So, you have taken classes at a local teaching studio and feel that you want to take your craft to the next level or even turn it into career. What now? Most people find they not only want more convenient access to the equipment and tools used to create their work, they want to choose them. They want to create an environment that uniquely fits their style, work habits and functional needs. The obvious next step is to create a studio at home.
There is a lot to consider when planning out a functional and safe home studio. In this article we will try to guide you through this process touching on the key aspects you must address:
Where you live will obviously affect many of these choices. Most of us do not live in palatial estates with endless option of rooms to locate our studios. Chances are, your options will be slim. The amount of space you need will be determined by: the size and volume of your work, the techniques you use to construct it, and the equipment you will require.
You may determine that locating your ideal studio in your home is not practical and decide you need to rent a commercial space to fit your needs. That’s okay. Most of the information we provide here will apply wherever you set up shop.
Since most studios will want to have a kiln, let’s start there:
Kiln Location Considerations
Kilns and other equipment need to be located inside, protected from excess moisture and heat.
Kilns need to be set on non-combustible surfaces such as ceramic tile or concrete.
Kilns need to be located in rooms with access to proper ventilation in order to evacuate fumes and excessive heat.
Many new controllers, like Skutt’s KMT, have features (like KilnLink) that require a Wi-Fi connection to the kiln. Make sure the space you choose can be provided with a strong, dependable Wi-Fi signal.
Kilns require 18” of clearance from any wall, other kilns, and any combustible items. Find the outside dimensions of the kiln you wish to install and add 18” of clearance around it to determine the space needed. Example: KMT1027 – Outside Width = 28.5 “ + 40” (for clearance) = 68.5”. This is the total diameter of the space needed to place your kiln.
The closer you can locate your kiln to the incoming power source of your home, the less expensive the wiring will be. Make sure it is wired by a certified electrician and complies to all applicable codes.
Having your kiln close to your studio is convenient for loading. If rolling carts are used to transport your wares to and from the kiln, make sure there is smooth surfaced path to avoid bumpy rides to the kiln.
Allow for room nearby for storing things like kiln shelves, cones, kiln parts — anything regularly used with the kiln.
You can use the same calculation we used above for calculating the space needed for additional items that you will need for your studio.
Hopefully you be spending a lot of time in your studio so make sure you create an environment that is pleasant and safe.
Good lighting is not only important to see what you are doing, it can also set a mood that inspires creativity. Natural light is great when you can get it but of course is only available during daylight hours. Directional spots with separate switch controls allow flexibility and a world of optional lighting scenarios.
Music, Wi-Fi, Refrigerator…
Who doesn’t listen to music in the studio? You also may want an occasional snack, or stream a how to video on your iPad to learn a new technique. Be sure you have plenty of outlets for these items when planning your studio.
We all know studios are going to get dirty and also have the potential to get wet. Choose a floor covering that is waterproof, smooth and easy to vacuum or sweep. Vinyl or polished concrete are great options.
Breathing clay and glaze particles all day is not good for your long-term health. Having an overhead fan will help limit the amount of particles floating around in your studio. You may also want to invest in an air purifier as well.
Gloves, Respirators and Sensors
Always have non-flammable gloves available when you need to handle peep plugs or lid handles on a hot kiln. Respirators are recommended for many processes such as spraying glazes or grinding pots. Make sure you have a good one handy so you are never tempted to press on without one.
Kilns are very safe to operate in your home when installed and operated correctly. It is still recommended to install a smoke detector just as you would in any other room of your home.
For a more complete guide to all the details associated with locating, installing and maintaining kilns download the Kiln Management Guide.
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https://skutt.com/images/home-pottery-studio.jpg483724Mike Sievershttps://skutt.com/images/Skutt-Kilns-Logo-NC-1.pngMike Sievers2023-03-01 12:21:372023-03-08 07:39:32How To Set Up A Home Pottery Studio
Choosing a pottery wheel that best fits your needs appears at first glance to be a fairly simple proposition. When you actually dig into all of the details associated with your choice it can be a little daunting. Hopefully this article will bring a little focus to the decision-making process.
