Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The kiln I'm planning to get and why

            This is a post about my Kickstarter project. If you haven’t yet, you should go look at it, and pre-order something awesome while you're there! http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/317283323/bringing-the-fire-to-riverdragon-ceramics

            The kiln I have chosen is the Cone Art BX2818. I have heard only good things about Cone Art kilns, the representatives I’ve talked to have been open and helpful, and most important the kiln has some awesome features I really want. The biggest of these is that it uses up to 30% less energy per firing than other kilns. If I’m going to have an electric kiln, I want one that does as little harm to our precious environment as I can find. This also means that although this kiln is a little on the pricy side, it will reduce costs in the long term. For those with the patience/interest, there are more details about how I made this decision below the fold.
            The space that is becoming my ceramics studio is actually a barn that is over one hundred years old. The barn is attached the house, which is also over one hundred years old. (We’ve been told that the house and barn were built in the 1870’s.) As a result, both have had various modifications over the years by various people, who didn’t always do things in the most sensible ways. The main reason this matters for installing a kiln is that the electrical set up here is kind of wonky. I can’t have a large electric kiln, because the work required to bring in more power would be pretty ridiculous in terms of cost and labor.
            So I set about looking for a medium to small kiln that would do what I need it to do. I am looking for a wide kiln rather than a tall kiln, because I plan to make many wide things like platters and large bowls. I also plan to make sculptures of creatures like dragons that I’m thinking would be wide rather than tall, and fountains which would be made in parts, which wouldn’t need too much height. Also, I’m short, so loading a wide kiln would be nicer for my back.
            Another thing that I considered in my search was the temperature I intend to fire to on a regular basis. I like to use high-fire clay, like porcelain. Then the question is, cone 6 or cone 10? (Cone 10 is much hotter, for the uninitiated.) I think in general if I’m going to be using an electric kiln, I should fire to cone 6, since that is gentler on the elements (therefore they last longer), however I have a lot of cone 10 clay here that I would like to use. If I have a kiln that is capable of reliably firing to cone 10, then I have more options for clay and glazes, even if I usually fire to a lower temperature. It doesn’t hurt the kiln to use it at less than its maximum capability, after all.
            So now I’m actually going to talk about the specific kiln I plan to get. I’m going with the Cone Art BX2818. That number refers to the interior dimensions of the kiln; it is 18 inches high by 28 inches wide. There are a lot of reasons I think this kiln is a good choice for my studio. You can see that it fits my first two criteria; it is a medium kiln, at 6.5 cubic feet, and it is nice and wide.
It also was designed to fire to a true cone 10 reliably. The way Cone Art does this is by building their kilns with more insulation, and they say that this not only produces a kiln that can fire to cone 10 over and over, but will also reduce the energy needed to fire the kiln by 30%. This is handy not only because of reduced electric bills from my firings, but also because it’s at least a bit better for the environment. (I’m still waiting for the day when I can get a solar powered kiln. Somebody needs to get on that!)  This particular feature alone makes me inclined toward Cone Art.
            I talked to a Cone Art representative in person at NCECA, who gave me the spiel about the kilns. He opened up the control box and showed me the set up there – it’s pretty easy to understand. Cone Art claims to have done the wiring on their kilns the same way since they started their business, with the same color coding pattern. Ideally if you need some customer support they can pretty much tell you what to do over the phone, or you can take a picture of the problem and they can tell you what needs done. I like the idea of being able to fix my equipment myself without being worried I’m going to grab the wrong thing and get fried. (This is not actually likely to happen if one is smart and turns off the circuit breaker before one messes with one’s kiln electronics, but you get the idea.) Also, being out here in coastal Maine, having a kiln technician come out in person would likely be a pain, so again the more I can do myself/remotely the better.
           There are other features that are less important but still pretty nice that come with this kiln. The lid has a fancy arrangement that makes the lid feel light when you lift it, so that it is easy to open without the usual annoyance of bearing the weight of those bricks with your back/arms. (My back will thank me later, when it’s done complaining about how I carry around 50 lb bags of dry materials.) The kiln does have a digital controller, as most electric kilns do now – this means I don’t have to turn up the kiln many times during the firing, although I’ll still be supervising to make sure everything does what it’s supposed to. There is an element on the floor of the kiln in addition to the sides, which according to Cone Art helps the kiln heat evenly. This sounds good, but I’ll be putting witness cones around the kiln to see how that goes. Kilns always seem to have spots that are uneven, but the less that happens the better.
            Besides reading and listening to what Cone Art had to say for themselves, I searched for what others who have used their kilns have to say. What I found is that those who have purchased or used Cone Art kilns are very pleased with their decision, and that the kilns work smoothly for many years. I used my best internet research skills to try to find anybody who had problems with either the kilns or the customer service, and I did find one or two folks who had installed a 240 volt kiln on a 208 volt circuit – but that is a problem with the customer end. Everyone said that they’d buy a Cone Art again happily.
            So this is why I’m planning to buy the Cone Art BX2818. It seems like it will do the job well for many years to come, and the energy savings later will compensate for the higher price now. I’m looking forward to having a kiln that I can be proud of rather than one that needs constant attention to keep in working order.
            Perhaps after my first couple firings I should write a review!

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