Pottery and Ceramics Tools
Choosing the Right Kiln
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What Temperature1700 degrees F
2000 degrees F
2300 degrees F
2350 degrees F
Buy a kiln that will fire hot enough for the ware you will be making. China painting or enameling kilns, for instance, will not reach ceramic temperatures.
VoltageCheck to see if you will need a new circuit installed for your kiln. This may affect which kiln you choose. Have only a licensed electrician install your new circuit and use COPPER wiring, not aluminum.
208 volt wiring is becoming common in strip malls and schools. 208 volt and 240 volt circuits use the same wall outlets so it is hard to tell them apart by looking at them. Call your power company if you are not sure about your voltage. If you fire a 240 volt kiln on a 208 volt circuit, it will fire slowly and probably never reach maximum temperature. 240 volt kilns do not always fire hotter than 120 volt kilns.
Size: Hobby or StudioUsually, the larger the kiln, the lower the cost per cubic foot of interior. The 8-sided kilns are the most popular hobby size, because the cost per cubic foot is low. These kilns are large enough to fire most greenware, including ceramic Christmas trees.
One of the most popular sizes for dolls is the 6-sided S-11-9-3, but doll makers also like the 7-sided kiln or the 8-sided S-1613-3 or TnF 1613-3 series of kilns.
A larger kiln, would certainly be more efficient for a commercial operation. Loading time and electrical cost per piece of ware is lower in a 12-sided kiln than in an 8-sided or 10-sided kiln.
Multi-sided or SquareOn a cubic foot basis, a multi-sided kiln is less expensive than a four sided because they are easier to build. Ceramists usually buy the multi-sided models. Schools and potters sometimes buy the large square top-loading kilns because they are especially durable and slow cooling.
Top or Front LoadingThe popular multi-sided kilns are top loading. Front-loading kilns are preferred for enameling where pieces are removed from the kiln at 1450 degrees F. This would be difficult in a top-loading kiln since the heat rises when the lid is opened. Ceramists also use the small front-loading kilns for testing and firing small pieces.
Firebrick or FiberInsulation for ceramic kilns is refractory firebrick or ceramic fiber. The firebrick outlasts ceramic fiber, while ceramic fiber heats and cools faster. So, each material has its advantages.
Heating elements are easy to replace in a firebrick kiln, because they are exposed in firebrick grooves. Most ceramic fiber kilns use elements embedded into the fiber. These elements are more expensive to replace along with the ceramic fiber.
2 1/2" or 3" WallMost ceramic kiln walls are either 2 1/2" or 3" thick. The 3" wall kilns take slightly less energy to fire due to the extra insulation. However, their main advantage is that they reach a higher temperature than their 2 1/2" counterparts. They also cool more slowly which is very important when firing heavy pieces. If you intend to fire stoneware or porcelain, buy a 3" wall kiln.
Model Numbers for a Paragon KilnS-Series Manual Fire
SnF Series Automatic
TnF Series Automatic
Every brand of kiln has their own series of numbers idendifying the kiln type. For most firings, the heat in a kiln is turned up gradually. This prevents the heat from shocking the ware and gives gases in the clay time to escape. The S, SnF, and TnF series differ in the way they control the heat.
S-SeriesS-series manual fire kilns operate without electronics or timers and they use infinite control switches to adjust heat output. In most firings, the switches are set on low to medium and finally high. Each setting is left on for a certain length of time depending on whether you are firing ceramic, stoneware, earthenware or porcelain.
Some brands of kilns come with a controller called a kiln sitter. A small pyrometric cone is positioned in the kiln sitter. Pyrometric cones are small clay pyramids that are placed across two prongs inside the kiln which bend to indicate when ware is fired to maturity. They are rated by number. When the cone bends, it releases a trigger in the kiln sitter that shuts the kiln off. A limit timer is a safety backup that shuts the kiln off in the event of a malfunction when the timer runs out.
SnF-SeriesThese kilns use switch timers to change heat settings. A kiln sitter with a limit timer shuts the kiln off at the end of the firing. The top switch adjusts the heat setting during the first phase of firing. The second switch is a timer that controls the firing time of the first stage. The third switch is a timer that regulates timing on the second stage. As timers run out, higher heat settings are automatically switched on.
TnF-SeriesOwning a digital kiln is like hiring someone to watch your kiln for you. After the first few firings, you will wonder how you ever got along without one. Results are repeatable and consistent.
The heart of the digital kiln is a Programmable Digital Controller board, small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. Replacing or upgrading one takes only minutes. It is backed with a very good warranty.
They are a refinement of controllers that have been firing in Paragon kilns since 1988. They now have improved circuitry and components for extended life and greater accuracy.
Digital kilns come with an improved thermocouple (temperature sensor) which is hermetically sealed in a protective metal sheath. Before updating, the thermocouple was tested continuously for months. The test data showed that the temperature drift was only a few degrees after firing for 1,000 hours at 2300 degrees F. The new thermocouple is so sensitive that when registering around 80 degrees F it will show the temperature rising when you hold the tip in your hand.
They come in two versions: one for ceramics, and one for enameling, jewelry, heat treating, and glass. The one for ceramics uses two operating modes: Cone Fire and Ramp Hold, and the one for enameling, jewelry, heat treating, and glass operates in Ramp-Hold only.
Cone-Firefires to a pyrometric cone number. You do not need to know cone temperature - just enter the cone number and firing speed such as fast, medium, or slow. New in Cone Fire is the fine tuning feature. It matches the heat work of the controller to that of the pyrometric cone on the kiln shelf. If you program the controller to cone 05 and the 05 shelf cone does not quite bend to maturity, you can adjust the controller to fire a little hotter next time.
The cone temperature of an actual firing will vary depending on firing rate.
Ramp Holdfires in up to eight segments. Each segment has an end temperature, speed, and hold (or soak) adjustment, so you can change the firing speed up to eight times in a single firing. Because each segment can control heating or cooling, even crystalline glaze firings are simplified.
You can store up to six firings in memory and programs are retained even if the kiln is unplugged. The kiln temperature displays throughout firing and cooling in your choice of temperature scales in either fahrenheit or celusis. A safety switch near the display window shuts off power to the heating elements. Use the audible temperature alarm to remind yourself to close the lid from the venting position or to check the kiln when firing is almost complete. Error messages report possible mechanical problems.
Use delay fire cycle to start the firing later to suit your schedule. The display shows time left before firing begins. You do not have to be present throughout the firing, but it is important that you are near the kiln before the expected shutoff time.
Furniture and ExtrasWhen estimating the price of a kiln, include the cost of the furniture which are the shelves and posts stacked inside the kiln. With furniture, you can stack multiple layers of ware. Without it, you can fire only the ware that will fit in the bottom.
There is more information on cone numbers and kiln sitters on pages listed above.
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Handmade pottery can be a very gratifying hobby that produces fun and satisfying results. For many people it's an enjoyable release that is created by working an inanimate mound of clay into a beautiful work of art that you made through your artistic abilities.
The best way of starting out is to take a few lessons from Youtube. You will probably waste quite a bit in materials when you first get started. Figuring out how to truly make handmade pottery correctly and shape into what you want it to be can be quite an ordeal. The different tools that a normal shop will have can be fun to try. You will soon see which ones you like to use the most and then when you are ready you will know which ones to buy.
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When you get all set up, just enjoy the hobby and have fun at it. Some people get pretty serious and start selling their creations at craft fairs and small stores, but others just like to create items for themselves, relatives, and friends. Whichever kind of handmade pottery you desire to endeavor, enjoy the hobby and have fun doing it.
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