One of the primary factors that guides every purchasing decision is price. A pottery wheel can last a lifetime if you take care of it. However, you may find that your commitment to the craft may not be as permanent. Potter’s wheels can range in price from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. We suggest that you begin with an entry level wheel. As your throwing style evolves, you will have a better understanding of the features and specifications worth more investment.
Entry Level Wheels
Don’t spend too much…but don’t spend too little
A quick Google or Amazon search will bring up wheels that cost under $500. These are basically toys for children, not serious tools to develop your craft. Many of them are cheap imports that either lack the power necessary to properly throw a pot or are of such poor quality, the will only bring frustration as they disintegrate before your eyes.
As a general rule, stick to name brands. You should plan on spending between $800 and $2000. Also, you will want to avoid table-top models. Most people quickly advance beyond their capabilities. Your clay supplier can be an excellent resource to recommend a beginner wheel that is right for you.
Your Forever Wheel
Okay, so now you are hooked. You have determined that throwing pots is a passion that will last a lifetime and your skills have advanced to a level that you can appreciate the features that justify spending a little more money on a wheel. You will want to explore the following characteristics when choosing your Forever Wheel.
“Torque is a measure of the force that can cause an object to rotate about an axis.”
When wheel manufacturers describe the power of their wheels, they generally talk in terms of horsepower (HP) or how much clay the wheel is capable of centering. These descriptions of power can be misleading and subjective. The true measure of a wheel’s power is torque.
The amount of clay that can be centered on a wheel has a lot to do with the skill level of the potter. The amounts that manufacturers list in their marketing materials seem to be more dependent on what their competition is listing then any scientific measure.
Motors with the same HP rating can have vastly different torque ratings depending on the type of motor and how it is assigned it’s HP rating. For example, Skutt’s continuous duty, 1/3 HP rated motor has more torque than other leading brands ½ and even 1HP models. For more information on wheel motors and power click here.
Manufactures generally do not publish torque ratings primarily because there is no industry standard for such a measurement. This again is a good time to ask your clay supplier for advice. Chances are, if the wheel can handle the amount of clay shown in this photo, it will certainly meet your needs.
Fit and Weight
When we talk about “fit” we are simply talking about how comfortable you feel while throwing. Is it the right height? Do your legs fit comfortably around it? Where are your arms going to rest while throwing? The best way to find this out is to visit a distributor showroom and actually sit behind one.
The weight of the wheel can also play an important role in how the wheel feels. Some people prefer a heavier wheel so they can use it as a brace with their legs when centering clay. Others may need to regularly move their wheel or even transport it to places other than their studio. If this is the case you may want to consider a model that is smaller or lighter.
Wheel noise has probably received more attention than it deserves. This attention is more a product of marketing campaigns than reality based. The bottom line is most commercial wheels on the market today are very quiet. If the quietest motor is your only criteria, you may be sacrificing other important factors like torque.
Some potters actually prefer the wheel to make a little sound as it gives them an auditory sense of the speed of the wheel head. Normally, if a wheel is making too much noise, something is wrong with the bearing or the motor.
The SSX controller offered by Skutt as an upgrade will significantly reduce the sound produced by the wheel motor but its primary function is to provide smoother transitions in speed especially at low RPMs.
Unique Product Features
Every manufacturer offers their own set of unique features that define their brand. For example, Skutt wheels are the only wheels that come standard with an easily removeable wheel head that makes cleanup so much easier. This design also allows them to use a one-piece splash pan that will never leak and can easily be taken to the sink for cleaning or transport your trimmings without having to empty them first. For information on other unique features click here.
Customer Service and Warranty
Most people do not think of service or warranties until they actually need them. Ask around to see which companies offer the best service. There is nothing more frustrating than having to go through endless phone prompts and not being able to reach an actual person.
Research what your warranty actually covers. Some warranties seem like a good deal but when you read the small print, you are left holding the bag any many cases. Skutt is one of the few companies that will not only cover the replacement part, they also cover the labor to install it which is often times the biggest expense. Be wary of companies that prorate their warranties in the small print.
https://skutt.com/images/how-to-choose-a-pottery-wheel.jpg400500Mike Sievershttps://skutt.com/images/Skutt-Kilns-Logo-NC-1.pngMike Sievers2023-02-28 12:12:072023-03-03 16:20:12How To Choose A Pottery Wheel
Having access to your very own kiln changes the game for any potter. The freedom to fire your kiln when you want and how you want will bring your art to a whole new level.
