Tutorial on Buying a Kiln | Big Ceramic Store


Most people buying kilns have not bought one before, and it can be overwhelming.

First read this page on Selecting a Kiln, then use the back button on your browser to return here.

That gives you the basics. Here are some additional thoughts based on the hundreds of kilns we have sold:

  • You might determine that you need to have a larger circuit (with more amps) installed, in which case we recommend getting a free quote from an electrician. The cost might be as little as $100 or as much as a few thousand, depending on the wiring of your home. Re-read Selecting a Kiln for more information on power or check out our Kiln Power page

  • Most kilns now are sold with electronic controllers. With them you can program exactly how you want the kiln to fire. They typically had a couple hundred dollars to the cost of the kiln. If you don't get an electronic controller and are firing ceramics, you will probably get a kiln with a kiln sitter which uses a pyrometer cone to turn the kiln off. (You have to turn the kiln up and down as you fire.) If you are firing glass, enamels, PMC, etc without an electronic controller, you will want a pyrometer to show you the temperature in the kiln.

  • Many people are limited in size by the power they have available. One of the first things you should do is determine how many amps you have available. If you have an existing plug you want to use, look in the fuse/breaker box to see how many amps the breaker or fuse is. Some people assume that if they have a 240v circuit they can use any 240v kiln. However, that circuit may only be 20 or 30 amps, which is not enough to operate a larger kiln. Or it may be 60 or more amps, which is fine for most large kilns. The greater the number of amps available, the larger the kiln you can put on that circuit.

  • The size of kiln you need (based on the room you have as well as the size and quantity of pieces you want to fire)

  • The amount of power you have available. Sometimes if you can't add a larger electrical circuit and this limits the size of kiln you can get. You might need a 120v kiln (which can't go any larger than about microwave sized), or one that runs on a dryer outlet which is 240v 30 amps. (Don't even consider a gas kiln unless you are experienced at kiln firing. They are much more difficult to deal with.)

  • What you're using if for. Ceramics need higher temperatures than glass, enameling, china painting, PMC, etc. So a "ceramic" kiln can always do other things, but not all kilns get hot enough to do ceramics. Even within ceramics, there is a variety of temperatures needed. A kilns that fires earthenware or terra cotta ceramics doesn't need to get as hot as a kiln that fires porcelain and stoneware.

There are multiple categories of kilns:
    • Ceramic Kilns: Can range from a very small 120v kiln that ships UPS, to a much larger kilns for people who fire slip cast molds or pottery. If you know you want a very small 120v kiln, start here. This would usually be if you are making jewelry, doll heads, or other small items you would fire one at a time. Otherwise, we recommend starting with the medium sized kilns. 7 cubic feet is the most common size. Based on your budget, wiring, and size of pieces you are firing, you can move up or down from that size as necessary.

    • Glass Kilns: Can range from a very small 120v kiln that ships UPS, to a larger round, oval or rectangular kiln. Electronic controllers are particularly important for firing glass, especially larger pieces. For larger kilns to fire plates, vases, etc. start with the Glass Kiln page.

The main distinguishing feature of most glass kilns is that they are relatively shallow, and they use an element in the lid which provides even temperatures across the glass piece, which is important for fusing glass. They typically don't go to as high of temperatures as a ceramic kiln, although there are kilns now which do both (see below).

Another specialty glass kiln is one to anneal glass beads. For this you want a kiln with a bead door. The Olympic HB86 has a bead collar with bead door. Some other features you might look for in a glass kiln are a glass window or porthole for looking inside the kiln. All Olympic glass kilns can have a quartz window added. And a Clamshell opening is also a desirable feature in glass kilns.

  • Ceramic/Glass Kilns: Some people want to fire ceramic and glass. In that case, look at the ConeArt Fusing Kilns.

  • Multi-purpose kilns. These kilns are typically small kilns that run on normal 120v. They are used for heat treating knives, firing PMC clay, enameling, firing small glass pieces, etc.

  • Gas Kilns These are more difficult to fire and are used primarily when portability is required, when electricity is not available, or when people specifically want the types of glazes which can only be produced in a gas kiln. A common thought is that they are less costly to fire, which isn't really the case, until perhaps when you get to extremely large kilns. Most gas kilns in use are very large, 20 cubic feet or more. Or they are smaller kilns which are popular for Raku firing. Many people with gas kilns also have an electric kiln. There are small gas kilns which look like the traditional round electric kiln, and can be used as an all purpose kiln, but we don't recommend them for beginners.

  • Raku Kilns Typically gas, although Olympic makes an electric kiln for Raku'ing. Any electric or gas kiln can be used for Raku'ing. The main feature of Raku is the post firing reduction which doesn't have anything to do with the kiln that is used. But Raku kilns typically have cranks to lift the body of the kiln, making it easier to grab your pieces out with the tongs. Also in the case of the electric Raku kiln, lifting the body of the kiln helps keep heat inside the kiln causing less stress on the elements and less heat up time for follow-on loads.

  • Remember that with any kiln, you will need kiln furniture, such as shelves and posts. You never want to put your pieces directly onto kiln brick. And you may need/want a vent. Read about kiln ventilation.

Bead Collar

Olympic HB86 with and without bead collar

Typical medium to large sized Ceramic Kiln

Typical Glass Fusing Kiln

Clamshell Option on Olympic Glass Fusing Kiln

Olympic Electric and Gas Raku Kiln