available but they tend to be off white to red in colour and therefore less used in high volume white pottery manufacture.

What is a clay body?

The terms clay and body are used by potters almost interchangeably. However in most cases it is not technically correct! In simple terms a body is a formula containing clay and other minerals. Therefore clay is a raw material component of a body. In past times a body was simply a clay dug from the ground which was variable in both its composition and properties. However, modern commercial potters no longer rely on bodies manufactured from clay alone. To achieve specific properties they are scientifically formulated in a very precise way. A wide range of raw clays and minerals are used from all around the world. They vary in colour, strength, particle size as well as mineralogy and purity. No two clays from different parts of the world are precisely the same although for comparison purposes they can act in a similar way when used as part of a body formula. For studio pottery manufacture coarse minerals called grogs are often added to the clay body formulas to give additional texture appeal and improved properties.

How to choose the best clay for you



Firing range of your kiln


The maximum firing temperature of your kiln should be your first consideration when deciding which type of clay body to buy. It is no use choosing a stoneware clay firing 1250 C if your kiln will only fire to 1200 C. Lower temperature kilns are suitable for earthenware and terracotta bodies (less than 1200 C) whereas high temperature kilns are acceptable for most bodies including porcelain and stoneware.

Colour


The fired colour of the body will often dictate the cost. In general whiter clay bodies are more expensive than buff or cream coloured ones. The type of clay body you use is often prescribed by your colour selection. For example porcelain and bone china are always very white after firing.  To give you an idea of the fired colour produced by the different clay body types see the section entitled 'range of bodies'. Please also note that the firing temperature has a significant affect on the fired colour!

The making Process


The making process you intend to use to shape the body is also an important factor when considering the most appropriate clay body. Clay body sub-types allow you to select a clay suitable for all major forming operations including throwing, hand-building, sculpting, casting or machine making.

Size of your work and end use


The size of the pottery piece you plan to make is also important. Larger pieces often require a more heavily grogged (less plastic) clay whereas smaller pieces of work can require more plasticity. In addition, the end use of the ware, whether it is purely ornamental, for outside use, or designed as functional tableware will affect your choice of clay body.

Texture


For the more experienced potter the texture of the clay body after firing is often important.. The feel, look and strength of the ceramic piece is strongly affected by this sub-type of clay. For example the grogged subgroup of bodies generally add texture, strength and stability, whilst an ungrogged body will result in a smoother more polished finish.

Glaze compatibility


Whichever clay body you choose it is imperative that you select a glaze which is compatible with the body. This technical compatibility is critical to producing an intact piece without faults after firing. Be guided by your supplier who can supply compatible glazes for most body types and firing schedules. For peace of mind you should always test a sample of the glaze and clay body in your own kiln prior to any major production. The temperature and firing schedule of your kiln will influence whether your clay body and glaze are compatible after firing.

Range of Clay Bodies


The are numerous clay bodies produced commercially around the world available to the craft potter, studio potter and commercial pottery. Indeed there are so many that it is impossible to detail them all here. Bodies are often developed to make them suitable for the making process. Therefore suppliers often state  subtypes which define which clay bodies are more suitable for hand throwing, casting, hand building etc.

Clay bodies however can be classified into a relatively small number of categories according to their colour, firing range and texture. Below are a few major examples showing the fired colour of individual body types.

Porcelain
Bone China
Earthenware
Stoneware
Terracotta








Bone China


Bone China chocolate cup
Bone China
This is a smooth textured extremely white firing body that is also translucent. It is unique in that it contains a high proportion of calcined bone ash . Biscuit firing at approx 1220 C gives it a high strength making it suitable for producing delicate highly decorative items as well as tableware. This type of ware after glazing is often decorated with onglaze colours or precious metal decoration to create stunning pieces of pottery. Electric firing kilns usually produce the best bone china quality.

Porcelain


This is a smooth textured translucent extra white firing body similar to bone china. However two types of porcelain are made, a 'hard porcelain' which requires a glaze firing in excess of 1400 C and a 'soft porcelain' which requires a glaze firing to approx 1250 C. Biscuit firing however is often around 1000 C which allows pieces to be glazed more successfully. High temperature gas kilns are often used to fire this type of body. Porcelain, like bone china, can also be decorated with onglaze enamels and precious metal to create delicate highly attractive giftware as well as tableware.

Stoneware


Stoneware jar
Stoneware
This class of clay body is commonly used by craft and studio potters. It has a relatively high biscuit firing temperature in excess of 1150C.  Many commercial bodies, available in a range of off white to buff colours, are fired in the range 1250-1300C to give maximum strength. By glazing with a reactive type coloured glaze a wide variety of effects and colours can be achieved. Because of this stoneware has found high popularity with craft potters looking to create unique coloured or or textured hand made pottery. This body type can be used to produce both decorative and functional pieces such as tableware.

