Kiln Pros and Cons

Copyright © 2010 Tonya Davidson

Kiln-Buying Decision

  • Will I travel with this kiln?
  • Will I be firing CopprClay, BronzClay and/or glass?
  • How big of an item will I want to fire inside the chamber?
  • How much do I want to spend?
  • What is the hottest medium that I will want to fire in this kiln?
  • Top loader or front loader?

This is a great place to start when deciding which kiln is best for you. It’s loaded with lots of information.

While reading this jot down questions you might have that will need further explanation. You can email those to me for further free consultation.

My vast experience with different mediums over 15 years of kiln firing leads me to recommending hands down, a kiln-brick kiln as my go-to choice for kilns. Why?

  • The brick stores energy so even though it takes a bit longer for it to heat up (compared to muffle fiber kilns)
  • It recovers faster (enameling)It will maintain the heat better when firing slowly (CopprClay, BronzClay, glass)
  • Much less expensive to change out the elements by about $200. The fiber muffle kilns cost $250 plus about $65 in shipping, where the kiln brick kilns will cost you around $60 to replace.

Breaking it down by the numbers:

  1. If you are going to teach and take the kiln from place to place, you'll want to look at a muffle-fiber kiln which is the SC series. These heat up faster, cool down faster and are made for travel.
    Myth about kiln-brick kilns..."They can't travel and fragile":
    Wrong...they can travel. You just have to be a little more careful about how you handle the kiln. I recommend a plastic bin from Target and an old beach blanket. The Multimedia and Xpress models do not need a bin. However, the Caldera and's recommended to put them in a bin. The old beach blanket is for you to wrap around your kiln to move it quicker if you need to pack up your kiln after firing it.
    Because the brick is such a great energy storer, it will take about 40 minutes, instead of the fiber kiln's 20 minutes, to cool down in order to pick it up to put in your car. The blanket works great! Another helpful tip is to purchase an Elfa rolling cart rack or Ikea's Antonius storage carts. You'll want the racks that have a basket on the top instead of a lid, so the kiln can fit into the basket. The basket drawers below allow you to put other items like shelves, posts, fiber blanket etc, in for easy storage and use. This way if you ever need to fire your kiln outside you have a way to roll it outside and you won't need to carry it. This rolling cart also fits in cars easily and the baskets slide out and can be stacked.
    Larger kilns, which we do not feature on our site but have available, if moved frequently can loosen the element pins. This is an easy fix with a pair of pliers and takes less than a minute to adjust. This is not a reason to be afraid of purchasing a kiln-brick kiln, which is unfortunately advertised on other sites.
  2. Glass, CopprClay, BronzClay and some other mediums require slower firings. All kilns have relays which tell the kiln to power up. These relays have a finite number of clicks. If your kiln is working really hard to maintain the heat and is clicking frequently, your relays will go out sooner than a kiln that is storing the heat and clicking less frequently. Fiber Muffle kilns leak heat. This is why they cool down and heat up quickly. If you were to put two identical kilns next to each other, one being a fiber muffle kiln and one a kiln-brick kiln, and fire BronzClay or glass in them, you'd quickly notice the difference in the number of times the relay was clicking. This is going to shorten the life of the kiln before maintenance will need to be completed, which results in more costs.
    I also feel that because the kiln-brick kilns store the heat better, the firing is a little more even from front to back and side to side in the kiln. The front of the older SC's have a variant in temperature of up to 150 degrees from front to back. This issue was resolved with a redesign in 2008, but is probably not as even as a kiln-brick kiln.
  3. Most people initially think small because they are doing jewelry. However, I'll never forget the time that I wanted to paint a ceramic mug for a coach's gift and the darn thing wouldn't fit in my SC2. I had several occasions where whatever item I wanted to make wouldn't fit. Or I wished I could fire just one more shelf in the kiln with items.
    So buy the biggest kiln you can afford. I own the Xpress 12A Multimedia, the Caldera and the SC2. I use the Multimedia more than any other kiln. I just love the size!
