Do not leave the kiln unattended during operation. You should be near the kiln while it fires. You can check the progress through a peephole.
How Often Should You Monitor a Kiln?
Reader Response: A potter’s cut off wire
Recent Q&As: Where to find the circuit breaker box
A Kiln Story: The Embarrassed Kiln Owner
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU MONITOR A KILN?
A reader asked about a recent Kiln Pointer entitled “Saving Electricity by Firing a Kiln at Night.”
“I’m confused!” she wrote. “Your recent newsletter talks about leaving the kiln on during the night for various reasons. I thought you were not supposed to leave your kiln unattended. I don’t think I have to sit and watch it for nine hours; but I thought I should be up and alert and check it periodically. Sleeping through the night appears to be leaving the kiln unattended.”
I agree. One should check the kiln periodically--even when firing at night. Years ago I fired a small digital kiln in my garage and set my alarm clock for 4:00 a.m. so I could go to the garage to check the kiln. That was well before the expected shutoff time.
How often one needs to monitor the kiln depends on the type of firing and the speed of the kiln. The little Paragon QuikFire 6 must be watched constantly, because it can reach 2000 degrees F (1093 degrees C) within 15 minutes. One time I overfired a QuikFire because I answered the phone and left the kiln for a moment. On the other hand, large glass projects require several days of annealing; it wouldn’t be feasible to monitor them constantly.
As an aid to checking a kiln, point a video baby monitor at the display window of a digital controller. Or use a less expensive audio baby monitor to hear the relays clicking from another part of the building. Set the alarm of a digital kiln for the temperatures at which you want to check the kiln in person. You will hear the alarm on the baby monitor.
Even if you use a baby monitor or laptop computer to check your kiln, you should still be near the kiln while it is firing. If you fire at night, for instance, you should be able to check the kiln in person without having to drive to a studio.
You should also not fully depend on a baby monitor, computer, cell phone, or other device to check your kiln. Occasionally check your kiln in person, especially toward the expected shutoff time. I like to fire even digital kilns visually anyway. Before the expected shut off time, look at the glass or pyrometric cones through a peephole. You will be there to shut off the kiln yourself to make any fine adjustments to the firing. This is especially important when fusing delicate pieces of glass.
In the last Kiln Pointer, Mel Jacobson described how to make a potter’s cut off wire. Bob Coley of Atlanta, Georgia wrote, “A good and inexpensive wire is the safety wire used by aircraft mechanics to secure nuts, bolts, etc. It is available in a number of thicknesses and is easy to twist. It is available from any supplier of aircraft materials, especially those who sell to EAA members who build aircraft, e.g., Aircraft Spruce in Griffin Georgia.”
Q. I can’t find the circuit breaker box. Where is it usually located?
A. Look for a small gray steel door mounted to a wall. The breaker box is usually in the garage or basement of a home. (In one house where I lived, the breaker box was in a bedroom closet.) Industrial locations such as the Paragon factory have breaker boxes throughout the building.
Breaker boxes usually have a paper on the inside of the door listing the breakers and the types of circuits (i.e. dryer, air conditioner, etc.). When you find the circuit for your kiln, write “kiln” on the line for the appropriate breaker.
A KILN STORY: THE EMBARRASSED KILN OWNER
Tony Rodriguez of San Antonio, Texas wrote, “A woman called me to repair a kiln that would not turn on. I checked the circuit breaker, the kiln switches, the resistance of the heating elements, and the wire connections. They were okay. I asked the lady, ‘When was the last time you used the kiln?’ She replied, ‘A week ago just before my husband moved it to the corner of the garage.’ I asked, ‘Did you plug in the kiln after you moved it?’ She said emphatically, ‘Yes, we are not that dumb!’
“I decided to check the power at the receptacle,” Tony wrote. “The kiln was wedged against the corner of the garage, and the receptacle was behind the kiln. The 12-sided kiln was old, and I did not want to risk having the stand give in while trying to pull it, so I took the lid off and then the first ring. I took the second ring off the kiln to fully expose the receptacle and check the voltage there, which was a little over 240 volts. I then called the lady back and showed her that the kiln had not been plugged in. She was terribly embarrassed! She appreciated that I did not charge her for the kiln inspection.
“Around 1 1/2 years later she called me again for a repair,” Tony continued. “This time a couple of elements had burned out with crystal glaze splatters from an overglazed piece of ware that was too close to the elements.”
Thanks, Tony, for sharing the story. The theme, of course, is that kiln problems often have simple solutions. Feel free to send your kiln stories. I would enjoy hearing from you.
"As long as we are persistent in our pursuit of our deepest destiny, we will continue to grow. We cannot choose the day or time when we will fully bloom. It happens in its own time." —Denis Waitley
Last Sunday I cleaned out my attic. It was a time warp, because I hadn’t been up there in years. A bare light bulb illuminated faded and dusty cardboard boxes. Inside a box was a set of hand prints fired in ceramics and glazed in blue. The hand prints were of my son, Patrick, when he was seven. Patrick is now 25 years old.
If you have small children, preserve images of their hand prints in clay or glass. Then fire the piece in a kiln. That little keepsake will one day bring you more joy than owning a Rembrandt.
With best wishes,
Arnold Howard Paragon Industries, L.P. – Better Designed Kilns 2011 South Town East Blvd., Mesquite, Texas 75149-1122 Voice: 972-288-7557 & 800-876-4328 / Fax: 972-222-0646 / firstname.lastname@example.org / www.paragonweb.com / www.facebook.com/paragonkilns
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