01 November 2015

Feeling Like I'm on Grey's Anatomy... Kiln Surgery... STAT!

There's a sinking feeling that I get in my gut when one of my kilns behaves oddly. It's akin to the car making weird noises as you are driving down the highway. Thoughts of dread begin to fill your mind and you start to concoct scenarios of doom. Mainly, "ON NO, I HAVE TO OPEN THE CONTROLLER BOX!"

It's funny because I've owned a lot of kilns over the last 14 years and changed a lot of relays, transformers, thermocouples, etc., but still that feeling of dread comes over me as though it was my first time "opening the box." It's like a big mystery. What's in there? What's it going to look like? ...and the biggest question of all.... WILL I SCREW IT UP? You'd think that I'd approach this with confidence and bravado thinking, "I've done this a million times. I've got this!" But, sadly, NO!

Anyway, if you feel the same way too, know you are not alone. The inside of the "box" is intimidating. Although it's pretty simple once you know what all of the wires are for and how the electricity needs to move, it's still a little daunting. So here's my story of the week regarding my kiln surgery.

I have a 36" Profusion Fiber kiln. I love her, and her name is Jenny! (Yeah, I know I'm a weirdo.) I loaded some simple 2 layer plate tiles into the kiln for an easy full fuse and got a FTL error. The glass never got fired at all and the kiln only went to 600F. So why the FTL? (That's failure to cool, for those of you who don't know all the error codes.) Apparently, you get a FTL code after a FTH (failure to heat) code. Now that seems illogical, but that rant is for another blog. So my task was to figure out why the kiln wasn't heating. No heat = no fusing = no fun for me!

There are only a few reasons why a kiln won't heat; dead or stuck relay(s), broken or fried element, not enough current/volts getting to the kiln, etc. The thermocouple was telling me the correct temps, so we could rule that out easily. I'm not as religious about changing relays as I should be on this kiln. I changed them all out exactly 3 years ago. So, it clearly was time! Luckily, I'm not a hypocrite! I did have a stash of relays that was reserved for this event, so I was ready when the time came. (I might be lazy, but I'm not a hypocrite!) So I set aside yesterday afternoon for this planned outpatient kiln surgery!

I took out my drill with the 1/4" nut driver attachment, my phillips head bit, and my long nose pliers. I unplugged the kiln and set a small bowl next to my chair. The bowl is for all the screw, nuts, and parts that come off, and will need to go back onto the kiln. It just helps keep things in one place and makes sure things don't roll away and escape from you. (I learned this from experience of not doing the bowl thing and being on my hands and knee on the floor looking for a damn screw.) I pull up a comfy low chair and found a stool to rest the box on since It was still going to be attached to the kiln. NOW I AM READY FOR SURGERY! All I needed was the trippy Grey's Anatomy music and someone telling me, go for it!

As you can tell from these pictures, there is A LOT going on in there. The kiln has 4 relays with 4 element connections, power jumps from one relay to the next, connections to the pilot lights, etc. There are 6 prongs on each of the 4 relays, and each prong has something attached to it. That's 24 connections to take off and reconnect correctly, and in the right order. That wouldn't be so bad except that this all has to be done in a tiny space. I'm not the largest lady in town, but I'm not small and delicate either. My hands are normal size, but in that box I felt like my hands were baseball mitts. Each relay is color coded to an element. So the red wires go to one relay, the whites, the blacks, and the blues, each to their own relay. That's really helpful so that you know you've got it all correct. Of course that escaped me the first time I did this, but you learn. 

Each relay is held in place by 2 bolts, each with their corresponding nut. That's a challenge, removing the relay from its spot, then disconnecting all of the crimped connections, then attaching all the connections correctly to the new relay, and then bolting the new relay back in place securely. That's what you do, just four times, in a small space, bent over, with reading glasses on, while you struggle to hold the long nosed pliers that are wiggling the tightly crime connectors on and off. See.... it's simple... a breeze.. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

The TRUTH is that none of this in mentally taxing. I didn't need special knowledge, JUST NERVE! I had to remember that this was just a giant toaster, and I am a resourceful girl!  Yes, I started out intimidated, but that soon gave way to a wave of confidence and accomplishment. My last step was to take a picture of the inside of the box and send it to the folks that built the kiln to assure I hadn't missed anything. They got back to me quickly and pointed out one mistake, which was easily fixed in 15 seconds.  The kiln companies are there to help, so utilize that help. NOW I AM READY TO GO!