Terracotta


Terracotta
This class of body is typified by its unique red terracotta colour. This clay body has a high iron content in its mineral components giving the unique red colour. Like stoneware the smooth texture can be modified, by addition of grog (coarse material), to give a much rougher finish. Terracotta bodies have a relatively low firing temperature of 1000-1050C and are therefore porous and have relatively low strength after firing. Commonly unglazed it is often used for sculptures, planters, tiles and garden ware where the technical properties are not so demanding. For more demanding environments such as tableware the body is often glazed to give a stronger more durable product.

Earthenware


This type of body is often used for hand painting by hobbyists.
Burleigh Blue and white jug
For craft pottery this body is biscuit fired to approx 1000 C to allow easy brushing of underglaze colours or coloured glaze on to the porous surface. Following  glaze firing to 1050 C to 1150 C the body colour and underglaze colours show through the transparent glaze producing highly decorative ware.  After glaze firing the body remains porous with reduced strength compared to fully vitrified bodies like porcelain or bone china.

Body colour ranges from white to buff and some bodies are also grogged to provide texture.

For commercial tableware optimum body strength is achieved by firing the biscuit in the range 1180-1220 C but this peak is not often needed for lower strength or decorative only ware.

Special bodies

raku firing by Lori Duncan
This range of bodies include, highly coloured bodies, low firing bodies, Raku bodies, and special highly textured bodies. In the case of Raku the body is modified to allow rapid heating and cooling without  cracking, usually by the addition of grog. Making raku pottery successfully requires more expertise than other pottery types and often depends on a trial and error approach. To learn more about Raku read my separate article on Raku making.

Summary

Clearly, choosing the right clay body for you poses a number of technical questions. It is more difficult than is immediately obvious. However I recommend you talk to your clay body suppliers in the first instance and not just search the internet. Their vast knowledge of their products will make the whole process of selection of suitable body and glaze just that much easier.

Good Luck
Happy potting!
The Potters Friend



More information and other technical articles on pottery and ceramics can be found at my website The Potters Friend.

Go now to sign up for my free newsletter.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

How to choose your pottery kiln

K&F front loader
Making a kiln purchase is a big step for many potters. It is probably the biggest financial outlay you have as a potter and you would expect a new kiln to last 10 years or more depending on frequency of use. Most pottery beginners start by attending pottery classes and having their ware fired by the tutor. After developing your skills and with a long term commitment to pottery making you are in a better position to decide your needs:-

Set your Budget

Decide your budget. Make it realistic and include cost of delivery and installation. Also don't forget internal shelves and supports are not usually supplied as part of the kiln and need to be purchased separately. Include a good temperature controller. A kiln is only as good as the controller! Remember planning permission maybe required for some external installations? Decide whether you want to buy new or second hand. Although this will vary considerably as a rule of thumb a good quality second hand kiln  is often about 20% cost of new.


Select the energy source

Decide what type of kiln energy source you will use. Often the type of ware and pottery you intend to make can determine this. For example reduction firing of glaze will require gas or oil firing whilst decal firing is better done in electric firing. It is worth noting that, in general, electric is a cleaner and more controllable fuel than gas but more expensive. Other fuel sources such as Oil, LPG, and wood vary tremendously depending on location and availability.

Identify kiln size and site and type

Decide what size and where it is to be located, does it need special ventilation? How many pieces do I want to fire now? and the future? What size or weight will they be? Will I fire bisque and glost and decoration?

Whether to choose a front loading or top loading kiln often depends on the size and number of the pieces you wish to fire. Generally top loading kilns are smaller than front loading kilns which are easier on the back for placing and unloading.

Visit showrooms or research online

There is no substitute for seeing the kiln you want to buy in person. This will give you a real sense of size and ease of use. A good supplier of kilns will have a range of kilns for display purposes and talk you through many of the decisions you need to make. However as a general rule you need to know the following before you talk with your supplier

What size and shape of pieces you wish to make and how many?

What temperature you wish to fire glost or bisque or decal

Whether you have refractory shelving and supports for the pieces you want to make.

Whether you have 2 or 3 phase electric supply. Domestic supplies are predominantly 2 phase.

Whether you have mains gas supply or other


Calculate firing costs

It is possible to work out the firing costs using the KWH rating or gas usage as a guide. For smaller hobby kilns the difference in costs between gas and electric may not be high but for bigger kilns this needs to be factored in to your buying decision. Again a good kiln supplier will be able to advise you on this.

Choose both for now and the future

Make your selection based on your plans for the foreseeable future. Agree the price for everything including the set up of kiln in its final location not just to your doorstep. Unless it is a simple domestic plug in kiln, employ a professional electrician or gas fitter to ensure your kiln is installed correctly. This gives you peace of mind as well as meeting any legal requirements.

Test out the kiln 

Once you have your new kiln installed test it out first with known tried and tested body and glaze. New kilns can take a while (a few firings) to settle as the refractories are more porous than a used kiln and the gasses from firing soak into the brickwork.

Happy Potting!

Enjoy the new sense of freedom having your own kiln brings and good luck!



More information and other technical articles on kilns, pottery and ceramics can be found at my website The Potters Friend.

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