Buying a Kiln: What Size Kiln Do I Need?
Buying a kiln that fits your needs: You can always buy more kiln shelves, upgrade the controls, and fix electrical issues (such as burned out elements), but you can never make a kiln bigger. Before buying a ceramic kiln, make sure you know the size that you need – if you buy too big, it will mean wasted space, time (firing will take longer for a larger kiln), and electricity (or other energy source). If you buy too small, you will be firing more often and may have to restrict the size of your artworks to match your kiln.
You also need to know what type of firings you want to do, types of finishes, etc. before settling on a ceramic kiln. Kilns that operate on different energy sources (such as wood burning, electric kilns, propane, etc.) will produce different types of finishes and have very different rules for operation (plus, some may be restricted by residential ordinances). Check the max. temperature of the pottery kiln you’re interested in to make sure that it will work for you, (you will need a kiln with a max temperature of at least 2300 degrees to fire cone 10 clays and glazes).
Buying a Kiln: Used Pottery Kilns
Most ceramic kilns have the same basic parts, and the electric kiln pictured above should be useful for most electric kilns. The biggest difference in kilns is the type of controls (manual vs. kiln sitter) and energy source (gas, wood burning, raku, and so many other types, which can make the basic construction and parts much different from mine above!). Some electric kilns have digital controllers with no switches, while some have knobs instead of switches. Collars are optional, some collars have their own elements while some don’t (mine above has an element in the collar, and can still be fired to cone 8 with the collar, cone 10 without).
My first pottery kiln (pictured above) was a twenty year old Gare kiln, a terrific find from eBay that I resold when we downsized to a smaller home. My second (current) kiln is a used Evenheat that’s again, around 20 years old and in great shape – this one I bought off Facebook Marketplace. It’s very similar to my first kiln, complete with switches and a Model K kiln sitter.
Used ceramic kilns are a great way to save money, but you need to know a little about a kiln before purchasing it. Ask the seller where it has been stored, when it was last fired, how well it fired, whether all of the elements are working, and how well the kiln sitter works (did it over-fire/under-fire, etc.). If an electric kiln has been stored outside, you should probably pass; water is not a kiln’s best friend.
If you have enough basic knowledge about pottery kilns and electricity, you can fix almost any problem that you’ll find in an electric kiln. You can adjust a kiln sitter if it is over-firing/under-firing. Broken elements can be replaced (this is where some electrical knowledge comes in handy). Kiln sitters, tubes, sensing rods, and cone supports can all be replaced. Even fire bricks can be repaired or replaced. The biggest issue is cracks, either in the bottom of the kiln, or worse, in the lid. Small cracks on the bottom of the kiln can be covered by a kiln shelf or sealed with kiln cement.
*Disclosure: This post contains links that I earn a commission on, at no cost to you. Purchasing through these links is a great way to support this website, as is purchasing classes and artworks!
Current Electric Kiln Listings on eBay:
A little internet surfing can go a long way in helping you to figure out if a used kiln is worth purchasing. While most things can be fixed, at some point the cost of the repairs far outweighs the savings you’ll get from a used kiln. Check out Euclid Kilns to find reasonably priced replacement parts for older kilns. If you want to skip the hassle of potentially buying a kiln with issues/deferred maintenance, then keep reading…
Buying a Kiln: New Ceramic Kilns
While used kilns are a great way to save money initially, many new kilns have added safety and convenience features built in. They usually have thicker walls, so they hold heat better and take less energy. Some have digital controls that take the guess work out of firing and help the kiln to heat evenly. Newer kilns usually have more accessories available (I have difficulty finding accessories/replacement parts for my 20+ year old kiln). Most of the companies that sell new kilns will ship your kiln professionally to ensure that your kiln arrives safely, while buying a used kiln means your selection is local and you have to move the kiln yourself (trust me, that’s not an easy task!).
So, with all of the benefits of buying a new kiln, why did I buy mine from eBay? Any artist starting out knows why – initial cost. Buying an electric kiln in used condition cost me less than $300 including the drive to another state to pick it up. I knew next to nothing about kilns when I bought it, and basically I lucked out – the seller was honest and had taken very good care of this kiln.
There was a definite learning curve when it came to firing – I had never fired a kiln before in my life. My first few firings were riddled with broken artworks (I was firing my work too fast), which resulted in a burned out element (I didn’t remove the clay from the element after a sculpture exploded, which caused a hot spot on the bottom element and burned it out). I emailed a local ceramic supply business and asked them for information, and they supplied me with everything I needed to know about firing (they’re also the company that gave me the firing chart information, and local supplier for clays, tools, glazes, and other ceramic necessities!).
Anyone who lives in the Springfield/Branson area of Missouri should check out L & R Specialties in Nixa, MO, they are outstanding! They’re a great local source (price-wise & quality-wise) for clay – clay bought online doesn’t cost much, but the shipping can get you! [Update – L&R Specialties went out of business during COVID restrictions.]
For those that don’t have a store like this close by, or who want extra selection from what your local store offers, Blick Art Materials has a great selection of clay tools, glazes, kilns, and more! Since L&R closed, I’ve been buying my clay from Blick Art Materials.
Electric Pottery Kilns at Blick Art Materials:
Buying a Kiln: Additional Tips
Check City Ordinance: If you live in a city, there may be ordinances in place that limit the size kiln you can operate. Here in Springfield MO, you can't operate a kiln that's larger than 6 cubic feet from a residence, so I had to make sure that I bought a kiln less than 6 cf (my kiln is approximately 4 cf with the collar). The upside to buying a kiln on the smaller side is that it takes up less space, takes less electricity, and costs less than a larger kiln. This kiln will also fire between 3 to 5 of my larger artworks, with about 10 smaller works strewn about.
So when buying a kiln, remember to research this issue for your current property, and for any property you may be considering renting or purchasing in the near future. Also, residential property usually operates on single phase electricity, so buying a three phase kiln won't work. Check with your city and/or electric company before buying a kiln.