No more risk of damage from transporting fragile bisque or incorrectly programmed kilns
Freedom to explore new firing effects like slow cooling or to test new glazes
Fire on your schedule to meet deadlines
There are number of things you need to consider before purchasing your first kiln. For this article we will only discuss the purchase of a new kiln. Used kilns can be a great option but they often come with headaches you cannot anticipate. If you would like a more comprehensive analysis of all the things needed to make an informed decision we suggest reading the publication Kiln Management. You can also use the automated web purchasing tool Build My Kiln.
Where should I locate my kiln?
Where to locate your kiln can be a challenge and will often affect the kiln you can purchase. Ideally your location would incorporate the following considerations:
Must be installed on a non-combustible surface such as concrete or ceramic tile.
Must be placed in an area large enough to allow 18” of clearance all around the kiln.
It should be located in an area that has access to ventilation such as a room with a window, overhead fan, or allows for the easy installation of a downdraft vent.
To save money, it is best to install in an area as close to the home’s electrical breaker box as possible.
Place in area that is close and easily accessible from your studio.
Place in area that can be protected from small children and pets.
Place in area that will not over warm other living areas during summer months.
What kind of power do kilns require?
This is a big mystery for a lot of people. Here are the basics:
Larger kilns require a 60 Amp breaker (average electric stove runs on a 30 Amp breaker). Most newer homes have 200 Amp service and installing a new 60 Amp dedicated service is not a big deal. However, some older homes only have 100 Amp service available and it may be necessary to choose a smaller model that does not draw as much amperage.
In the United States almost all residential have 2 voltages available, Single Phase 240 V or 120V. If you are looking at used kilns online, 3 Phase and 208V models were not work in your home. If you try and convert them the UL safety listing is no longer valid which could affect your homeowner’s insurance. Only a few very small models are available that run on 120V (like your hair dryer).
All electrical supplies should be installed by a certified electrician. Your local kiln distributor should be able to recommend one familiar with kiln installations in your area. The farther from your breaker box, the more expensive the installation will be. If the distance from the breaker box is more than 50 ft, you will be required to use a heavier gauge wire due to voltage loss. Some larger more powerful kilns do not have the option to plug in and will require direct wiring into a junction box.
What size kiln should I buy?
Ideally the size of your kiln will be determined by the size of the pieces you want to fire and the amount ware you need to produce. When looking at the height of the kiln chamber remember that it is recommended to post a shelf up off the floor of the kiln so you have to subtract 1” plus the thickness of the shelf you are using. In terms of width, it is recommended that you allow 1” of clearance from the elements so subtract 2” from the total width.
What kiln accessories will I need?
At the very minimum you will need a furniture shelf/post kit to load your ware efficiently. It is also highly recommended to install a downdraft ventilation system (like the EnviroVent 2 from Skutt). This vents fumes directly from the kiln chamber to the outdoors. This not only prevents you from stinking up your house, it also improves firing results and prolongs the life of your kiln. Other popular accessories include: rolling kiln stands, EnviroLink (automatically turns on vent when kiln is started) and extra shelves.
What kiln upgrades should I consider?
If you are going to spend money on any upgrade, it should be the touchscreen controller (KMT Controller models from Skutt). This is a no brainer. These new controllers utilize the newest technology to make your firing experience more intuitive. They have a kiosk style programming mode that walks you step by step though the firing process with confidence. With an interface much like a smart phone the controller can display messages in full sentences instead of cryptic 4 digit characters. It also comes with a free App that allows you to monitor your kiln status from your smart phone.
Where should I purchase my kiln?
We always suggest you support your local clay suppliers. They can provide services that online distributors cannot. Often times you can see the actual kiln you are purchasing on their showroom floor. Here are some of the services you may be smart to utilize:
Receiving from the factory and inspecting for freight damage
Delivery to your home and professional set up (they will also haul away all the packing material)
Programming and Maintenance Training
Of course if you do not have a local distributor there are many online distributors that do an excellent job at walking you through the buying process. You can count on all distributors to give you an unbiased and informed recommendation as to which model and brand which suits you best. Here is link to help guide you in selecting a quality provider: Find a distributor.
