Two years ago I made the big jump – I purchased a new kiln. I was using an old Cress kiln, which I’m guessing was 25-30 years old. It was completely manually operated, which meant I had to check the kiln once or twice an hour and turn the dials. I even replaced the switches and the elements in the kiln to improve its performance. It worked great for me, but since we moved into a new house I figured it was time for an upgrade.
I ended up buying an Olympic Medallion kiln. It is an amazing improvement from my old kiln. For starters, it is a fully automatic kiln – set it and forget it! I still try to check on it every couple of hours to make sure it is firing correctly; however, I probably wouldn’t have to since I can program the firing sequence and the computer will do the rest. The Olympic is the same size as my Cress, so I can use the same shelves, which helped save some money. I put the kiln in our garage, which luckily had a large enough circuit breaker box. We just had to get an electrician put in a new breaker and run an outlet to where the kiln sits (it uses a large outlet, like a clothes drier). This new kiln uses less power to run – partly due to the automatic controller, but also due to have thicker walls to hold in heat.
I made one modification to the kiln when I set it up – I welded casters to the bottom of the kiln stand. This allows me to store the kiln next to the wall of the garage to save room. When it is time to fire the kiln, I can pull it out and give myself a couple feet from the wall. This modification to the kiln stand actually made the kiln sit a bit lower than my old kiln, which makes it a lot easier to load and unload.
I fire each of my pieces twice; the first time (the bisque fire), the pieces get fired to around 1870 degrees to harden the pieces but allow them to be porous. This is important for the next step, which is glazing. The porous pieces hold onto the glaze much better. I then fire the pieces a second time to 2160 degrees. Both firings take about 9-10 hours each. The kiln is so well insulated, that you can touch the outside and only feel a little warmth (stay away from the open peep holes, though!).
I managed to find a home for my old kiln, so it is still getting use. I think I ended firing the old kiln almost 100 times in about 6 years, which is pretty good for such an old kiln. Here’s hoping I get a couple decades out of my new kiln!