Are you ready to take your passion of pottery to the next level? If you’re interested in starting a home studio, deciding on which kiln to invest in is likely a top priority. There are many aspects to consider as you begin your search for the best ceramic kiln, so to make the process less overwhelming we’ve put together a guide addressing the most important things you’ll want to take into account. At the end, we’ve included our recommendations so you can more easily find a kiln best fit for your needs and interests.
When buying a kiln, there are many different factors to consider, both in terms of what you’re creating and the space in which you’ll be creating. Here are some of the most important questions to ask yourself:
Ceramic materials are classified largely according to the temperature required for the clay to mature. Therefore, depending on whether you’re working in earthenware, stoneware, porcelain, or glass, the temperature range of the kiln you need will vary.
Glazes don’t all melt at the same temperature. Some glazes, like Raku, require a low-fire range of temperatures, whereas others, like oxide stains, may require mid- to high-fire ranges in temperature. Be sure to check the types of glaze you use for indicators on required temperature and cone ranges.
In order to determine what size kiln you need, you’ll first need to consider the dimensions of the pieces you’ll be creating. Also, the more pieces you want to fire at once, the more space you’ll need.
Other important dimensions to consider relate to the kiln itself. Consider length, width, and height, and remember that a kiln needs a minimum of two feet on each side for breathing room.
The bigger the kiln, the more energy is required to run it, so try to match the voltage and amperage requirements of your desired kiln to what you have available in the space you’ll be housing it. If you decide on a kiln that has higher energy requirements, be prepared to make further investments in its installation.
All kilns have something different to offer, and though they may all look the same at first glance, we’ve compiled a list of their important differences. Here is an overview of attributes to consider when searching for your perfect kiln:
Primarily, the size of the kiln you chose should depend on the types of projects you intend to do, as well as the space you have available for the kiln itself. Smaller kilns (up to 9” x 11”) are best for firing beads, doll parts, small pieces, and test items, and are suggested for beginning ceramic artists.
An 18” x 18” kiln is perfect for those who are interested in creating slightly bigger pieces, like pots, plates, and bowls, but not in large numbers, or for those interested in making more small pieces than can fit in a small kiln.
A 23” x 27” kiln is the most common size of kiln purchased, and is intended for the average potter, while a 29” x 27” kiln is best for large production use.
Firing a full kiln is important to achieve maximum efficiency, so consider not only the size of what you’re firing, but how long it will take you to fill the kiln.
Voltage and amps are two important elements to factor into your kiln decision as well. The voltage of a normal household is 120V. For smaller kilns, this should not be a problem. However, larger kilns often require 240V; if you are interested in installing this kind of kiln in your home, you might want to consult an electrician.
Additionally, you will need to be certain you have a breaker that meets the amperage requirements for your kiln. First, determine how many amps you have available - look in the fuse/breaker box of the plug you want to use to see what number is indicated. Most U.S. homes are protected by 15-20 amp breakers, but a large kiln may require 60. Even if you have the correct voltage for a larger kiln, the kiln won’t work if the amp number is not high enough.
Temperature is a major factor dictating which kiln is right for you. As mentioned earlier, you will need to determine whether the materials and glazes you would like to use require a high, medium-high, or medium-low temperature ceramic kiln.
Low-fire materials include earthenware and glass, stoneware can be intended for either mid-firing or high-firing kilns, and porcelain requires the highest temperature levels. Additionally, it is important to buy a kiln that exceeds the maximum temperature needed for your work.
Over time, a kiln´s power is reduced, meaning its ability to hold a high temperature decreases. Therefore, after you have decided the minimum temperatures needed for your projects, overestimate the temperature by 200-300 degrees fahrenheit.
One thing you’ve likely noticed as you’ve looked at different kiln models is a measurement of temperature by “cones.” The difference between a cone and fahrenheit degree is that a cone represents a measurement of temperature over time, as well as a measurement of energy. Low cone temperatures appear with a 0 in front of the number, such as 018, 019, and 020, while higher cone temperatures are two-digit numbers like 12, 13, and 14. The highest cone temperature is 15 and the lowest is 022. Be sure to check the suggested cone temperatures for the materials and glazes you wish to use when considering which kiln to purchase.