HERE'S WHAT I LEARED, THAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM TOO...
  • Fear is the enemy, not the relays!
  • Have the right tools and get them together in one place.
  • Get a stash of relays so that you will be ready when the time comes.
  • Schedule a quiet, uninterrupted "appointment" time with yourself to do this task.
  • Go slowly and take a break if you need it.
  • DO NOT wait until the kiln doesn't fire, or do this the night before a show.
  • Ask for help from your kiln manufacturer. 
  • Reward yourself for job well done!
Good luck! If I can do it, you can too!

Your Kiln Gal,

Gail

17 October 2015

My first big kiln! What should I be looking for?

I remember this like it was yesterday. I had been fusing for a while and I was ready to go to my first "big girl" 240 volt kiln. The truth is I really did not know what I was supposed to be looking for in a bigger kiln. I just knew I wanted more space and I had the money in my pocket ready to go. This was about 14 years ago, and I'm sure there were answers out there, but I didn't really know who to trust and what their motives might be. Here's my story... (without any bias to manufacturers).

My first larger kiln was a 24"octagon with a 21" round shelf.  I was so excited at the time that I didn't realize that a 21" round shelf meant that a only a 15" inch square would fit on the shelf. I knew that was not going to be enough shelf space for me so the problem was easily fixed a year later when I sold that kiln and purchased an oval. So, now I had an oval, which I loved by the way, but that one had a two piece shelf, making it harder to do larger pieces without the dreaded line. The full shelves were a $250 upgrade which seemed like a lot of money at the time. However, I really should have upgraded and not cheaped-out as it would have saved me alot of hassle. Lesson learned. 

About two years later, I then bought a new square one. This one had a 24" shelf and gave me a lot of utility. But again, I'd discovered there were issues I hadn't thought about. That kiln was very low to the ground and killed my back to load. Also, the lid was a bear to open and close from the front because again I didn't think I needed the lid lifter... so I'd have to stand on the side to open it. That added torque to the lid and a crack soon appeared. Again, I was being frugal and should have upgraded. After the lid was replaced, I sold that one too and continued my quest.

By now you can see that the addiction was taking hold. My husband and my business partner may have been colluding behind my back to check me into the nearest 12-step kiln addiction program. But I didn't care. Within a few years I'd added a fiber kiln to the mix. My confession is that I've owned over 25 kilns in 15 years. It's given me a great deal of experience about what kilns work for what projects. It's also allowed me to have the experience to helping others determine what they need and what might not be a good fit. Let's face it, everyone's needs are different and dictated by the kind of art work they want to do. 

NO ONE KILN IS PERFECT FOR EVERY JOB, EVERY TIME, EVERY ARTIST!
Next, I bought my first clamshell. I really liked that one but the shelf was only 20" square. Too small for my taste. More bad decisions, you'd think I would have learned!

With all of that said... here's my checklist of what to think about when purchasing your first larger kiln. I wish someone would have shared this with me about 20 kilns ago.
  • Think about what kind of work you might want to do in the future. Your choice might work for today's needs, but will it look for tomorrows needs?
  • Think about your body. This might sound silly to you, but if you intend to use your new kiln a lot, you'd better be comfortable loading it, scraping the shelves, vacuuming it and lifting the lid. You will absolutely use the kiln LESS if you are not comfortable. Be smart, get the lid lifter, or the full shelf, or the clamshell, or the taller stand, even if it costs more. It will be worth it in long-term utility.
  • Be honest with yourself. Will you change the relays every year or two without someone standing over you to do it? If not, then think about getting mercury relays, which never need to be changed. Yes, they're an upgrade, but in 14 years and over 25 kilns I've had a few relay failures. Two of my failure happened with full kiln loads and the relays stuck in the "on" position. It does happen and it's no one's fault. It's just like a blown out tire, it just happens.
  • Think about how lazy or energetic you are. No one is judging you here! I can be lazy and  I'll admit it. How much do you love to scrape shelves and vacuum? I don't love it, so I avoid it. The way to fix this problem and make it less irritating is to actually purchase extra shelves with your kiln. It's actually much less expensive and far healthier to use kiln wash than it is to use fiber paper. The more shelves you can rotate, the less scraping and coating it will feel like you are doing.
  • Finally, really think about getting what you want. I cheaped-out on several upgrade items that would have made me happier with my kiln long term. Even if it hurts a little, get what you need so that you don't have regrets.
Of course there's a disclaimer! I am part of the kiln establishment now, selling kilns to other artists. But here's my truth, I represent four different kiln companies and doing this allows me to better represent my artist clients and get them the kilns they need, configured the way they need them. I'm not sure if I should be proud or ashamed of the number of kilns I have owned from each of the companies I represent. I'm joking a little saying that, but owning kilns from each manufacturer has made me more than just familiar with how those kilns work, it's made me educated about how each company builds their kilns, and where each company shines.

