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Should I Get my Own Kiln?

A front loading electric kiln with the door open

In these recent weeks I have received a number of messages related to owning your own kiln. I thought I'd share some of the considerations needed before making your decision. It's a big one for any ceramic artist, for sure! To cut straight to the point, whether or not to get your own kiln really depends on what you hope to solve. Every ceramic artist has their own requirements and preferences so it's up to you to weigh the different aspects and make a decision after. No right or wrong answers here! I'll be expanding on a few of the considerations ahead.

1: Do you have convenient access to a pottery studio that can fire for you?

This goes without saying but if you don't have a pottery studio you can access conveniently, you'll likely need to get your own kiln. How delicate your work is also factors into this as transporting your pieces to and fro the studio will increase the likelihood of breakage. 

Hand sculpted porcelain rabbits on a wooden work desk with sculpting tools

2: How much work do you produce?

When it comes to firing, quantity (and size) matters. Often times when we fire up the kiln, we try our best to fill it as much as we can. This allows more efficient use of energy and a more even firing. So if you only have very few pieces of work to fire each time, it might make more sense to fire at a studio. Alternatively, you can get a smaller kiln so it takes fewer pieces to fill.

A big group of almost 90 handmade miniature porcelain foxes

3: Can you dedicate a space to your kiln?

Kilns come in all sizes but even the smallest kiln will heat up the space around it. Unlike something like a refrigerator that doesn't very much affect the space around it, the heat from the kiln is not completely contained within. The heat radiating from the kiln causes the space around it to get hot as well. You can still be in the vicinity of the kiln while it's firing but Imagine being inside a sauna room or standing directly beside a heater. The outer surface of the kiln will get hot and you'll definitely need to keep young children and pets away from the area while the kiln is firing and cooling.

My longest firing program takes about 12 hours to hit top temperature. Once it hits the top temperature, the kiln turns off but it takes an equally long time to cool down. On this firing program, I usually give my kiln about 24 hours from start of firing till it's cool enough to open safely. 

4: Do you have time to maintain your kiln?

Kilns need some simple maintenance to keep them running smoothly. Personally, I dust the thermocouple and elements after every cycle of firing (or so I aim to) and vacuum it. When I lagged behind on the cleaning, I noticed it took longer to fire my work. Sometimes it even has difficulty reaching the top temperature set. Never underestimate a little TLC when it comes to your kiln!

The inside of an electric kiln, the thermocouple and kiln elements

When you have your own kiln you'll also use kiln shelves to make efficient use of the space. Every so often you'll need to reapply a new coat of kiln wash to your shelves to protect them and to prevent glaze drips from damaging them too severely. And if you do get glaze drips on your shelves, you'll need to chisel them off otherwise they'll keep eating away at your shelf with each firing. Dropping your pieces off at a studio saves you all the hassle of maintenance and possible repairs which can be costly.

A hand holding kiln wash and a broken kiln shelf behind

5: Are you able to follow the firing schedule of the studio?

If you are a hobbyist and your timelines are flexible, you might be happy firing at the studio. Firing at a studio can be a long drawn process. You'll need to drop your greenware off at the studio, wait for them to do a bisque firing, head down to collect your bisqued work, bring it home to glaze, bring it back to the studio, wait for them to do a glaze firing and finally head back down to collect it. You sometimes have to wait a few weeks or more before the studio fires as they also want to fire the kiln with a full load. Hence if the studio is having a lull period, the duration between each firing will be drawn out. With your own kiln, you decide when you're ready to fire.

6: Budgeting considerations.

Kilns can come with a hefty price tag. My own kiln cost about 4000SGD and that excludes having the electrician come down to install a new socket and assess electrical requirements for the kiln. You can see below that my kiln uses a 15amp 3-pin plug. The kiln needed a dedicated socket that allowed for the drawing of more electricity than usual appliances. 

3 Pin Plug for Electric Kiln

Each time you get the kiln technicians down to change the elements and do a servicing it also costs money. In my 5 years of owning my kiln, I've only had the technicians down once for an element change. It cost me 700SGD for them to replace the elements and do a quick check of the kiln. They also tried to help mend a crack in the kiln door but the cement didn't really hold up. Thankfully it doesn't really affect the kiln much. Just to give a gauge of my usage, I fire about 3 times a month or two; Bisque, glaze and luster. If you're firing more or to higher temperatures your kiln will have more wear and tear.

A vertical crack running down the inside of a kiln door(You can see the kiln door when it was brand new in the image right at the top.)

On the flip side, firing costs at studios can also add up. Studios usually charge your work either by weight or volume (length x width x height). The cost of transporting your work to and fro the studio and the time taken is also a factor to consider.

7: Do you have time to learn how to fire your kiln?

Depending on the kiln you get, firing it can be as simple as a push of a button or a whole ritual. My electric kiln is really simple to use. Once you have the programs set on the controller, it just takes a click of a button to get the kiln firing. The controller then does the rest of the work, adjusting the ramp rates and hold durations, even cutting off power to the elements once the desired temperature is reached.

A Hand Holding an Electric Kiln Program Controller

However, there are also kilns that don't come with a programmable controller. My friend owned a glass kiln like this. It was a top loader with a temperature meter and an on off switch. Every time she fired the kiln, she would have to actively monitor the temperature and manually switch it off after it reached her desired temperature. On top of that there was no way to control how quickly it fired.

Electric pottery kiln with a bisqued pot inside

Final thoughts.

There are many points to consider but it really boils down to your work preferences.

I fired at a studio for a few months before deciding to get my own kiln. The hassle of bringing all my tiny pieces down to the studio and back, plus waiting on their schedules just didn't work for me as I was trying to create more and build up inventory for my store. The wait time also hinders your growth to some extent. With each firing you learn what works and what doesn't. With your own kiln you get to see how different experiments turn out at a quicker pace. Perhaps you're not ready to commit a space to your kiln or you've got a studio nearby you can fire at. See what works for you (-:

I hope my sharing helps you in some way on this journey. Have fun with it and enjoy the process, whichever route you choose. May your clay journey be filled with lots of joy and moments of peaceful quiet.