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https://skutt.com/images/how-to-buy-a-kiln-for-home-use.jpg400500Mike Sievershttps://skutt.com/images/Skutt-Kilns-Logo-NC-1.pngMike Sievers2023-01-17 14:27:352023-02-22 13:23:59How to Buy a Kiln for Home Use
When the electrician comes to your home to install the wiring and receptacle for your kiln, you should inform him or her of the following important information recommended for your kiln:
Copper wire gauge
Location of outlet
Circuit breaker size
It is important to hire a licensed and qualified electrician to install the recommended wiring components for your new kiln. It is also critical for your electrician to know that the kiln voltage must match the voltage at your home. Kilns are not like many other electrical appliances or motors that the electrician is familiar with. Kilns will typically not operate properly on a range of power supplies like other appliances are able to. The voltage at your home should be measured at within +/- 3% of the kiln’s rated voltage. For example, if the kiln is wired for 240 volts, it is designed to work properly on supplied voltage that is between 232-247 volts.
Two of the most common kiln firing problems that we encounter are related to mismatched voltage between the kiln and the building. The first situation is under-supplied voltage: a 240-volt kiln firing on a 208-volt supply. Because 240-volt kilns are quite common, this can be a problem at many schools if the power supply was not confirmed before the kiln was purchased. In this scenario, the kiln will be constantly underpowered and struggle to reach high temps (cone 5-10). It will be able to reach lowfire glaze and bisque temps (cone 06-04), but it will take longer than normal because the kiln is not receiving the full amount of voltage for which the elements were designed.
The second scenario is far more dangerous than the first. It involves a 208-volt kiln being fired on a 240-volt supply. We see this more commonly if someone buys a used kiln from a school and installs it at home, or sometimes if a kiln is moved from one industrial location to another and the locations do not have matching power supplies. Just because both locations are commercial does not mean they have the same power supply. Don’t assume. Always get it checked out in advance. The problem in this scenario is that the kiln will be overpowered and that extra voltage will damage the kiln. The 208-volt kiln is designed to run on 202-214 volts (+/- 3%). When it receives 240 volts, that is a 15% overage, and that is enough to burn out the elements and damage the relays and even the computer controller.
You can easily avoid all of these problems by confirming that the power supply at your location matches your kiln. If there is a mismatch, often the easiest and least expensive way to correct the problem is to install a new set of the appropriate voltage elements. The elements are the only difference between kilns wired for 208 volts and 240 volts*.
*Please review the maximum firing temperature if you are converting the voltage of the kiln. In some cases, the max temp will be reduced. Additionally, please note that there are other wiring changes if you have a mismatch in phase (1 vs. 3) between your power supply and kiln. Contact technical support for more information about either of these situations.
You can use the Skutt Build-A-Spec tool (https://skutt.com/shop/build-a-spec/) to create a printable page to give to the electrician that will detail all of the important information for them to know about your kiln.
For instance, if the power supply at your home is single phase, 240 volts, and you chose the model KM-1027-3 kiln, then you would need to inform the electrician of the following requirements supplied by the Build-A-Spec tool:
6 gauge COPPER wire (it is very important that it is copper and not aluminum)
NEMA 6-50 receptacle
48-amp draw will require a minimum of a 50-amp circuit breaker (and in some cases 60)
The gauge (thickness) of the wire is important so that it is sufficiently sized to handle the flow of electricity for the kiln. If it is too small, the wire will get hot and could be a fire hazard. There is no problem with the wire being over-sized, other than the added expense. It is also important that the wire is made of copper and not aluminum. Aluminum wires cost less than copper, but they have some distinct disadvantages. Aluminum wires expand more than copper, they corrode, and they can’t handle as much amperage as a similarly sized copper wire. Aluminum is a good conductor of electricity, but it is not as good as copper. When electricity is flowing through an aluminum wire, the wire heats up a tiny bit. When it heats up, it expands and then contracts when it cools. This expanding and contracting movement has the effect of loosening wire connections over time. Loose connections can come undone and become a fire hazard. The connections can be re-tightened, but that requires additional maintenance and diligence to inspect those connections annually. Aluminum wire also corrodes differently than copper when exposed to air. Anywhere the insulation has been stripped off the aluminum wire, anti-oxidant coating should be applied, otherwise a white “rust” will develop. This oxidation is not a good conductor of electricity. It creates resistance and therefore heat, which is never a good thing in electrical wiring. Copper, on the other hand, oxidizes very slowly but even that minimal oxidation is not detrimental because it is still a good conductor of electricity. The final concern relates to the size of the wire (gauge). Aluminum wires are not rated to carry the same number of amps as an equivalently sized copper wire. From the example above, our KM-1027-3 kiln needs a 6-gauge wire because it draws 48 amps. A 75°C, 6-gauge copper wire is rated for 65 amps, but a 75°C, 6-gauge aluminum wire is only rated for 50 amps. The aluminum wire in this scenario would easily be maxed out, but the copper wire can handle the full load with ease. To get the same amperage rating, the aluminum wire needs to be over-sized, which begins to negate the cost savings compared to copper, but you still have the other problems. Stick with copper all the way.