  4. This is tough and personal. I can't give you advice on this other than to say that I've had countless customers think they only needed the infinite switch kilns and not digital and within a year were selling their new kiln to buy the digital version. Kilns do hold their value very well. A used kiln is a hot commodity. However, after shipping etc, you are better off getting the best kiln you possibly can. Try to buy the best so that kiln can last you 10+ years. Artist usually go from medium to medium or try new mediums to add to their repertoire, so try to think of all the mediums you might fire. If you think you ever might get into lampwork beads, make sure you get a bead door in the kiln you purchase. Windows are not necessary but can be helpful.
  5. You need to think about all the mediums you might fire. If there is a possibility you'll get into clay, then do you think you'll want to do porcelain or stoneware which would require a kiln that can go to 2300°F. If you think you just would do earthenware then the kiln needs to go to 1923F. If you are thinking of glazing pre-bought bisque beads, then 1832F is required. Gold requires 1830°F. CopprClay is 1750°F. PMC 1650°F. AC 1600°F. BronzClay 1490°F. Glass 1400-1550°F. etc..etc...
    Ceramics is coming back in the jewelry world as a new artform. I think it's popularity will only grow and if this interests you, you want to have a kiln that can fire this medium. Ceramics can be covered with metal clay paste giving you a less expensive armature and piece that is still custom. This is a really great medium that has yet to be fully explored with metal clay artisans.
    Now what most people don't realize is that the higher you fire closer to the top temp of the kiln the faster the elements wear out. So if you buy a kiln that goes to 2300°F and you fire to 2250°F repeatedly, your elements are only going to last 4 months to a year, depending on how often you fire. If you buy a kiln that is rated to 2000°F and you fire to 1650°F regularly the kiln could last 5-12 years.
    I recommend keeping a log of the date you fired, what the temp was, the final firing time (this flashes at the end of the firing when it beeps), etc. This way you can note if the elements are going (takes longer to fire), or if you need to replace the thermocouple.
  6. Top loaders are the choice of glass fusers and clay artists. This is because it allows you to look at the load with a birds-eye view which makes it easier to make sure you have it stacked perfectly or it's on stilts perfectly. Mirrors on a stick (dental tools) work well to assist your eyes too.
    Front loaders are the choice for enamelists. It's not impossible to enamel in a top loader but can be more dangerous and you'll feel the heat more too. Front loaders are more popular with metal clay users also but for no scientific reason, but because that's what we were sold back in the day that the SC first hit the market.
    You can enamel quite well through the door in the Caldera Enameling Collar. I've had several classes with multiple kilns going and more students like to use the Caldera. You cannot load tall enameled items, but the small trivet for jewelry-sized items will fit on a firing rack and then of course the firing cloth on a rack works well for subsequent layers/firing of enameling.

The Caldera is hands down the best bang for the buck and the most versatile of all the kilns. It can be plugged into any household outlet. It can go from a smaller kiln that fires just 6" in height to 10" in height with a collar added. The parts are like legos and stack quickly. The bead door is the largest of the small kilns allowing you to do more lampworked beads and enameling through the door. It is better for the production artist than the bead door found in the Xpress or SC models.

The Firefly is an excellent test kiln or starter hobbyist kiln. It is small and therefore limiting. Keep this in mind with BronzClay and CopprClay stainless steel containers.

We have a great chart on what accessories or kiln furniture you will need broken down by medium.

Lastly, we have a great Kiln Programming video!

This shows the Caldera, but the SC series, Xpress Series and Firefly all use the same controller. So the instructions are the same. Once you understand what the kiln is asking you for, it is simple to program the kiln.

We unfortunately buy what we see our teachers using. I applaud anyone who takes the time to make sure they get the kiln that fits their needs. However, there is hardly a kiln that is an unfortunate choice. They all will get the job done, but fine tuning that job can make your job easier from the start.

Let me know your further questions as I am happy to give you further guidance.


Tonya Davidson