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