How to Choose the Best Metal Clay Kiln

If you’re in the market for a metal clay kiln, you’ll likely find the plethora of options available both exciting and overwhelming. How can you know which one is the best choice for you?

Whether you’re looking to invest in a kiln for your jewelry shop, embark upon a new hobby, or add to your thriving studio, we’ve created a guide to help match you with a kiln based on your needs and interests.

In order to help you sift through your options and recognize important differences between kiln models, here are some valuable tips, important questions to ask yourself, and descriptions of specific kiln models we recommend to help you find the perfect metal clay kiln.

Choosing the Perfect Kiln - Questions to Ask Yourself

Before diving too deep into research, there are some important questions you’ll need to ask yourself about your intentions, both artistic and practical. To determine what elements of a kiln to pay closest attention to, ask yourself the following questions:

What will you be firing?

It’s critical to find a kiln that can accommodate the specific projects you plan on creating. In order to determine the kiln size, temperature maximums, various technical features, and accessories you require, consider what material you’ll be using, the size of your pieces, and how many you plan on making per firing.

Is your jewelry going to be made of PMC or Art Clay Silver?

Are you going to be doing any enameling?

Are you planning on firing other materials besides metal clay in your kiln?

Finally, do you imagine you’ll be firing the same type and number of pieces in semi-near future, or do you expect to move onto bigger, more complex projects?

What are your technical needs?

How accessible would you like your work to be when it’s in the kiln? Will you need to see it while it is firing? How regularly will you be firing? How much control would you like to have during the firing process?

Considering the technical aspects of firing before selecting a model will ensure that you zero-in on what elements your kiln needs to have. The most crucial of these elements are discussed below.

What’s your budget?

Soul Ceramics guarantees the lowest prices available, with metal clay kilns ranging from just over $500 to close to $900. If you are looking for a larger, multipurpose kiln, you will additionally find that we offer kilns up to $6,000 in price.

Kilns have a long life-span, so you may benefit from thinking of a kiln as a long-term investment and commit to spending more. However, if this is your first kiln, and especially if you are a novice jewelry artist who is uncertain of how much time and energy you will be devoting to the practice, you don’t want to spend too much.

Does your kiln need to be moved regularly?

Based on the material and build of the kiln, some models are made to be more portable than others. If mobility is important to you, make sure this factors into your consideration of which model will best suit you.

If you instead plan on housing your kiln in a single studio space, be sure to consider the maximum length, width, and height you’re willing to accommodate for, remembering that a ceramic kiln needs a minimum of two feet on each side.

Additionally, be sure to think about what kind of ventilation the space has and what kind of access there is to outlets.

Key Considerations for a Metal Clay Kiln

When evaluating a kiln, it’s useful to have a list of specific qualities and characteristics you want your kiln to have. Here is an overview of the most important attributes to consider when searching for the perfect metal clay kiln:

Heating Elements and Temperature Maximums

Kiln elements are essentially pieces of wire that are designed to resist the passage of electricity. Similar to a stovetop or other home heating appliance, heating elements inside a kiln impede electrical movement and subsequently cause the wire to heat up and radiate heat throughout the kiln’s interior. Like light bulbs, heating elements do have a lifespan and will need to be replaced after significant use. Though there is no set time period for how long a heating element will last, typically, the lower the temperature you fire to, the longer your elements will last.

If your kiln has a maximum firing temperature of 2000℉ and you are constantly firing near this temperature, your elements will burn out sooner. Since a kiln´s power is reduced over time, after you have decided the maximum temperatures needed for your projects, overestimate the temperature by 200-300 degrees fahrenheit. Then, chose a kiln accordingly.

Note that most jewelry artists working with metal clay won’t require temperatures higher than 1650℉, but if you plan on firing other materials that require mid-firing or high-firing kilns, like stoneware or porcelain, you will want to consider kilns with the ability to fire at higher temperatures.

Brick vs. Ceramic Fiber Interior

  • Brick Interior: One of the two main types of insulating materials in a kiln is firebrick. Though they take longer to heat than fiber kilns, the advantage of a firebrick interior is its ability to handle very high temperatures. Firebrick kilns are capable of firing not only metal clays, glass, and enamels, but high-fire ceramics clays (such as porcelain) as well.

    Additionally, because they cool slowly, they are perfect for glass annealing. The downside to having a kiln lined with firebrick is that the bricks themselves are extremely heavy and fragile, so if mobility is important to you, a firebrick kiln may not be the best choice.

    Another important aspect of firebrick kilns is that the heating elements are pinned into grooves in the bricks, leaving them exposed. The drawback of this is that the interior must be frequently and thoroughly cleaned so that no foreign matter will be exposed to the heating elements and short them out. The benefit is that when elements go out, they are very easy to replace.

