First Kiln Firing

As I mentioned before, I bought the wife a pottery kiln for her birthday. We had a “kiln doctor” come out and inspect it last year, and we test-fired it empty about a month ago, but we just got around to actually firing ceramics in it this past week.

This thing seems dangerous, but it’s actually a pretty simple set-up. It’s basically a brick oven with a coil element no too dissimilar than an electric oven. The precise adjustments are made with a “kiln sitter,” which is just a fancy word for an electric timer. You buy a ceramic rod/cone that weakens and droops at the maximum temperature you wish to reach. You slide it into this little mechanism here.

The whole thing works on gravity. This rod is for “cone 4,” meaning it’ll start to droop at around 2000°. As it droops, it slowly raises a latch on the kiln sitter. When the latch raises just enough, a weight drops, shutting off the heating element. This is the latch and weight mechanism.

This what the rod looks like when it reaches the desired temperature. As you can see, the metal shaft on top of the sunken rod has lowered enough to release the weight and shut off the machine.

There are other dials that adjust how hot the coil element gets and a safety timer that will shut the kiln down in case the rod fails, but all in all it’s a pretty simple process. And when it gets hot, it gets really hot.

If I could fashion a metal basket to lower into the kiln when it’s around 800°, I could make amazing pizza in this thing.

First Kiln Firing
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8 thoughts on “First Kiln Firing

  • February 1, 2011 at 2:42 am

    I also recently bought a small used pottery kiln and was wondering about firing it in my garage…did you do anything special for ventilation? Did the surrounding area get hot? I am interest to hear how it went. Have you glaze fired it yet? Thanks, Jerry

  • February 1, 2011 at 8:45 am

    Hi Jerry, I know nothing about pottery, so I paid a “kiln doctor” to come in from Asheville, NC (60 miles away) to check it out. I too was worried about firing it inside, but he assured me that the unit is self-contained and he was right.

    When we fire this thing, you can kind of smell that something is hot, but it doesn’t smell like burning. It’s kind of like how the oven smells different when you have a pizza stone in it. Remarkably, you have to almost touch the kiln to feel any heat. It’s pretty amazing, really. He told me to leave the garage doors open and to turn on a box fan just to keep the air circulating in the room, but there’s no danger of the kiln melting something nearby – at least not with my kiln as long as it’s 18 inches away from anything. You’d think that’s too close, but the cord is only so long.

    Then again, I know for sure that my kiln’s heating elements are in proper working order. It’s worth paying someone for that peace of mind.

    We’ve only bisque-fired it. We’ll glaze-fire it once the wife has had time to “paint” the pottery pieces.

    By the way, the most important lesson I took away from the kiln guy was to NOT TOUCH IT. Treat it like a Fabergé egg. Don’t let children near it. Don’t set anything on top of it. Don’t set anything (except shelf legs) on the bottom of it. Don’t touch the bricks on the inside. Don’t open it after firing until it’s cooled down. Just leave it alone.

    Loading the kiln is like a grown-up game of Operation. You have to put everything in and take everything out of the kiln as though you’ll pay a penalty for not having a steady hand.

    I hope this helps. Best of luck!

  • February 1, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    Hi Chad, thank you very much for the info! I will try to find myself a kiln Dr. The kiln I bought used is also a Cress, never been fired and was new in the box with the tags still on it…but it is 20 something years old! Also, in case you ever need to move it around a bit, I have made 220v extension cords for my welder from parts at Home Depot so I imagine you could do the same for a kiln as long as you take into account the current draw, wire gauge and plug ratings.

    By the way, very cool site. I’ve done many of the same projects…woodworking, kitchen remodel, garden beds, watercolor, adventuresome cooking. Good stuff. Please post about your glaze firing (and painting process) if you can…I’m new to the pottery and would be very interested in your first hand experiences.

    Thanks, Jerry

  • February 2, 2011 at 9:48 am

    We’ll probably glaze fire sometime next week. Check back for pictures of the results.

  • March 5, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    I don’t know much about kiln useage other than high school. Make sure nothing can fall aganst your cone trigger holding it on. Time how long it takes to get to temp (green goes slower to prevent explosions and finish drying) and watch it around the time the cone should melt. Also don’t fire green and glazeware at the same time and fire red glaze with red glaze and on the same shelf if possible. Firing greenware isnt toxic but glaze firing should have ventilation(paticulary red glaze as it generally contains lead).

    The kiln in high school was in the basement with the art room and really didn’t have any special setup or ventilation, not even that far from a wall. The art teacher kept cinder blocks under it to make sure that it couldn’t tip over(3 legs).

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