So, I’ve really been getting into this glass thing recently; taken a class, read the books. I’ve sussed out how to cut the glass more than my finger, and my pieces are looking like something I could sell, rather than passing them off as ‘test pieces’. Motivation is high! The only fly in the ointment is not having a kiln. I’ve been thinking a lot about getting one of my very own. No more risk of breakage transporting my latest design to a kiln elsewhere and better still, complete control over the firing schedule and more opportunity to experiment with this wonderful medium.
So I take a look at my friendly internet glass retailer’s website :) and there is a lot of choice. Now we all like to have choices, but it can be a bit overwhelming. I work here and I was confused! So I started to wonder, what do you need to consider when buying a kiln? There are a few questions I wanted answers to before making a choice. So I asked around the office, and wanted to share their advice with you…
First, be sure about what you want to make.
Veronica gave this sound advice: The most important thing was to be clear about is what I really want to make.
Jewellery: If I was primarily focussed on jewellery making, or smaller pieces, then there’s no point in spending extra on a bigger kiln that will take up more room and cost me more to fire. For jewellery makers, a kiln like the Paragon SC2 would suffice unless planning to fire large numbers of pieces at once.
Bowls and panels: If I want to make large plates or bowls or bigger decorative pieces, then I would need a kiln big enough to fit the work into: The bigger the work the bigger the kiln. Simples.
Beads: The bead door option on the Paragon SC2 kiln is a great option if bead-making is your thing (it isn’t mine), or the Nabertherm MF5 which is designed for bead work.
Also I should consider the volume of work I wish to fire. If I want to fire more than a few pieces each day then I’d need a chamber big enough to take the work. Remember that pieces will be in the kiln for the best part of a day.
Lastly, I should consider the logistics. Will it fit where I want it to go? Can I get it through the door?? Although too big for me, if you are looking at a large 3 phase kiln, you will need to make sure you can get it wired into your power supply (a job for qualified sparkys only!).
I am keen on making bowls and coasters, so was eyeing up a smallish kiln. Having decided roughly on the size, I took a look at the kiln construction:
Should I choose ceramic brick or fibre insulation?
Apart from size, another difference in kiln construction seemed to be the insulation material used. I was told both do a good job of insulating kilns, making the firing programs reliable and cheap to run. Ceramic brick kilns tend to be cheaper, and might well collect a few bumps as the brick is soft (a necessary bi-product of their lightweight-but-insulating properties). This would not affect the firing but if I wanted my kiln to be a pretty ‘object d’art’ in my conservatory, a fibre kiln with a stainless steel coating might suit better. Personally, I don’t have a conservatory, so it’s a moot point.
What about the controller?
Veronica said to look for a controller that has pre-set firing schedules to get things started, but with the option of adding my own schedules. I like the idea of experimenting with different firings, so this appealed to me. Plus, I like pressing buttons.
What about the heating elements?
Megan cleared this up for me: Glass requires even heat across its surface to fire correctly. She said never layer a kiln with two shelves of glass, as the bottom layer simply won’t get heated evenly. Look for a kiln with elements in the lid, allowing for the heat to distribute evenly over the surface of the glass. If the kiln is deep to allow for three dimensional work, then it should ideally also have side elements to help the heat penetrate lower into the chamber.
Second hand or new?
Well, price may force me to buy second hand, and this has got to be better than no kiln at all, but I was warned to be careful and make sure I get to see the kiln in action before parting with my cash. Of course if I could afford a new kiln, I’d benefit from a warranty and still get a lot of my money back if I sell, as kilns hold their value very well.
Build quality and warranty?
Veronica recommended only buying a kiln built by a quality manufacturer with an established history such as Nabertherm, Skutt, Paragon or Kilncare (that’s why WG stock them!). Prices of kilns vary, but essentially the more you pay, the higher the build quality, the bigger the chamber and the more ‘extras’ you get like quartz elements or lid opening mechanisms (dropping a lid on your work is not recommended). Look for a good warranty of two or three years. Kilns are not cheap, and it is false economy to try to save a bit of cash up front by buying from an unknown manufacturer or dealer.
Can I use a ceramics kiln?
Yes. This surprised me but a ceramic kiln can be programmed to fire glass in, especially if you are doing glass casting. You may get issues like devitrification if you are fusing or slumping glass because ceramic kilns heat from the sides rather than the top, making the important even heating of glass difficult. Megan warned that ceramic work leaves pollutants in the kiln which can taint glass work causing, for example, devitrification or discolouration. If your only choice is to use a kiln which is also used for ceramics work, then she recommended using a separate ‘glass only’ kiln shelf to try to reduce this problem.
So, what about these microwave kilns then?
Arrgh no! Everyone was very clear on this! Glass is fussy stuff, it likes to be heated up and cooled evenly and in a controlled manner or it gets stressed out, and stressed glass is weak glass, and you don’t want your latest creation to break while Aunt Felicity is admiring it (although being Aunt Felicity she will have a box of plasters in her handbag). A microwave kiln heats glass the same way my microwave heats a curry: badly.
And finally… After sales service?
OK, this is where I will unashamedly blow the Warm Glass UK trumpet. We offer fantastic aftersales service. Fact. The fabulous Veronica and Megan (and Simon, who is not adverse to being fabulous when the mood takes him), are on hand to talk you through getting started with your kiln, programming it and looking after it, for as long as you need it. Everyone who buys a kiln from us also gets a 5% or 10% discount on pretty much everything they buy from us in the future. They can also help you decide upon the perfect kiln for you, like they did for me - so if you are still stuck after reading this, you know where to find them!
Well, it seems my budget is too tight to afford a kiln of the size I really want, so I’m going to save my pennies for a bit longer (and be very good all year for Santa). I’ve got my eye on a Firebox 14 though…