Equipment List, Getting Specific - The Kiln Edition

So I've talked a little bit about getting specific about the types of clay I wanted to work with in a previous post, but I thought it would be helpful to discuss the methods by which I had to get specific about all of the gear that I ordered to start my studio. It's one thing to talk about what brands and sizes of things I chose, but quite another to describe why - and the why is super important when you're choosing gear that is a large investment. 

So let's start with the kiln: a magical land of transformation. Inside the kiln is the where clay becomes ceramic, silica becomes glass, and glaze goes through a chemical change to not only be pretty, but also to fuse with the ceramic body. This creates a stable, solid vessel for drinking, eating, or putting flowers in.

There are a lot of different ways to fire pottery (the Wikipedia article on kilns here isn't bad), but when you're choosing a kiln and firing method, essentially it comes down to 1) fuel, 2) atmosphere, and 3) size.

As we are currently in a temporary living situation, installing an electrical outlet is an easier task than routing a new gas line, and certainly a lot more efficient than building an entire wood kiln. So, electric kiln it is! Most electric kilns need a 240v power supply with a 50amp breaker. There are some smaller (think microwave sized) kilns that can run off of 120v, but that's about the limit on size. Luckily, we have a trusted electrician, and the path from the breaker box to the kiln location in the garage is pretty straightforward.

Another consideration was the size of the kiln. While a large kiln would give me lots of room and plenty of flexibility, I would be restricted by how often I could fire it. A kiln works most efficiently when full (kind of like your dishwasher), and if I had a very large kiln, I would have to wait longer between firings to have enough work to fill it. Also, since most of the work I make is relatively small (mugs, bowls, plates), I don't need 36" (or more) of vertical space. The most logical choice seemed to be something with about 18" of vertical space, and since I would be ordering a furniture kit with my kiln, I'll have the ability to build shelves of varying heights to break up and capitalize on the space I have.

Familiarity with the technology was another concern I had. There are quite a few brand of kilns out there, but I have some prior experience maintaining a particular brand - the L&L Easy Fire series. These types kilns made up a majority of the workhorse kilns at the community studio I worked at for four years, and I had been taught how to replace the elements in the kiln, which also involved learning a bit about the control panel, thermocouples, and the basic wiring system and programming of the Easy Fire kiln. I also maintained the kiln shelves, carefully grinding off glaze drips and refinishing the shelves with kiln wash (a coating to protect the shelves from said glaze drips - kind of like a clear finish on your french manicure protects your polish).  There was almost no real choice for me here - I already knew so much about these kilns and knew that they would provide the kind of firing flexibility I've wanted to experiment with for a while.

So - by process of elimination, I've arrived at my ideal kiln. The L&L Easy Fire 23S-3. The 'S' stands for 'short', since there's also a taller and narrower version of the kiln with the same interior space. The '3' is a designation for the bricks used to build the kiln. They can be either 2.5" or 3", and I was advised by my shop representative that the 3" would be more efficient by absorbing more heat (thus a little less heat work is required by the heating elements), and the larger bricks would also help the kiln to cool more slowly and evenly, which is desirable. It's also worth noting here that every kiln is made to order, which is super cool. It's not something I can just go pick off of a shelf, it is made specifically for me. This means it also takes about four weeks for my kiln to appear, but that's alright, because I've got a lot of work to make in the meantime.