My top tips for buying a kiln
Well if you’ve made the decision to go ahead and buy a kiln, then you might be wondering what you need think about when choosing a kiln for Silver Clay firing.Here are some of my top tips for buying a kiln; things you need to consider. I hope it helps.
Do you need a digital controller?
This is the main differentiator between kilns when it comes to price. The less expensive ones (i.e. the Kitiki Mini Kiln) don’t have a controller and the more expensive ones (I.e. Paragon SC2) do have a controller.
So what does a digital controller do?
It gives the operator far more control over the firing schedule.
- You can determine how quickly the kiln reaches the firing temperature
- You can tell the kiln how long you want it to hold the firing temperature for and the kiln will stop firing after that time and start to cool down.
- You can tell the kiln to ramp up the temperature slowly and for how long. And you can set different phases of firing too – so for example, you can fire for 30 minutes at 500oC and then another 2 hours at 900oC
Now you might wonder why you need that sort of control on a kiln and that’s a good question. A lot of these controls are for working with glass, where the careful ramping up and down of a kiln is important so that the glass is strong and doesn’t have thermal shock.
BUT they are useful for Silver Clay too – if you’ve made a piece with glass and you need to ensure that the glass survives the firing. Or if you are firing a complex hollow piece (with perhaps cork or wood clay as an armature), controlling how quickly the kiln gets to the ideal firing temperature is important.
But if you don’t plan on making more complex items or if you’re not going to include glass and you are prepared to set a timer on your phone to let you know when the kiln needs to be switched off – then you don’t need a kiln with a digital controller.
Safety! Where will you put your kiln?
You need to think about the amount of space you have – the less expensive kilns tend to have a smaller footprint and take up less room. However, it’s a bit more than that. You’ll also need to think about the following;
You’ll need to think about safety – yours and those who share your house (pets, kids and unaware spouses!). When firing, it is preferable to fire in a well ventilated area to allow the smoke from the binder to dissipate. Whilst the smoke, isn’t harmful I am a great believer in making sure that you don’t inhale anything you don’t need to!
Also, kilns can get hot. So you’ll need to make sure that little uns and animals can’t get unintentionally hurt and keep it well out of reach. You will also need to make sure that it’s in a place that’s safe for you to load and unload the kiln. So placing a kiln in a position where you don’t have to reach up or bend down is preferable. You’ll also need a place to set your kiln shelf down without scorching any surface. I use a granite block for this purpose (bought from Asda (K-Mart) for a few pounds)
Buy some kiln gloves / gauntlets. These are a must if you are planning on emptying a hot kiln. I do that all the time because I am always impatient to see the pieces after firing! But take care – the heat is extreme when you open the kiln door and when you pick up the shelf, be prepared to move quickly! Because that thing is hot too and you can feel it through your gloves.
You can, of course leave the kiln to cool naturally but that will take a few hours. I certainly don’t have the patience for THAT!!
Kilns are easy to look after and usually have very little that goes wrong with them. But there are consumables that need to be replaced on occasion.
This is the piece of equipment that helps regulate the internal firing chamber of a kiln. I have had my SC2 for 8 years and I have had to change it 3 times. It’s an easy thing to do and there are some great videos on YouTube showing you how.
Maintaining firing temperature
Normally your kiln will have its own firing variations and what I mean by that, is that it is perfectly possible for your kiln to be firing off temperature by a few degrees. Now in the case of one of my students, it meant that the first time she fired at 900oC – her pieces melted. Now that’s extreme and to be honest, it was the first time I’d heard of that happening, but it can and you should be aware. You can get pyrometric cones to test the internal temperature of your kiln at certain points, which means you can adjust your firing temperature accordingly. If you are in any doubt, speak to your Kiln supplier.
I hope that’s helped! Buying a kiln is an investment and one that should be carefully considered. One of the things that helped me make the decision was that second hand kilns sell very well on Ebay – so if I wanted to, I could sell it and get a fair bit of money back!