  • Ceramic Fiber Interior: Also known as a “Muffle,” a ceramic fiber interior is a one-piece shell with elements molded and protected inside the walls. Ceramic fiber kilns tend to heat up more quickly and therefore decrease firing time. While internalized elements make cleaning less of a concern, they do mean that when a heating element goes out, the whole ceramic interior must be replaced.

    A ceramic fiber kiln is much more mobile than a firebrick kiln, but it cannot accommodate temperatures over 2000℉, so is not well suited to high-fire materials.

Top-loading vs. Front-loading Kilns

  • Front-loading: Kilns that open from the front are easier for moving pieces in and out. Tongs, kiln forks, or gloves can be used to remove shelves in front-loading kilns even during firing. Since most jewelry kilns are small, with shelves no larger than 6 or 7 square inches, placing and replacing them are extremely easy. Front-loading kilns are best for artists creating projects that need to be extracted quickly at high temperatures, such as enameled pieces.

  • Top-loading: Top-loading kilns tend to be cheaper, but they lack the ease that front-loading kilns provide. On top-loading kilns, the lid either has to be removed or lifted, which might make it more difficult to safely and easily remove metal clay or enameled pieces quickly. However, you can use special lifting tools, such as an altered pair of copper tongs, for this purpose.

Digital vs. Manual Controllers

  • Manual Controllers: The most basic, elementary kilns come with a manual controller, which requires you to start the kiln at the lowest setting and be responsible for all changes in temperature throughout the rest of the process. A manual controller has a simple on/off switch and a dial to adjust the firing time; this switch can be either an infinite switch with gradual increments or a dial switch that adjusts the interior to a low, medium, or high temperature setting.

    Though easy to use and cheaper than a digital controller, a manual requires you to monitor the entire firing process from beginning to end, adjust temperature changes yourself, and use an external timer.

    While it allows you the most power to regulate the firing process, the manual controller requires much more effort on the part of the artist, and it is incapable of complex firing processes, including annealing.

  • Digital Controllers: Electronic controllers take the responsibility off of the kiln owner to adjust temperatures, time temperature changes, and turn the kiln off once firing is complete. These devices will allow you to manipulate temperature/cone, set multiple segments in a ramp/hold schedule, program hold/soak mode at multiple temperatures and for variable periods of time, and skip steps in a firing schedule when necessary.

    Electric controls are more expensive and not as intuitive as manuals, but are far more capable of complex procedures. They range from the Set-Pro Control, a three-button system that lets you choose between 4 different firing programs, to the TAP Control, a touchscreen device that allows you to create your own personal firing program; chose one of many pre-programed options, or use its wifi connection to develop and edit programs from a computer, tablet, or phone.

If you’d like to know more about manual and digital controllers, read our guide to them here

Viewports and Viewing Windows

For certain projects, especially those involving enamel and glasswork, visibility is very important. If you want to keep an eye on the progress of your projects while they fire, you should consider kilns that have either viewing windows or the option to include a viewport. Windows and viewports vary in size, but all allow the artist to easily check on their work without having to open the kiln.

Kiln Accessories

In addition to the kiln itself, you may want to consider investing in kiln furniture or other accessories that could be essential, depending on what kinds of projects you’d like to create. Here are some accessories metal clay workers may find useful to consider:

  • Bead Doors: These allow mandrels to be inserted through the door for annealing. They are very useful for glass bead makers.

  • Kiln Shelves: Kiln shelves are offered in a variety of materials, the most common of which are ceramic fiberboard, ceramic board, soldering surface, and firebrick. All can be used with metal clay, but the difference in material dictates their lifespan. For instance, while fiberboard will give you a couple of dozen firings before breaking down, hard ceramic board shelf can last a lifetime. Soldering surfaces also last a long time, but require you to let the kiln cool before removing them to avoid thermal shock breakage.

  • Supporting media: Bead firing dishes, vermiculite, and alumina hydrates are all used to support rounded, domed, or dimensional metal clay pieces that might slump during firing. Bead firing dishes typically last a lifetime.

  • Fiber blanket: A fiber blanket can be used for support as well; these are thick sheets of cotton that can be used as a blanket or pulled apart to support oddly shaped items. The downside of fiber blankets is that they last just a few firings before breaking down.

