19 March 2015

What type of plug do I need?

Sometimes it feels like kiln companies believe we were all electricians in a previous life, as many kiln models require different power supply receptacles. They are identified by voltage and amperage as well as the NEMA designation. Those described as "direct wire" do not use a receptacle; instead, they are permanently wired. So, when you start to read all those letters and numbers, don't get discouraged... we've got you covered! #kilnacademy

NEMA 5-15R: 120 Volt, 15 Amp (typical household receptacle)

NEMA 5-20R: 120 Volt, 20 Am
NEMA 6-20R: 240 Volt, 20 Amp
NEMA 6-30R: 240 Volt, 30 Amp
NEMA 6-50R: 240 Volt, 50 Amp
NEMA 10-50R: 240V, 50 Amp (available by request)
NEMA 10-30R: 240 Volt, 30 Amp (available by request)

08 March 2015

The Importance of Spare Parts... and other stories I didn't believe until it happened to me!

A few weeks ago I had a minor traumatic incident. A visiting instructor was teaching at my studio and the kiln just decided to rebel. There was a tiny waft of smoke, and then a error signal from my controller. Part of me wanted to freak out and run around the room with my arms waving while screaming expletives at the top of my lungs. Luckily, I realized I had an audience so, I only did that in my head. So, after a few deep breaths and some positive self-talk, I turned the kiln off, unplugged it, and proceeded to use my nut driver (see below) to unscrew the box where I saw the little smoke puff. And, yes... I know it's not an extra part but, must have a 1/4" nut driver on hand in your kiln room.

So, I opened the box and I see a small area that looks burned. It's a connector that attaches the kiln element to the electrical feed that runs to the relay. (In case you didn't know... the element isn't directly connected to the relay.) There's also a ceramic insulator that looks like it's seem better days, and a dead bug.

To make a short story short...the bug wiggled in, couldn't get out, and in it's frenzy, wiggled around the wire and caused a short when the wire touched the side of the box. This action killed the bug, and fried the connection. (I know what you are all thinking... and, yes... we have big bugs here in Texas.) This is not common, but it can happen.

Thankfully, kilns these days are made pretty "smart" so the controllers sense when a problem arrises and shut the program down. With that said, all I needed now was a new ground connector and a new ceramic insulator. I went to my local hardware supply and picked up some hot tub ground connectors as a temporary measure and found some unglazed bisque beads to serve as my insulator. A few moments later I was up and running again. (I know... who the heck has unglazed bisque beads?)

Here's the lesson learned; Just like with a car, occasionally your kiln will hit a bump, or a bug in the road, and need a minor repair. You CAN do it, if you have some spare parts available.

Here's what I recommend having on hand:

An Extra Set of Relays - call the manufacturer of your kiln and ask them to send you a full set of relays for you kiln. They're cheap. They usually run about $15 each and are worth their weight in gold. They do have a lifespan rated in "clicks." So age is less of a factor than usage. You just can't run your kiln with them.
A Few Ground Connectors - since you're calling for relays, ask for a few of those. Again, cheap but worth it.

Ceramic Insulators - since you're asking for the relays and the ground connectors, ask them to add a ceramic insulator. (Now you sound very knowledgable and they will be impressed!)

Extra Side Element  & Element Pins - The side elements are usually longer than the top element, so this could be MacGyver'd to be smaller if you needed to replace your element on top and just couldn't wait to for it to come. These typically run about $30 each. Have a spare on hand, you'll sleep better at night.
Thermocouple - This is truly for the die hards! These run somewhere around $45 dollars depending on the company. Again, your kiln won't run without it.

Electrical Tape - Duh!

Pliers, a Phillips head and a Flat head Screwdriver, Wire Strippers, Set of Nut Drivers, Flush Cutters - These are basic tools you should have in your kiln survival kit. Pack these along with some tranquilizers and a shot of tequila for calm steady hands!

An Ohm Meter - Another weird, but handy tool to help you determine whether electrical amperage/voltage are getting to your elements. (Using this is a whole other conversation.) They come with directions and there are smarty pants types on YouTube who can walk you through it.) Trust me, you'll need it at some point in your kiln life.

The phone number of someone who knows what their doing....if you don't.  - When you call them they'll tell you to get all this stuff, and you'll look like a genius because you have it.

Your Brain - Always unplug the kiln before you start unscrewing things. Do not fire the kiln unattended.
Call your kiln company today and practice safe kiln forming!  #kilnacademy Your mother will be proud of you!

Your Kiln Gal - Gail

02 March 2015

The Bad Back Syndrome and the Clamshell Kiln...

I used to experience back fatigue every time I loaded my kiln. It was a real pain in the.... neck! Last year I purchased a large 26" Clamshell kiln and the back discomfort went away. I now wish my other two kilns were clammys too! If you are thinking about a new kiln, take a moment to think about the following information...

If you have a challenge like I do with bending over, i.e. the dreaded "bad back" then a clamshell kiln might be just the thing for you. A clamshell kiln is configured to have the firing chamber (the top and sides of the kiln) lift off of the base on a hinge. The set up allows the user direct, easy access to the kiln shelf. The key to kiln loading back relief is the height of the base of the clamshell kiln shelf.

So what does this really mean? When you set up the kiln, make sure the base of the clamshell kiln is above your waist and below the height of your chest. Think about where you will place the clamshell kiln and whether you'll need to elevate the unit on a steel stand on the floor or on a table.  Because, like me, you are responsible for your own kiln loading fatigue destiny.

With that said, just about every kiln company has a clamshell model in a small, medium, and large size. The large size clamshell units typically have their own steel stands included. That's great, but we're not all the same size. I'm tall with long legs, so I looked for a kiln with an extra tall stand. You can also place the kiln on a platform to raise the base higher. The medium and small clamshell units have feet that act as stands. You can elevate these units by constructing a platform on top of your table table top. What ever you do, make sure the unit is level front to back and side to side. Some units even have leveling feet that adjust to help with this process.
Doesn't this look painful to load?

Here are a few of my favorites:
Paragon CS 19-S
Olympic Square 186GFETLC
Evenheat Studio Pro 17
Jen-Ken ProFusion Fiber 16

Remember, SAFETY FIRST! Whatever modification you need to elevate your kiln to the perfect comfortable loading height, make sure it's sturdy and heat proof. Most of the chain hardware "home centers" carry cement board, brand names include "Hardy Backer" and "Duraboard". Use these to protect surfaces that are not heatproof. Be smart! A hot kiln = a happy life! #olympickilns #pargonkilns #jenkenkilns #evenheatkilns #clamshellkilns

Your Kiln Gal - Gail