Soul Ceramics guarantees the lowest prices available, with kilns ranging from just over $300 to close to $4,000.
Within the under $500 price range, Soul Ceramics offers the AIM Kilns 64K Electric Ceramic Kiln for $309.99 and the AIM Kilns 88 Electric Ceramic Kiln for $439.99. Both of these are small, table-top kilns ideal for small pieces.
On the other end of the spectrum are kilns like Evenheat Ceramic Kiln- High Fire 2927 for $2,712.99 and the Jen-Ken AF Oval 31” 3” Ceramic Kiln for $3,559.99. These kilns are the largest available, capable of firing the biggest pieces in a studio, and they come equipped with many special features.
Between the extremes are dozens of other kilns, ranging in both size and price.
Although it may seem silly, it’s important to consider your height and back health when deciding between a top-loading or a front-loading kiln. Though top-loading kilns are cheaper, they can be difficult to work with if height is not on your side. Using a stool is always a possibility, but these kilns also put strain on your back. Ultimately, you will have to decide if the extra convenience and health benefits that come from loading and unloading the front of a kiln are worth the extra money.
All Soul Ceramics kilns come with a control, but there are five different possible types your kiln could come with; therefore, become familiar with your options to help you zero in on and rule out kilns based on best fit.
The manual control provides you the most hands-on experience when firing, but requires you to start the kiln at the lowest setting and be responsible for all changes in temperature throughout the rest of the process. Only some models are available with manual kiln sitters.
An economical electronic control option is the Set-Pro Control. This is a three-button system that allows the artist to use one of four individual firing programs.
Another electronic option is the Rampmaster Control, which allows the user to select both the cone number and firing speed, while including 6 individual firing program options.
The Temperature Automation by Proportional-Integral Derivative (TAP) Control may sound complicated, but it’s capabilities go far beyond what artists could have imagined even ten years ago. It includes an easy-to-read touchscreen, technology ensuring precise firing, and wifi connection for the ability to develop and edit programs from a computer, tablet, or phone.
Similar to the TAP control, but not quite as extravagant, is the Genesis Control, which is a touchscreen device allowing for the storage of up to 12 different programs while allowing for adjustments to be made during the firing process.
More detailed examples of these controls can be found here.
Because they must be shipped by truck, it’s a good idea to consider ordering furniture and accessories with your kiln so as to minimize shipping charges. Here are some of the most important accessories to consider investing in:
Kiln shelves: The most common kiln shelves are made from Cordierite, a naturally occurring mineral made of silica and alumina. While Cordierite kiln shelves can be fired repeatedly at cone 10, they are more susceptible to warping at temperatures above cone 8. If you will be firing at higher temperatures, high-alumina kiln shelves can withstand cone 11. Silicon carbide shelves are thinner, more lightweight options that will not warp in high temperatures, but cost twice as much as Cordierite or high-alumina shelves.
Kiln stilts: These are used to hold and protect the edges of pieces in low to medium-low firings. Though some stilts may be able to stay in form at cone 10, most are better suited for temperatures at and below cone 6.
Kiln posts: Kiln posts support shelves while optimizing space within the kiln for firing. They are available to order in many different levels of thickness and height.
Furniture kits: Including a variety of posts, shelves, heat resistant gloves, and cleaning equipment, a furniture kit might be the easiest way to acquire all the accessories you need at once. There are dozens of different kinds, so you can chose one that best fits your kiln’s needs.
Bead racks: Bead racks save space in your kiln when firing beads, buttons, and other small, hanging pieces. Both jewelers and potters can benefit from this tool when making wearable ceramics.
Bricks: Used as an insulator by lining the inside of a kiln, bricks come in a variety of shapes and two main materials. Hard bricks are strong and dense, and are great for structural support. Soft bricks are less capable of withstanding high temperatures, but retain heat more effectively.