So here's the recap of what to consider:
  1. Think long-term about your artwork needs!
  2. Think long-term about your physical needs and how they might change!
  3. Think long-term about your nature and how you want to spend time!
  4. Think long-term about your budget and what you'll really need to make you happy on #1-2-3!
I love teaching my students and talking to artists about their needs everyday! 
I love helping fellow artists get what they need to do their best work!
Thanks for letting me do what I love! 

Your kiln gal,
Gail

27 September 2015

The Power of A Small Multi-Use Kiln

I love my big, very capable kilns, but so many times they just are not the right solution for my smaller projects. Having a smaller multi-use kiln for making jewelry, firing metal clays, making drawer pulls or glass bracelets, small ceramic projects, pulling vitrigraph stringer, bead annealing, and enameling is just a must in my studio. I'd be lost without my little wonder of a kiln!

Here are some kilns that I really like as they do A LOT for the money... It's definitely hard to choose which one is best. It really just depends on what smaller projects you like to do and how much flexibility you need.

The Evenheat Copper Kiln
I love this kiln because of its front loading capability. It makes for easy access and loading. It allows you to do all of the above except vitrigraph and bead annealing. The really nice thing is that this kiln pulls less watts then most other kilns, while still making the temps we need. If you have power challenges in your studio, this kiln plugs into any household 120V receptacle, so you'll have an easy time getting the "juice" you need. The Copper excels at ease of use. It is built entirely of firebrick to offer the metal clay artist the opportunity to explore materials in the higher temperature ranges. Many clays require temperatures up to 2200F and the Copper has the capability to get you there. The Copper also finds use in china and porcelain painting, ceramics, and glass. The Copper is stock equipped with our easy to use Set-Pro control with preset metal clays programs as well as allowing for custom programming. The Copper sits comfortably on table tops and includes a stand.


The Jen-Ken Fuse Cube 9/9 
The AF3P Fuse Cube 9/9 is a workhorse and is perfectly powered for it's size. This kiln is bigger than other small kilns. The inner dimensions are 9"square letting you stack shelves for metal clay, or put in a really big vitrigraph pot without having to purchase an extra collar! That makes this kiln a bargain. Depending upon which model you order, you can do everything I listed above. You can even order additional bottoms to make this a vitrigraph. The height is real advantage for this kiln!  It is also nice and deep allowing you to fire a metal clay carbon vessel inside. In addition, you can slump and drape small items, make tons of glass jewelry and fire ceramics up to 8" tall! Fuse Cube 9/9 Flex: Add the "take-a-part" feature and this kiln comes apart to allow you to utilize your maximum creativity! The AF3P Fuse Cube 9/9 is great for metal clay, fusing glass jewelry, glass bracelets, enameling, ceramics, and it comes apart so that you can make vitrigraph, too... talk about multi-function! Plus, it is also good for making samples and test tiles because of its speed.

The Olympic HB86E
This kiln is a rocket, because it heats very quickly! The reason this kiln is special is because it's super powered, going really fast up to temp and having the ability to hold that temp for long periods. That is especially important when pulling vitrigraph stringer. This nifty little kiln is truly multipurpose! We use it to fuse, anneal beads, fire Metal Clay, as a vitrograph, and to make bracelets. You can even fire small ceramics. The top and bottom are removable for the ultimate in versatility. This little wonder does it all! It is important to note, that when the bead collar or blank collar are added, the maximum temperature on the HB86E reduces to 2000°F.

The Paragon Caldera Digital 
This is one of Paragon's best sellers because it literally can do anything! It's used in a lot of studios as a dedicated vitrigraph kiln because it fires fast and stays there! You can order extra collars for bead annealing, enameling, or just depth! You can also order extra bottoms too! This kiln is a sold workshorse that has a great reputation. You can make jewelry from the amazing silver, bronze, and copper clay, fire ceramics, porcelain, or stoneware jewelry. When you are ready to try something new, fire china, decals, try enameling, and glass in Paragon’s digital Caldera kiln. Glass compatibility and glaze color tests are fast and easy. The Caldera fires rapidly to 2350°F/1287°C.

If you are a fan of Vitrigraph Stringer and want to have your own set up, but don't want to deal with ladders or a permanent shelf, Here's a very cool solution!! The Table-Top Vitrigraph Stand!

What will you do with your multi-use small kiln?

