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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  1. I'm not yet a potter or any experience with kilns. However I want to start with it and I'm looking for all information I can get!
    Thanks for the post!

  2. Hi, I have just purchased an old HobbyCeram Kiln (Hexagon) , and I need to understand how to use the thermoRegulator.
    It has a two position switch, a rotating temperature dial and a rotating control marked 0,1,2,3,4.
    Does anyone have the manual or can inform how to use it ?


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