Based on the above characteristics, we’ve compiled a list of the four kilns that you’ll find to be the best suited for home use. They vary in size, price, and capability, but all have the reliable performance necessary for a first-time kiln owner.
Size: 6.5” x 4.5". This kiln is a small table-topper, and is perfect for the artist who enjoys creating small items like beads or doll parts. It also makes a great test kiln.
Price: $309.99. This kiln serves as a great introductory kiln, as it is very reasonably priced.
Energy required: 120/240 volts, 14 amps. The volts and amps required for this kiln are easily available in a residential setting.
Maximum temperature: 2381℉. This kiln is capable of firing low-fire clays, including earthenware, as well as mid- and high-fire stoneware clays.
Additional information: As a starter kiln, you’ll find it will retain value and can be sold if you want to upgrade to a larger kiln in the future. Additionally, you can chose between a manual control and a 3-key digital control with this kiln. View this kiln here.
Size: 11.25” x 13.5". This kiln gives you about twice as much room as the AIM Kiln 64K, but is still intended for smaller pieces.
Price: $834.99. Still under $1,000, this kiln serves as a great starter for a home studio as well as an affordable option for professionals who are firing many smaller pieces.
Energy required: 120V, 15-17 amps. This kiln can be used with a standard home outlet, making it a perfect and easy fit for any new home studio.
Maximum temperature: 2250℉. Like the AIM Kiln 64K, the Jen-Ken AF3C 11/9 is best for low-fire clays and mid- to high-fire stoneware.
Additional information: This kiln comes with an electric controller with several easy-to-use cone fire programs. As a step-up from the AIM Kiln 64K, the Jen-Ken AF3C 11/9 is an excellent kiln for a confident home studio starter as well as a professional who enjoys working on smaller ceramic pieces. View this kiln here.
Size: 18” x 15”. This is a medium-sized kiln perfect for firing bigger pieces, including pots, plates and bowls.
Price: $1,429.99. Though more expensive than the prior two models, this kiln has the more advanced capabilities of firing both clay and glass projects of bigger size.
Energy required: 240V, 26 amps. A potential drawback of this model is that you may have to install a new breaker. Due to the 240 voltage and high amp requirement, some additional work and costs might need to go into this kiln’s installation in a home studio.
Maximum temperature: 1700℉ Glass Mode/2300℉ Ceramics Mode. Similar to the two kilns mentioned above, the AF3P 1815 is capable of firing low-fire clays and mid- to high-fire stoneware.
Additional information: This kiln is unique in its ability to fire both glass and ceramic projects. It’s large enough to allow you to fire pieces that won’t fit in two prior mentioned kilns, but isn’t so large that it requires a whole room to itself. This kiln is perfect for the multi-talented artist starting a home studio or adding to their professional business. View this kiln here.
Size: 23.5” x 22.25". This kiln falls into the category of the most popular size available. In this kiln, you will be able to easily fire larger amounts of bigger pieces like pots, plates, and bowls.
Price: $1,479.99. Though this kiln is a bigger investment, the benefits of increased size and more versatile capabilities make it worth the increase in price.
Energy required: 240V, 39 amps. As is the case with the Jen-Ken Ceram-a-Glass kiln, the RM II 2322 might also require you to install a new breaker, seeing as it has the highest amperage of the four kilns listed here.
Maximum temperature: 2300℉/Cone 8. Similar to the three kilns mentioned above, this kiln is intended for low-fire clays and mid- to high-fire stoneware.
Additional information: This top-loader has a wide diameter and easy to load depth, and comes equipped with your choice of a Rampmaster, Set-Pro, Genesis, or TAP control for easy and accurate firing. Additionally, it has a full set of strength and durability features, a two position lid vent, durable stands, and an extra wide lid handle designed for easy removal while wearing gloves. If you’re ready to take the plunge and start a thriving and diverse home studio, the Evenheat RM II 2322 will be a great fit. View this kiln here.
Choosing a kiln for your home studio can be a lot less daunting if you are armed with the facts and some good options to chose from. If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us, and best of luck!
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