Your Kiln Gal,
Gail


03 September 2015

New Tech! Easier Programming + More Control


As most of you are aware, I've been involved in glass and metal clay for the last 15 years. To be very honest with you, there have been just two serious technological advances that have impacted kiln firing during that time. The first innovation was the introduction of the full fiber kiln that is fired with no ceramic shelves, and the second is the graphical interface touch screen controller. Those of you who read the FROG BLOG know that I like to chat about the coolness and innovation of the fiber kiln. I have one, and I LOVE it! 

But, for this blog and I am sure many to follow, I'm going to explore the newest innovation, the TAP Controller. (Click the link above to see a video on how the main features of the controller work.)

The TAP Controller is the first of it's kind, but you can be sure that it won't be the last. The introduction of the touch screen controller with a graphical interface is a very long time coming. We've had iPhones and Androids for over 10 years, but still, no digital controller company has offered much more than a microwave interface. So why now?
Scott Shannon, President of SDS Industries

It's simple. It took outsiders (SDS Industries) with a love for tech and a passion for their kiln to bring us into 2015. Thanks so much from all of us!

Scott Shannon, his wife Brittany and their Engineer buddy, Matt Quantz, all millennial generation tech folks, knew there had to be a better way to deliver kiln control and a host of other cool features in a format that just makes sense and is easy to use. It took them some time, and the support of the glass fusing community through a stellar Kickstarter Campaign, but finally, it's done and available to the public.

Now the most important question... HOW CAN I GET ONE?
  • When ordered from Kiln Frog, ALL new 240 volt kilns, and some 120 volt kilns from Jen-Ken Kilns and Evenheat Kilns are available with the the TAP Controller.
  • Kilns ordered with the TAP Controller will ship at the end of September, so you could have yours in 30 days! Now, that is a WOW moment!
  • And, current kiln owners... HANG TIGHT! You can't buy the TAP Controller directly YET as a retrofit replacement for your current controller, but that is coming soon. Both Jen-Ken and Evenheat will be creating services that allow current kiln owners to upgrade to the TAP Controller with pre-loaded service benefits and programs specific to their kilns.  It won't come cheap, upwards of $450, but new technology seldom comes at bargain prices. 
  • Finally, there is no need to flood SDS Industries with phone calls to purchase a TAP Controller. At this point, SDS is only selling direct to kiln manufacturers and not all are ready for the upgrades.
Right now, Evenheat Kilns & Jen-Ken Kilns are leading the way with the TAP Controller and they are working very hard to meet the demand. Take it easy on them. They're really good people and can't wait to get you your new high-tech stuff!

Email us (kilnfrog@gmail.com) with any questions! We can't wait to hear from you!

Your Kiln Gal,
Gail

17 August 2015

PART TWO: 12-Key Controller Tips & Tricks

Happy Firing!! Now, a post for all you 12-button controller owners. Here are a few tricks that are good to know to help you be in better control of your firings! These tricks should apply to all of the following controllers!
  • Changing a Target Temperature During a Firing - If the kiln is firing and you need to modify the current ramp target temperature (or hold time), Press the #4 USER PROG key. The controller will display the current target temperature and setting. Use the numeric keypad to change the temperature value and press ENTER. The controller will next display the current ramp hold time and setting. This too can be modified if necessary. Press ENTER again to exit the editing mode.
  • Adding Time to a Hold - If the kiln is firing and you need to add time to the current ramp hold time, press the #2 ADD TIME key. Five (5) minutes will be added to the hold time each time the key is pressed. If the firing is in the first ramp, you can only edit the first ramp hold time. To edit the second ramp hold time, wait until the firing has progressed into the second ramp.
  • Skip Step - To end a hold before the time has expired, use the Skip Step function to advance to the next ramp. Press the #9 SKIP key to view the next ramp and press ENTER.
  • Threshold Alarm - To sound an audible alarm when the controller reaches a temperature, press the #7 ALARM key. ALAR shows in the display alternating with the alarm temperature. You can use the numerical keypad to enter a new alarm temperature or press Enter to keep the existing value. Setting the value to zero disables the alarm feature. When the kiln reaches the alarm temperature, the display will indicate ALAR and the buzzer will sound. Silence the alarm by pressing any key except STOP. Pressing STOP ends the firing. You can program the alarm before you start the firing or during the firing.

Hopefully, these few tips will help your work be the best it can be!

Your Kiln Gal,

Gail

13 August 2015

PREPARE YOUR LOVED ONE (YOUR KILN) FROM STORM RELATED DAMAGE!