There are a few other circumstances that can affect which gauge wire needs to be installed at your location. In all cases, any variation will be to install a thicker gauge wire than what is recommended, never thinner. If the distance from your circuit breaker to the kiln is more than 50 feet, then you should typically install heavier gauge wiring (generally 2 sizes larger for every 50 feet of wire run) to minimize a low voltage condition to the kiln. Additionally, using cable type circuit wiring (vs. individual wires in a conduit), or connecting to older type electrical equipment (60⁰C, vs. 75⁰C or 90⁰C), or installing in higher ambient temperature locations (hot attic) may require using a heavier gauge wire size. Consult an electrician for your particular installation requirements.
On a side note, if you are installing a smaller kiln but have reasonable intentions to install a larger kiln in the near future, it would be wise to consider installing larger gauge wire to begin with. It will cost a little bit more, but you will not have to pull it out later on and run new wires if you want to install a larger kiln in the future. A larger kiln may require a different sized circuit breaker and receptacle, but those can often be changed more easily than running new wires in the wall.
Kiln receptacle style and location
Staying with our KM-1027-3 example, the Build-A-Spec tool lists a NEMA 6-50 receptacle. This is the designation for what type of receptacle will match up with the plug on the end of the kiln’s power cord. NEMA is the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, and they have designations for every plug and matching receptacle organized by maximum amperage ratings. Skutt uses a limited number of plugs on the kilns we manufacture, but there are a variety of other plugs available for many other uses. It is advised to not alter the original plug on your kiln, and, in some cases, it could void your kiln warranty.
The installation location of your receptacle should be to the right of your kiln (from your perspective if you were facing the front of the kiln) and raised up about 18” off the floor. The ground plug (round hole) on the receptacle should be at the top. This orientation allows the power cord to hang down so that there is not any added stress on the connections when the kiln is plugged in.
The kiln power cord is 6 feet long. It is important that when the kiln is plugged in the power cord should not rest on the body of the kiln (it could get hot and melt) and should not be extended so far that the plug is stressed when inserted in the receptacle.
If your kiln does not list a receptacle style, but instead indicates that your kiln is “direct wire” this means that the kiln is large enough and/or draws a significant amount of power that it cannot safely be plugged in conventionally. The power cord from the kiln will be wired directly to a small box called a shut-off switch. This box has an “on/off” lever that disconnects power to the kiln. The box will be located on the wall where a traditional outlet would normally be installed. The shut-off switch is then wired to the main circuit breaker panel in the same fashion as any other receptacle would be.
The final component that the electrician will need to install is a circuit breaker dedicated to your kiln. The Build-A-Spec tool lists the maximum amperage draw for every kiln model. The electrician can use that information to size the circuit breaker accordingly for your installation. It is generally advised to have a circuit breaker that is 20% larger than the maximum draw that will be placed on it.
Ideally, the circuit breaker panel should be visible from the kiln (located in the same room or very near by), so that power can be easily shut off to the kiln when needed. If the circuit breaker panel is located far away in another part of the building, then the kiln should be direct wired to a shut-off switch.
Additional Wiring Considerations
In addition to the special wiring just for your kiln, it will be useful to have access to a few standard 120-volt outlets near your kiln. These are necessary if you will be installing an EnviroVent 2 kiln vent or just need to plug in an extra light or a box fan for room ventilation.
