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.
everyone

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