Wanted to share this great tip from our friends @ Jen-Ken Kilns:

It's that time of year again, it's storm season in various parts of the country. During this time, we start getting "those" calls...

"My kiln was fine and now it wont come on!"

"I was firing, and all of the sudden I smelled something electrical burning!"

"My display just flickers and beeps!" 

These are just a few of the typical issues. Over the years, we've seen the pattern and we've found the one common thread. It's storm season. We take so many calls like this a year, and every time we trace the symptoms back to one thing: LIGHTNING! When lightning strikes nearby, it sends a very HIGH VOLTAGE SURGE throughout the entire electrical system in your house. Unfortunately, you just can't plug your kiln into a surge protector to prevent the surge from zapping your kiln. The circuit board is the most expensive part on your entire kiln, and a good power surge will knock it out faster than anything else! It can also cause other problems, like burning out relays, and damaging your transformer.

We know you love your kiln, and we want you to protect your baby! SO WHAT CAN YOU DO... If you have a digital kiln, PLEASE UNPLUG IT when it's not in use. Just like your computer or other expensive electronics, your kiln needs protection especially during storm season. Also, never fire a kiln when lightning is nearby. If your kiln is firing and a storm comes up, end your program as soon as you can and unplug the kiln. Don't just hope for the best! Don't let your kiln be the victim of mother nature!

If need us, as always we're here to help.

All the Best and Happy Firing,
Jenn
The Jen-Ken Tech Girl

09 August 2015

PART ONE: 3-Key Controller Tricks

Everyday prospective buyers ask me which type of controller is better; the 3-key or the 12-key. What I tell them is "There is no better... it reallly comes down to what you have or can afford."

A 3-key controller can do almost everything a 12-key can do, but it just takes longer to get the programming done. And, it doesn't matter if it's a Paragon, Olympic, Evenheat or Jen-Ken kiln... all 3-key controllers work the same way. If your impatient or easily distracted, like me, a 12-key might be the right choice for you.  Either way the digital controller, either 3-key or 12-key can be your friend if your know these simple tricks.  So, this week I'll share 3-key controller tricks you might not know about.

3-Key Controllers - COOL OPTIONS THAT ARE HIDDEN!
During an active firing, the INCREASE button will activate an options menu and scroll through the available options with each button press. These options allow you to make adjustments to the firing program without stopping the firing. The available options follow...

SKIP STEP During an active heating, cooling or hold time, it is possible to skip ahead to the next program step. Press the INCREASE button to display the skip step prompt SStP. Then press the PROGRAM button to display the current ramp or hold segment. Press the PROGRAM button again to initiate the skip and the controller display returns to the normal firing mode. If the DECREASE button is pressed, the skip step function is canceled and the controller display returns to the normal firing mode.The skip function can be used to end a hold time early or to skip from any heating/cooling step to the next heating/cooling step. The skip function does nothing during the final program step. To end a final program step, simply press STOP.

ADD MORE HOLD TIMEDuring an active heating, cooling or hold time, it is possible to add more hold time to the current program step. Press the INCREASE button until the hold time prompt HLdt is displayed. Then Press the PROGRAM button to display the current hold time. Press the INCREASE button to add five (5) minute increments to the original hold time. Then press the PROGRAM button to return to the normal firing mode. If the DECREASE button is pressed while the HLDT prompt is displayed, the controller display returns to the normal firing mode.

CHANGE HEATING OR COOLING TEMPSDuring an active heating, cooling or hold time, it is possible to change the heating or cooling temperature of the current program step. Press the INCREASE button until the change temperature prompt CHGT is displayed. Then press the PROGRAM button to display the current temperature setting. Adjust the temperature setting with the INCREASE or DECREASE buttons. Then press the PROGRAM button to return to the normal firing mode. If the DECREASE button is pressed while the CHGT prompt is displayed, the controller display returns to the normal firing mode.


THRESHOLD ALARM- During the firing, it is possible to set an audible alarm and display alarm for when the actual temperature reaches a specified value. The buzzer will sound (for 30 seconds) and the display will show the alarm code ALAR.To set the alarm, press the INCREASE button during the active firing until the alarm prompt ALAR is displayed. Then press the PROGRAM button to display the current alarm temperature setting. Adjust the temperature setting with the INCREASE or DECREASE buttons. Then press the PROGRAM button to return to the normal firing mode. If the DECREASE button is pressed while the ALAr prompt is displayed, the controller display returns to the normal firing mode. The alarm is disabled (turned off) when the alarm value is set to 32°F (0ÂșC). The alarm value can be reset or changed many times during a single firing. To silence an active alarm, simply press any button.

