Working metal clay, beads, pottery, ceramics, and glass requires that you have a kiln. This is a necessity whether you plan to make projects in your home, personal studio, or in an educational setting. The advantages to having your own kiln are many. And those currently taking a course in pottery or glass fusion, you are probably aware of the obvious advantages of having your own kiln.
* You can work when you want from the comfort of your own home.
* No risking your projects by transporting them to and from class.
* You can set the specifications for firing from time to temperature.
* Another artist's project won't melt or explode while in the kiln with your work.
* You and only you are in charge of who handles your pieces, so if something falls, you only have yourself to blame.
Remember that this seemingly costly investment is worth the time and money. Thus, it is especially important to do your research and know exactly what it is you need, in addition to what you might be needing in the future. One of the most crucial elements has to do with the kiln's size, which will have something to do with the kiln's power and potential. Like with the majority of products, cost and quality go hand in hand, however, there is a wide range of possibilities no matter what your budget.
Choosing the Right Size and Placement
The primary consideration with choosing a kiln size is where you have the room to place it. This is not only relative to space but also to safety.
* If you are buying a kiln for a school, double check the safety requirements for kiln placement. Many schools require that the kiln be in a location separate from the student work area. When choosing a kiln for personal use, it is worthwhile to have the kiln close at hand, but also at a safe distance from where you work most often.
* In both cases, the kiln should be located far from flammable items.
* There should always be a good amount of space between the kiln and the wall. The minimum is 18 inches, but larger kilns may require as much as a 36 inch clearance.
* The kiln should also be placed so that it can easily connect to the duct and damper. Factor in a minimum of four to six inches.
* Make sure that the location you choose can be easily ventilated and cooled.
* Consider whether you need space around the kiln for cooling or storing supplies and projects.
* Do you have pets or small children that may become endangered by the kiln? Consider a tabletop model instead of a floor standing model if these are potential problems.
Now that safety is out of the way, you'll want to consider some of the practicalities that go along with buying a kiln:
* '''What size pieces will you be firing?''' Consider the inner dimensions for your current and future needs. Pottery requires quite a bit of space, however, jewelry making doesn't need that much.
* '''How many pieces do you want to be able to fire simultaneously?''' The more you need to get done, the larger and more powerful the kiln needs to be. If you expect that you'll be selling any of your work, making lots of home made gifts, or using the kiln for educational purposes, you must consider getting a bigger kiln.
* '''Will your needs increase over time?''' You may also be interested in looking for a kiln that can be expanded in the future rather than getting a large kiln to start with. Remember that a kiln which is too small will be more tedious. You'll have to load and unload it several times just to fire one batch of work. However, a kiln which is too large can cause other problems. A half-empty kiln will fire your projects unevenly, resulting in defects. Plus, it will take twice as long to heat up and finish a load.
You need to decide whether you are buying a pro kiln for a studio or one for home hobby use. The pro models are significantly larger, heavier, and more expensive. Smaller versions are usually of the tabletop variety. You may see them described by the number of sides that they have, from 6 to 16 side models. The more sides a kiln has, the less expensive it will be per cubic foot. That means a square kiln will cost more than an eight-sided kiln of the same dimensions.
Check out the space where you want to put the kiln. The proper kiln size is one that allows for space between the wall and the kiln, nearby storage, and plenty of room for you to work around the kiln as needed. Decide between a kiln of three, five, seven, or ten cubic feet. Note that these are not exact sizes for all brands, but rather examples to guide you in choosing the right size: 5ft³ is equal to an 18 to 22 inch interior diameter and a height of 18 inches, 7ft³ is 23 by 27 inches, and 10ft³ is 28 by 27 inches. Usually small kilns (9"x11") are perfect for hobbyists, medium small models (18"x18") are perfect for jewelry making enthusiasts, medium sized kilns (23"x27") are best for potters, and finally, large kilns (29"x27") are best reserved for pros and large production needs.
What does power supply have to do with the size of the kiln, you ask? The smaller the kiln, the less energy it needs to run. Often, small kilns (less than 1 cubic foot) for the hobbyist run on 120 volts, which is the standard electrical supply found in most homes. There are both ceramics and glass making kilns in this power level. They are ideal for making jewelry, dolls, or firing glass and you will notice that they are often labeled as single-phase kilns. Pottery, large projects, clay work, and glazing require a more powerful kiln. The most powerful and largest of all th models will be three-phase power models.
Check the breaker for the fuse you want to use. See what the voltage and amperage limits are. A 240 volt fuse with 60 amps is fine for large kilns (8-sided or larger). However, if amperage is less than 40, it will not be adequate for operating big kilns and you'll need to purchase a smaller one instead. On the other hand, you can always get an electrician to do some wiring (at an extra cost) to up the amperage in your home or studio. You may find 208 volt power sources in schools and 480 volt systems in industrial buildings.
To learn more about choosing the appropriate kiln by amperage and voltage, please see this guide at BigCeramicStore.com. It is especially helpful for figuring out how much work you may need to invest in getting the proper power supply for the kiln size you want.
* '''Temperature''' -- You'll find that kilns come in a variety of models with temperature ranges between 900°F and 2500°F. Variable temperature controls make a kiln very versatile. The one important thing to remember is that kilns must be able to heat up to 2000°F for firing clay and glazing.
* '''Controller Type''' -- Manual kilns have been popular for a long time, however, electronic kilns happen to be very easy to use and they reduce the chances of firing defects. Simply program in what you want the kiln to do, from heat soaks to a candling period, or even a delayed start. There are plenty of options that will help enhance your firing experience.
* '''Zone Control''' -- Some kilns have varying heat zones which can be useful for getting a more even heat adjustment from the top to bottom of your kiln.
* '''Kiln Vent''' -- Most people want a ventilation system for their kiln as it ensures that the fumes from firing are dispersed and that the temperature remains stable during firings.
* '''Loading Style''' -- This is mostly a matter of preference and how you work. Top loading and side loading options are available. Top loaders are mainly used by hobbyists, while front-loading styles are preferred by professionals.
* '''Elements''' -- The heating elements may be be located on the top or sides of the kiln, or both. Top elements are ideal when firing large, thick pieces of glass (clamshell kilns are typically top element heating styles). Smaller pieces will fire quickly with only side elements, and tall items also benefit from side elements. Those models with both side and top elements are usually larger and more expensive, however, they will be the most versatile.
* '''Furniture '''-- Furniture is sold separately from the kiln, and it may include shelves, posts, firing racks, and stilts.
The following kiln models have been recommended by Ed Hoys International, a wholesaler of stained glass and related supplies. For the PDF file of their product suggestions, click here.