Our Recommendations for Best Metal Clay Kilns

Taking into account all of the important attributes that contribute to a good metal clay kiln, here’s the list we’ve compiled of the top three models we feel might fit the bill:

Evenheat Metal Clay Kiln - Studio Pro STP

  • Size: 8” x 8” x 4.5.” The Studio Pro STP is a conveniently small kiln and at 30 pounds, it is easy to move around. This is the perfect size for creating beads and jewelry in smaller batches, and is a good choice for home, school, a craft workshop, or a jewelry studio.

  • Price: $587.99. This kiln is very affordable, and therefore will appeal to beginners and established studio artists alike.

  • Maximum temperature: 1800F. This kiln is easily capable of firing all major metal clays an artist might be interested in using, and is also suited for firing glass and other low-fire ceramic materials.

  • Interior: combination of firebrick and refractory fiber. This combination of internal materials gives the user of the Studio Pro STP the best of both worlds; the sides and floor consist of firebrick and the lid is lined with fiber, which blocks heat rather than absorbing it. This means that when the kiln is opened from the top, less heat is lost, and its lightweight nature makes it easier to manage.

  • Loading style: front-loading and top-loading. This kiln has a unique dual access design that can allow you easily manipulate and remove pieces while also allowing for venting and accommodating manipulation tools that require a vertical approach.

  • Includes: an automatic controller with 10 pre-set metal clay firing programs, durable handle, and a two-year warranty (a furniture kit is also available at an additional cost).

  • Additional information: The Studio Pro STP requires no special setup, and is the perfect jewelry kiln for a studio or shop with little space, an artist who needs mobility, or a beginner who’d like to get off on the right foot with their jewelry making.

Evenheat Metal Clay Kiln - Kingpin 88

  • Size: 6” x 8” x 8.” Slightly larger than the Studio Pro STP but only ten pounds heavier, the Kingpin 88 does not require a large space commitment, can be moved easily, and can accommodate a variety of small jewelry pieces and/or beads. It also is a great fit for a home studio or a jewelry studio running courses.

  • Price: $647.99. Though slightly more expensive than the Studio Pro STP, the Kingpin 88 still easily fits within most artists’ budgets.

  • Maximum temperature: 2000F. The Kingpin 88 has 200 degrees on the Studio Pro STP, meaning it will not only be capable of firing all major types of metal clay, it will accommodate other materials that might require higher temperatures, and leaves more wiggle room for when the kiln ages and can no longer hold as high a temperature.

  • Interior: The elements on the side walls of this kiln’s firing chamber are embedded so as to provide safer operation while ensuring highly effective heat distribution.

  • Loading style: front-loading. The Kingpin 88 allows for easy manipulation and quick removal of pieces with its front-loading door. Especially for enamelwork, the ability to pull a shelf out or reach in with a tool is made much easier by this kiln’s design.

  • Includes: an automatic controller with 10 pre-set metal clay firing programs, a two-year warranty, a furniture kit at extra cost, and a viewing window for an additional cost as well, allowing artists to more easily view their pieces as they fire.

  • Additional information: This kiln is designed for firing metal clays but is also ideal for glass and enamels. It requires no special setup and is an excellent choice for an active and versatile jewelry maker.

Evenheat Metal Clay Kiln - Copper

  • Size: 10” x 6.5” x 9.” The biggest of the three kilns we suggest, the Evenheat Copper is a great size for a more prolific jewelry maker, a studio wanting to fit more students’ pieces into one firing, or an artist interested in firing larger glass or ceramics pieces.

  • Price: $884.99: Though the most expensive model we suggest, the Evenheat Copper is a great value for its increased size and advanced capabilities and design.

  • Maximum temperature: 2200F. This kiln allows for greater experimentation with mid-fire ceramics, metal clays, and techniques. This higher maximum also assures the user that this model will continually fire at a suitable temperature for standard metal clays even as it ages.

  • Interior: firebrick. The interior material allows the artist the opportunity to explore materials in the higher temperature range, and it is perfect for glass annealing. However, it does not make for a great mobile kiln.

  • Loading style: front-loading. Like the Kingpin 88, the Evenheat Copper allows the artist to quickly and easily manipulate and remove pieces with its front-loading door.

  • Includes: the choice between two automatic controllers with a variety of pre-set firing programs, cool-touch handle for easy access, a solid stainless steel jacket (ensuring no leaks, shifting, buckles, or weakness), a two year warranty, and the option to include a furniture kit at an additional cost.

  • Additional information: Like the Studio Pro STP and the Kingpin 88, the Evenheat Copper works straight out of the box, no special setup necessary. This kiln is ideal for studio courses, and will provide artists with the ability to create pieces both simple and complex in a variety of materials.

Now that you know what factors will most influence your kiln decision and what models might be best suited for your metal clay interests, happy researching! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to let us know - we’re always happy to help!