I hope these few tricks up your sleeves with help you get even more out of firing your kilns!  Stay tuned for next week's PART TWO: 12-KEY CONTROLLER MAGIC!

Your Kiln Gal,
Gail

02 August 2015

BIGGER, FASTER and MORE PORTABLE KILN! ...and my 2-cents on the value!

It isn't often that we get this type of opportunity and we are so genuinely excited to share it with you. So, with out further hesitation, Jen-Ken and Kiln Frog are proud to announce the newest member of the Pro-Fusion Fiber Line...

The Jen-Ken Pro-Fusion 14!  

This limited edition kiln is BIGGER, FASTER and MORE PORTABLE than any other fiber kiln!  As this kiln is an exclusive to us at KILN FROG, it will ONLY available for a short time and is in VERY LIMITED QUANITY.  Did we mention that we were excited about this kiln? And, that this killer price that includes FREE SHIPPING! Check it out HERE! (It's so low we can't even post it!)

Here's the scoop!
  • This awesome fiber kiln will fire to full fusing temperatures in 35 minutes!
  • You'll have a full square foot of firing space! - That's 12" x 12" x 6" of firing space!
  • This kiln can be ordered with a 3-key or a 12-key controller!
  • You can fire on Fiber... or on a Clay shelf
  • You can plug this kiln into ANY household 120 Volt-20 amp plug! - No need for a Dedicated Circuit!
  • There's a built in Stand! 
  • This kiln has the famous JUMP START preprogramming you love!
  • There are a limited number of these new models available until production goes into full distribution!
So... Here's my two cents: The Pro-Fusion Fiber Line of kilns is so unique and innovative that everyone wants at least one fiber kiln in their studio. This kiln is perfect for just about all fusing projects including jewelry, plates, bowls, window panels, and more. it's fast, light, easy to fire.
Most importantly, we think it's the best deal in the entire Pro-Fusion Fiber line! When you check out the price you'll see that you get more square firing space than the 15" round "Bonnie Glo" model (You can only fire a 9.5" square in a 13" interior round kiln.) In a 12" square interior kiln you can fire a 12" square and a 12" round. That's more space for your money! Plus, you get that world famous Jen-Ken service that everyone talks about!

If you have been waiting to buy a fiber kiln... NOW IS YOUR TIME!  And, if you have any questions, just send us an e-mail and, as always, we will be happy to help.

Your Kiln Gal - Gail

26 July 2015

Moving Your Studio Kiln... and other crazy annoying things!

It's a fact of life that humans are nomadic. We try to settle down in one place, but as comfortable as we get, we eventually pick up all of our stuff and move it to another location. As an artist I am certainly not immune to this condition. Over the last 15 years I will have moved my studio 4 times. First my home, then my first real studio out of my house - 8 years, then the next one - 3 years, now this one - 2 years. The reasons always seem legitimate; bigger space, which eventually raised rents too high, then less expensive space, which eventually proved to be too far to travel (45 minutes each way) The current space is close to home (8 minutes!) but alas, crowded. Nothing is every perfect it seems.... so we move to create a more perfect situation. This brings me to the point of this blog; moving the most important thing in everyone's studio.... the kiln.

Just the thought of moving one's kiln brings a lump to the throat. It makes even the most relaxed person a little nervous. You might think that small kilns would be a "no-brainer" to move, but they can be damaged too. Often, it's the items we don't go out of our way to protect that become the most damaged. 

Arnold Howard, Engineer Extraordinaire from Paragon posted a blog a few years ago that covered this really well. He states,"The main concern in moving a kiln is brick damage, especially to the lid. The wiring is usually not affected by a move." Those of us with Fiber kilns also need to take great care to not dent the or damage fiber exterior!
Here's what to do: ..."Sandwich a 1/16" thick sheet of foam packing between the kiln body and the lid." (This is the stuff that comes in rolls at the office supply store, or at home depot.) "The foam sheet must extend under the lid completely so that no section of the lid touches the kiln walls. This is very important. I have seen kilns sent to the factory without the protective sheet under the lid. The kilns were always damaged. If you are moving a front-loading kiln, place the foam sheet between the door and firing chamber." Strap the tip or door down and wrap the entire small kiln in a blanket. Then place the kiln in your trunk surrounded by blankets and towels with no other hard objects in the area. Then proceed to your destination.

