Test Firing the Ultralite Kiln
I am often asked about kilns in my line of work. Most of my students, will at one point or another ask me if they should get a kiln and what should they buy if they were to. And for that, I do have another blog talking all about that. It covers the considerations about buying a kiln and whether it’s right for the individual, because sometimes it’s not. I have also been aware of the teeny tiny Ultralite kiln for a while now and I must be honest, I’ve been a bit snooty about it. In fact, I’ve never even floated it to my students as a potential solution to their kiln question.
However, recently I decided to go and give it a try. You see, the distributor of Art Clay Silver in the UK – Metal Clay Ltd had a Facebook post all about it and they were offering it on sale. As I read it, I noticed a few of my metal clay friends had said they had one and they loved it. Loved it! So, I thought. maybe this kiln is worth a try?
Just as soon as I had the money, I bought the Ultralite and a lot of its accessories and the total came to just over £400. Now in fairness, you don’t need all the accessories at once – I am a tool junkie! Also, to be totally transparent, I haven’t used a number of them yet.
The Ultralite kiln itself without any accessories costs £229 at the moment (it’s still on sale). It comes with a cover, a heat resistant mat and a spatula for transferring pieces onto the firing disc. You will have to buy the firing disk for silver clay as an additional accessory. These cost an additional £12.95 if you want to have a single one or £30.95 for a pack of three. Depending on your choice the kiln plus firing disks will set you back between £241.95 and £259.95.
I waited eagerly for my Ultralite to arrive and when it did I was a bit taken aback! The box was pretty small. I’d spent over 400 quid on something this small!!?
I took everything out and had a look and then followed the scant guidelines about firing it up for the first time. This is an important step because it burns the kiln coating off. You heat it up for 35 mins without its lid and then after that, put the lid on for a further 15 mins. Beware, do this in a well-ventilated area, because it produces quite a lot of fumes and it can stink the place out!
Once it had fired up and then cooled down, I moved it to my workroom and started making some test strips. Nothing fancy, just textured, 3 cards thick strips of fine silver clay. When these had dried, I set about testing the Ultralite. For the first round of tests, I decided to do basic firing/ After having a look at the Ultralite firing instructions online, I wrote a wee test plan to follow. As one of my accessories, I bought a temperature control but decided to test the kiln with and without that, to see if it was necessary.
The Firing Tests on the Ultralite
Test pieces fired without lid and controller for 35 minutes
Results: After the time was up, the kiln was no longer glowing, and I wondered if the clay had sintered properly. Until I did a bend test, that is. It bent beautifully and I was able to form a curl with one of the test strips and I polished up the other one very easily.
Test pieces fired without lid but with a temperature controller on Setting 3 – for 35 minutes.
Results: After firing, the plate was still glowing. Again, one test strip bent very well into a coil and the other polished up well.
Fired with lid on and NO controller. It’s important that you let the silver clay burnout properly, with the smoke and flame BEFORE replacing the lid.
Results: Again, the results were excellent. One test strip coiled beautifully and the other polished up well. I have to say that I noticed a difference in colour when I took them out – they had a whiter, more silvery sparkle akin to that of pieces that come out of my Paragon SC2 kiln.
Fired with lid on AND using a temperature controller.
Results: The results were very similar to Test 3 with the pieces having a similar colour. Bent very well and polished easily.
I found that there is very little difference between the tests in terms of how well the silver sintered. I must admit that I was really impressed! I also had to think of other things to fire, so I could test them too!
The rest of the tests were done with the controller, since I had proven, at least to myself that the kiln didn’t fire differently with or without it. I also pre heated the Ultralite by the required 35 mins for each test – so I am leaving that as read and missing it out now, to save me typing it again and again!
Fired with the lid on and the hottest setting with the controller for 35 minutes.
Results: The rose fired really well and polished up too. No issues at all
This time I decided to support the pendant on some kiln pillow because it was curved. I heated up the Ultralite for the pre-requisite time and when it was ready, I placed a small amount of kiln pillow on the fired disk and replaced the lid. I left the lid on for another 5 minutes. I then removed the lid and place the pendant on top of the kiln pillow and waited for the binder to burn out. Once it did, I replaced the lid and fired for 1 hour.
Results: Once more, the firing went very well. The pendant seemed to be sintered although there are no bend tests to check with a bead. There was no distortion and the stone survived. It polished up very well too.
Fired with lid on, setting 3 (hottest) on the temperature controller for 1 hour.
Results: Fired very well, no issues at all and the bead did not slump. Polished up well too.
Results: I wanted to see if the Ultralite could maintain a steady temperature for the duration of two hours or if the silver would get too hot and melt. I am delighted to report that these strips also fired well. One of them was bent into a curl and the other polished up very well.
On the controller I have, there are three settings. The first one is specifically for wood clay burnout. So I heated up the Ultralite to this temperature and placed the hollow object on the firing disk. This is best done with all the windows and doors open because as expected it does produce a lot of smoke. I stayed with the Ultralite whilst this was firing, just in case! I left it for about 30 – 40 minutes until I could see that the core had burnt away. Then I cranked up the temperature to full and placed the lid on and fired it for another hour.
Results: The pendant did not distort and all the core had burned away. The silver seemed to be sintered and polished up well when I brushed it.
I was really pleasantly surprised at how well the Ultralite kiln performed and it was clear that although it came with different accessories, these are not at all necessary to get started (apart from the metal clay firing disks). So, you could start out with this little kiln for around £240 and it would take the strain out of handfiring for you. What’s more, if you’re firing fine silver, you can also fire more complex designs like beads and origami shapes too. I think it’s a great starting out kiln. BUT – always do some strip testing of your own before your begin putting your carefully crafted pieces in!
The Ultralite does have its drawbacks though. Read on for more information.
Firing anything other than Fine Silver
When I was doing my research for this kiln, I did come across a Cool Tools video that shows the firing of EZ960. She successfully fired flat shapes but had difficulties firing more 3D objects – which was the reason for my tests on the beads. But the main difference was that I used FINE silver for my experiments,. I have not fired any other type of silver clay on this kiln and because of some of their firing requirements (for example, firing at 900oC), I don’t think this kiln is suitable for that.
Firing with Glass
The other thing it wouldn’t work well with is glass. Because the temperature controller is not precise, it would be very difficult to control the heat enough to avoid melting the glass and have the kiln hot enough to sinter the silver clay.
Besides firing, the Ultralite does have other uses. Apparently, it’s fantastic for enameling and great for keum boo (the Korean art of adding gold foil to silver). I will explore these at a later date but the attraction of having an easier option for enameling is very exciting for me. I like that I can sit beside it and look in to see what’s happening without having to open a kiln door!
I hope this has been a good introduction to the Ultralite kiln. I’m certainly pleased I bought one – being a tool junkie aside😉. I can see its uses and appreciate it for what it is. An excellent beginner kiln with some fantastic extras.
Until next time!
Love Emma x