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Pyrometers and Pyrometric Cones

No matter what type of kiln you are using, you need to be able to accurately determine the temperature inside the kiln. A pyrometer and pyrometric cones is what is used for this.
A pyrometer is an instrument used to measure heat at high temperatures.

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It consists of a calibrated dial connected to wires which protrude into the kiln. When heated, the welded junction of these wires produces a small electrical current which registers as a temperature reading on an indicator dial. The pyrometer is, unfortunately, not very accurate. It does provide a reasonable guide to whether the temperature in the kiln is rising smoothly and consistently, but does not provide an accurate enough reading to show the end point of the firing. Below is a picture of this meter.

Pyrometer with Thermocupler

Pyrometric cones are used to show the temperature of the end point of firing. Pyrometric cones are commercially produced pyramids of molded glaze, made to melt at specific temperatures. Cones are available at about forty degree intervals. Three or four cones are put in a cone plaque in the kiln, placed in a sequence of increasing melting temperature, so that when the melting temperature of the first cone is reached, it begins to melt, and bend so that by looking through the peep hole in the kiln, this can be seen. Below is a picture of Cones that have melted.

pyrometric cone 2

The first cone lets the potter know that the kiln is nearing its maturing temperature, and is called the warning cone. About fifteen to thirty minutes later, the second cone's melting point will have been reached, and it begins to bend also. This process continues until the desired temperature has been reached, and the target cone bends. You should place one extra cone in the group, the melting temperature of which is higher than that desired. This cone should remain standing, indicating that the desired temperature has not been pasted. This is referred to as the guard cone. Cones are more accurate than a pyrometer since they are made of glaze, just like the glazes on the surfaces of the pottery. So, when the cones melt, one can be assured that the glazes are melting also. You can use both a pyrometer and cones, since each provides information at different phases of the firing process. The pyrometer tells the potter what is happening early in the process, and during the cool down phase. The cones tell what is happening at the exact point of glaze melting. Some kilns come equipped with an automatic kiln sitter, which is a device that uses the melting of the cones to automatically shut down the kiln. The kiln sitter should never be relied upon 100% because they have been known to fail. There is no substitution for the potter watching the kiln and making sure it shuts down when it is suppose to during these crucial firing decisions.

pyrometric cone 3

Self Supporting Cone


pyrometric cone 4 pyrometric cone 5

Small Cone and Cone Plaque

pyrometric coneLarge pyrometric cone

Large Cone and Cone Plaque

It is very important to use cones every time you fire your kiln to make sure your kiln is not over firing. Use them even if you have a kiln sitter and never leave your kiln and go to town when it is firing because of the possibilities of something going wrong.

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