If you are moving a larger kiln, follow the same instructions for the smaller kiln, and then,...."Lay a 1" thick piece of Styrofoam board over a wooden pallet. Then place the kiln on the Styrofoam. (The Styrofoam and pallet must be large enough for the entire kiln.) On top of the kiln lid, place one or two sheets of 1" thick Styrofoam, and on top of that, a light-weight pallet. Then band the two pallets tightly. If you are moving the kiln a long distance, you could nail vertical 1x4 boards at the corners to form a crate. Then add diagonal boards on the sides for stability." I love this video, also from Paragon which shows how to crate a kiln!

He also states, "Do not place anything inside the kiln during a move, especially shelves and posts. Unless your kiln is securely crated, do not place anything on top of it. Place the kiln near the front of a truck or trailer where the ride is smoother."

For those of you who are moving your studio... best of luck! It will all be over soon!

Your Kiln Gal,  Gail


28 June 2015

Undercover Heat Work; Top Fire, Side Fire, Both?

I've been doing this kiln forming thing for almost 15 years now, so you'd think that I'd have it ingrained in my brain when I need heat from the top and when I need heat from the side. Recently I was attempting a new project that was 3" x 3" thick by 6" long.  It was dammed with clay dams and then heavily bricked to keep the dams in place. I concentrated hard on making sure the firing schedule was pristine and the annealing was generous and smart. i never even considered the heat work issues. I was blissfully ignorant!

The resulting piece came out of the kiln over fired on the top and under fired near the shelf. It had small champagne bubbles near the surface that I didn't like. I could see that the bottom layers just weren't fully fused and lacked clarity, but all the air was squeezed out perfectly. I fused the piece in my "go-to" kiln which is a top fire. I didn't think the heat work would matter, but it did! I made some calls and did some research to figure it all out!  Color me embarrassed! It was proven to me that we can't rely on just instinct; we really do need to think about what we need... and why. 
So here's the skinny on that.....

Top Fire:
You need heat from the top when you are doing thinner work. This means anything below 9mm or less than 1/2". This is basically shallow fusing, tack fusing, slumping, draping, combing/raking, and boiling. The heat needs to penetrate through the glass from the top down through the shelf or mold. It is important that the heat is uniform across the entire area of glass and that it is not too close or too far from the elements. Most fiber kilns are top firing, but there are exceptions. (I new all of this, but just wasn't thinking about it because, Uh, well,  I really love my fiber kiln, and I put almost everything I can in it, but alas...it's not perfect for every job.) 

Side Fire:
You need heat from the sides when you are working thicker than 9mm or over 1/2" as a general rule. This means deep thick fusing, casting, annealing, basically doing thick or deep work of any kind. Traditional ceramic kilns are side firing only. They can be used for glass, but are better suited for casting and thicker work. (I knew this too! I have a brick kiln and should have realized this was what I needed. Fusing habits need to be tempered with thinking....note to self!)

Why You'd Want Both:
When a kiln has both top and side fire elements, the energy flow is usually divided between the two heat sources. For example, Evenheat's GTS 2541-13 distributes the heat approximately 70% to the top and 30% on the sides. This allows for very even heating allowing a wide range of activities to be successfully executed. A front loading kiln, like Paragon's GL-24ADTSD, has the same type of divided heat. Some manufacturers even allow you to control which elements you use for which activities. A popular example of this is the Olympic 186GFE, which has a toggle switch that allows you to change from top to side elements in the middle of a firing. That's convenient! Another good option is a hybrid kiln, like Jen-Ken's JK215-cerama-glass, that fires glass and ceramics. One of these could be the perfect fit for just about every project. They're deeper than traditional glass kilns, and also allow you to switch "on the fly" from top to side fire, and then back again. (I've actually got a hybrid kiln, that I don't use half as much as I should. By now you've probably noticed that I love my kilns and have a few of them. Like potato chips, one is just not enough!)

The Conclusions... 
Just like every artist is different, every kiln is different too. Each kiln design, either top fire, side fire, or a combo firing is configured to perform certain processes with ease and other processes are a just a bit of a stretch. You kiln will cheerfully attempt every job, but just might not be the best "soldier" for the job. After my recent project had a few technical errors, I called my friendly kiln engineer and asked for some heat work advice. Here are my conclusions, and the final recommendations.


