Monday, March 18, 2013

Getting A New Kiln? Some Things to Consider

Frequently I get messaged by beginners, "Kiln Master Joe, I'm considering purchasing my first kiln, what kind would you recommend?"

So I decided to list five aspects you should consider before embarking on your search.  This information can become complicated, so I'm going to try and keep this as simple as possible.  Keep in mind, if you're uncertain about how to determine any of your electrical configurations mentioned below, it's best to consult your service provider, a licensed electrician, or me!

Kiln Size:
First ask yourself which kiln size will meet your needs.  Do you need something very tall?  Or perhaps you need something wider than taller?  Are you firing small items?  Maybe all you need is a small 120 volt test kiln to meet your needs.
I recommend shopping the websites of recommended kiln manufactures, visiting your local supply store (if they have a showroom), or visiting a local ceramics/glass class to get a better sense of what size you need.  Once you have a good sense of which size you'll need, you can move onto the next step.

All too often I hear people purchase a kiln and learn that it doesn't match the power of their studio.  Before you purchase your kiln, find out if your power supply is equipped with 208 or 240 volts of power.  I hear customers often say, "I have 220 volts of power." which is a vague term.  Kilns are wired specifically for either 208 or 240 volts, and so is your studio.  If you're not sure how to find this out you can examine your breaker box, which usually contains the info.

Next you'll need to confirm what phase you have available in your space.   Without getting too complicated, phase refers to the distribution of electric power.  Kilns are manufactured to handle single phase or three phase.  Just like your voltage, if you're not sure how to find out your phase, you can examine your breaker box, which usually contains the info.

* Changing your voltage or phase is no cheap task.  Therefore, it's best to find out what voltage and phase you have, then seek a kiln that matches the correct electrical configuration.

Wire & Breaker Size:
Don't take your electrical work for granted.  Every kiln needs a particular wire gauge (thickness) and breaker size necessary for the kiln's electrical demands.  If your not sure which electrical configuration you need for your kiln, refer to Skutt's electrical requirement chart above for easy identification.  If you don't have the correct wire and breaker size, you'll have to hire an electrician to install the correct sizes.

New or Used:
Depending on your financial situation, you may want a new or used kiln.  An automatic (or digital) kiln is the most expensive, less common to find used, but easiest and most convenient to operate.  Manual kilns come in plenitude, are cheaper, but require some skill (especially when firing bisque).  The downside to purchasing a used kiln is that unless you know a lot about kilns, you won't know what condition your kiln is in.  If you're looking for a used kiln, Craig's List is an excellent local resource.
* If you're purchasing a kiln to work with glass, your best bet is to acquire a digital kiln, as you'll need complete control of your firings (increase in temperature, hold, and rate of cooling).

Finding answers for the issues above will help narrow down your kiln choices.  So just to recap and simplify this post, when purchasing a kiln first consider...

  • Kiln Size
  • Voltage
  • Phase
  • Wire & Breaker Size
  • New or Used

This is a lot of info, and for the beginner it can be overwhelming, but knowing this information ahead of time can save you a lot of time, energy, money, and aggravation in the future.  You're better off figuring this out ahead of time, rather than spending your time and money, only to find out that you don't have the right kiln for your space.

Don't hesitate to contact me with questions.  Good luck!


  1. I have a question about the costs to fire a large electric Skutt kiln to Cone04 Bisque and Cone5 Glaze. I know this could include many variables such as how much the kiln costed initially and maintenance, but what is the straight up electrical cost? Our kiln is located in Oakland.

    1. Good question! And yes, there are several variables that determine cost of firing. Location (zoning), what time of day you fire (you can save money by firing during non-peak hours), cost of kilowatts per hour, the size of the chamber you're firing, what temperature your firing to, and length of firing.

      You can compute the cost per kilowatt hour (or other energy unit), using the data on your latest energy bill. If your bill does not give rates per unit, divide the total cost for the units by the number of units used over that month. For example, let's say the cost for total energy usage was $200.00 and the amount of energy used was 2500 kilowatt hours (the units). $200.00 divided by 2500 equals $0.08, or eight cents per kilowatt hour.

      Now, take the amount of energy your kiln used for the firing (for the step above) and multiply it by the cost per energy unit. For example, if your kiln used up 200 kilowatt hours of energy your calculation would be 200 times $0.08 which equals an energy cost of $16.
      Call PG&E and ask how much your rate of kilowatts per hour costs based on time of day. I'd also recommend monitoring your firing very closely, when you don't have any other major appliances running.

      There are also manufacturers who make devices that will help monitor killowatts per hour.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Hi, Joe,

    I'd like to consult with you about setting up a Skutt KM 614-3. This is the small kiln that runs on 115V. The problem is I'm not sure if I have a 30 amp outlet. I don't think I do. I also have questions about ventilation. Can I contact you via e-mail to discuss your rates, etc.? This is my first time buying a kiln.

    Thank you,

  3. Are you still doing kiln repair? I have as Evenheat classic 6320xl with kiln sitter lt-3k. I have a 60a single phase breaker. The kiln had power now it doesn't and I can't figure out why. The repair tech in my area won't "mess with" a manual kiln. Any thoughts?

    1. Hello anonymous inquirer. Yes, I'm still providing kiln repair services, and I have no problem with working on manual electric kilns of any kind. Please feel free to call me 510-601-5053 and we can discuss what's going on and gain some clarity.

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