What to consider when choosing a kiln

This is something I get asked quite a lot, especially for people who are looking to set up their home studio.  There are several things you need to think about, some technical and all about the kiln and some all about your preferences and your work.  I’ll take them one at a time 😊

  • Power/fuel supply

I’ll concentrate on electric kilns but I wanted to mention that there are alternative types of kilns that may also be worth considering such as gas/raku kilns and wood fired kilns.  However, for either of these I would suggest you get some expert advice on firing them safely, attend a workshop or training if possible.

For electric kilns you need to make sure you have the correct power supply for your kiln.  For a home studio I suggest you check out the kilns that can be plugged into your standard household socket as these won’t need an increase in the electrical feed for your home that a larger kiln would need.  You do need to watch the plug on this type of kiln and if it’s getting hot, you’ll need to possibly change the plug for something more heavy duty and/or install a dedicated supply feed.  Please check with an electrician.

With that in mind I would suggest that for all kilns, although especially for large kilns, it’s preferable to install your kiln on its own feed with a dedicated fuse and, for larger kilns, an emergency off switch.  All electrical work should be carried out by a qualified electrician to ensure safety.  It is also possible that you may need to increase the power supply into your home for larger kilns.  I had a studio at home and we always knew when the kiln was on because the lights would dim even with an increased supply!

  • Space needed and placement

Each kiln will need a certain amount of space around it when it fires and the specs will include the minimum safe distance between the kiln and walls or other objects.  This is needed to stop the heat affecting anything too nearby.

Kilns also need to be sited in a well-ventilated space as each firing gives off fumes, sometimes toxic so this is really important.  Have a space where you can open a window or a door or install an extractor fan. You should not stay in the same room as a kiln firing for any length of time.  The space will also get hot and the smaller the space, the hotter it gets.

Although I know people have kilns in their homes I would suggest an outbuilding, garage or shed with good shielding are better locations for a kiln.

  • Shape and size of the kiln

Within kiln listings you get two sets of measurements and you need to consider both.  The external measurements + the minimum safe distance will give you how much room that kiln will need in terms of floor space.  The internal measurements will tell you how much space there is for your work when firing. This is where personal preference and the style of your work comes in.

You can get front loading (the door is on the front and opens like a cupboard) and top loading (the lid opens upwards like a trunk) kilns.  For top loading you have to bend over and lower pieces into the kiln whereas for front loading you bend slightly forwards to place things on the shelf. 

It is a good idea to consider the work that you make as well as the work you would like to make in the future to be sure the kiln will not limit you.  For example, I’ve found that for large pieces, loading them is easier in the front loading kiln as my hands don’t get in the way as much as they do when I have to get them all the way to the bottom of a top loader. 

The shape of your work and the kiln fit is also worth considering. Top loaders are often round and front loaders are generally square.  Each can be tall and narrow or short and wide so, for example, if you make tall pieces, then tall and narrow may be the way to go.

You will probably find that power will limit your choice for the size of your kiln but you should also consider how long you want to go between firings.  The bigger the kiln the longer it takes to make enough to fill it.  It also takes longer and needs more planning to fit in test pieces with a larger kiln.

  • Controller (electric kilns)

I always recommend you buy an electric kiln with a controller for convenience and repeatability.  A controller gives you control over the speed the temperature rises (ramps), the top temperature and how long it is held there (hold/soak).  It means you can leave your kiln after you’ve closed the vent and the controller will do the work for you so you can fire overnight or while you’re not there.  It also means you know exactly how the firing went so you can set a programme and repeat it consistently for the same results or alter it to try for something different.

  • Safety habit

A good habit to get into is to check all around your kiln every time you start a firing to make sure the area is completely clear of any combustible items.  I know of people who accidently left some papers on top of their kiln which caught fire as the kiln reached top temperature.  Thankfully everything was fine but there’s a black mark on top of the kiln now as a reminder to always do the check.

I hope that helps and, as always, if you have any questions just let me know 😊

You can find out more about doing a firing and the firing process on my previous blog and see more of my videos on my YouTube channel.

choosing a kiln