  • If you are fusing and slumping as a general rule.............................top firing is great!
  • If you are casting into molds, using billet, or stacking thick..........side firing is great!
  • If you are working thicker, using bricks & dams, doing pot melts, thicker bars, boils, and deep drops and deep molds...............................................................combo firing is great!
Drum Roll! The Final Recommendations:
  1. If you are getting your first small kiln (under 14" and less than 6" deep) don't worry about this too much. You're going to get pretty even heating throughout the entire kiln chamber just based on the smaller volume of space that needs to be heated.
  2. If you are going bigger, you really need to to think about the type of work you plan on doing with the kiln. If you want to "do it all" make sure you have a kiln that gives you options. Get something with top and side firing capabilities.
  3. If you are a crazy control freak that wants to shift back and forth between top and side elements during a firing, contact us at KilnFrog and we'll get you a custom switch to do that!
Your Kiln Gal - Gail

(Epilogue..... I'm re-doing this project and firing it in my hybrid kiln! Stay tuned!)



19 May 2015

Venting Your Kiln; Why & When?

When I first started fusing glass in 2001, the subject of venting your kiln was really not much of a discussion. Everyone vented the kiln to cool it. The kiln manufacturers would wince when the topic came up. They hated it, but we all thought that was what we were supposed to do. 

In glass fusing we called it "crashing" or crash cooling. We basically opened the kiln at 1470F (full fusing temperature) and then let cool air into the kiln until the thermocouple reading was below 1200F. This might have to be done a few times to account for the temperature bounce back when we closed the lid. The entire process was done to avoid devitrification on the glass. The result was the eventual cracking of kiln bricks and lids. This process of this sudden venting was terrible for your kiln, and didn't always eliminate the devitrification problem, if you remembered to do it at all. If you weren't careful, many a burned hand or singed eyebrow was the result.

The next type of venting was what ceramics folks did in their kilns to draw the metal oxides out of their kilns and bring in oxygen. This venting, usually  a downdraft or vent hood "system" provided a good air exchange in the kiln and led to bright colors in glazes. A "Vent Master" was and is a necessity for firing ceramic glazes at higher temperatures. I really didn't fully understand it fully until years later.

Things have changed a lot in the last 15 years. We now take better care of our kilns and keep them much cleaner, and crash cooling is thing of the past. We anneal at lower temperatures, and we know when we should vent for good air exchange! We handle devitrification with overspray, sandblasting, and good old kiln maintenance. It's just a smarter world now! ...But we still need to vent if we want our colors bright when we paint, print, or decal!

Here's the WHY! Harry Sowersby from Creative Ceramics, the folks who make ColorLine paints and screen printing paste, explained it to me this way, "...during firing the burning off of organic binders in paints/enamels/glues/etc creates a reduction atmosphere inside of the kiln, meaning that there is less oxygen available. Bright colors like reds, oranges, and yellows, (selenium based colors) require an oxygen rich environment to maintain their color integrity. So it's necessary to vent the kiln to bring in fresh oxygen throughout the entire firing process until they reach peak temperatures." Once the burnout is complete, the vents can be closed. Now I totally understand that!

So what do you do it you don't have a vent? 

Some studios leave the kiln door ajar when firing anything with organic binders or other burnout items. 

Some studios raise their clamshell kiln lids with 1/2" kiln posts to vent.

Some studios pull all the plugs out from their kiln vent holes. (Those are not peep holes for your eyeballs, in case you didn't know.)

Some folks are even going so far as to vent when burning out 1/32" kiln paper a.k.a. Thinfire paper or Papyrus sheets. They say it reduces the chances of devitrification and keeps colors brighter. If you have a thought on this or an opinion. Let us know what you think!  

To Vent or Not to Vent.... When is the Question!

Your Kiln Gal,
Gail

10 May 2015

Introducing our NEW in-stock kiln program

Kiln Frog is proud to announce our new in-stock kiln program. Partnering with Olympic Kilns, we now have two kilns, the Square 146GFE and the Quatro 16, that are in stock and ready to ship!

The Square 146GFE, with its 12" square shelf, is one of the largest kilns you can run on household power without making any electrical modifications. If you are a renter, or if you live in a really old home that can't be upgraded, this kiln will allow you to work on larger projects by just plugging it in anywhere. The stand is nice and tall, so you won’t have to bend over to load it. Best of all, this kiln is sent via UPS, making set up even easier. 

The Quatro 16 provides a square glass fusing kiln for individuals who need a kiln larger than 14.5" x 14.5" wide (Square 146GFE) but not as large as 18" x 18" wide (Square 186GFE). This kiln is also one of the largest 120v kilns available but, does need to be run on a 20 amp circuit.

We are very excited about our new partnership.  Please keep in mind when ordering, that all in-stock models have 3-key controllers and kilns with any type of variation, like adding a window or upgrading to the 12-key controller, will delay shipping.

Thanks Olympic for working with us to create this great new program!