The best analogy for IR Compensation is the Cruise Control on your car. When you want to keep your car speed at a specific MPH you set your cruise control. When you come to a hill your car needs more power to climb the hill so your Cruise Control gives it the right amount of gas to keep the speed constant while climbing the hill.
Most potters wheels have the same feature but it has a much less sexy name, IR Compensation. the “I” refers to current and the “R” refers to armature resistance. The adjustment is hidden in your wheels control box on the controller’s circuit board along with settings for speed control and torque. Manufacturers don’t like you messing with these settings because they are generally “tuned” to the size of your motor, pulley, belt… you get the picture.
So, to use the analogy: your wheel is the car, IR Comp. is the cruise control, Amperage is the fuel, the force you put on your wheel while throwing (especially centering) is the hill and the foot pedal is… well the foot pedal and the motor is the motor. Now I personally do not like using Cruise Control in a hilly area. That is primarily be-cause I have mostly owned small engine vehicles where I have to slam the gas pedal to the floor to get up hills and when I let cruise control try and do this it gets a little jolty (not sure if jolty is a word but I think you all know what I mean).
The bigger the engine (motor) and the smaller the hill (pressure on the wheel head), the less dramatic the joltyness (can I trademark that word?). A few more things come into play like the sophistication of the controller and the degree of IR Comp employed, but let’s get back to that later.
So, if I am driving an old VW Bug that needs a tune up and you are in a brand new 12 Cylinder engine Jaguar and we hit the same hill, I am going to slam my pedal to the floor boards while you barely have to move your foot. In other words, the adjustment is subtle because it is not putting much strain on your huge motor. This is probably why they never put cruise control on VW bugs. It would probably pop the seat right off the rails.
Okay, so what does this have to do with throwing pots? For most people, not much. For people throwing very large pots and for people throwing very thin, wide bowls at low speeds, it can be the difference between success and failure. Imagine you are dropping the walls on a 3 ft. diameter, razor thin, platter and the wheel gets a little unexpected jolt when the IR Comp kicks in.
Let’s face it, your foot pressure could be less smooth then the IR Comp so what is the solution? Buy the Jaguar with the 12 cylinder engine and never set your cruise control. In Skutt terms, get the wheel with the biggest motor you can afford and don’t worry about IR Comp because we never turn it on.
The founder of Thomas Stuart wheels, now Skutt Wheels, was a big pot potter. When he designed the wheels he specifically chose a motor that was strong enough to maintain a consistent wheel head speed, while the wheel was turning slowly, subjected to the resistance created by the weight of a lot of clay and without having to incorporate IR Comp.
So let’s get back to controllers. If you are not going to use IR Comp you are going to occasionally have to put your foot down on the gas to maintain wheel head speed. When you do this you want the power to be delivered as smoothly as possible. Think of the SSX Controller upgrade like replacing your carburetor with an electronically controlled fuel injector.
The SSX controller has more sophisticated and robust components. One of the most important of these components is it’s large capacitor. A capacitor stores energy much like a battery. Having this stored energy allows you to feather in the power when you needed it more precisely and therefor results in a smoother transition at low speeds.
For 99% of the potters out there, our 1/3 HP motor with the standard controller is perfectly satisfactory for their needs. Unless you are working with a wheel every day, making challenging pieces, you probably will not even notice the difference of any of these factors we just discussed. So, save your money for clay and just concentrate on whether you want a built-in splash pan or a removable splash pan. We will talk about that in future Blog Posts.
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https://skutt.com/images/cruise_control_360.png265360Mike Sievershttps://skutt.com/images/Skutt-Kilns-Logo-NC-1.pngMike Sievers2018-01-14 22:50:282018-08-24 11:53:07What is IR Comp and Why Should I Care?
If you own a Skutt Kiln with a KilnMaster Controller you may only be using a fraction of the features available to you. Some of the coolest features are accessed while the kiln is firing. We call these Hot Keys. Most of these give you diagnostic information that is helpful troubleshooting your kiln or just gain better insight into the actual performance during the firing. Below is a list of the Hot Keys and their functions on newer KilnMaster Controllers (ones with green display lights):
1, 2 and 3
These keys will display the temperature reading of the corresponding thermocouple on a Zone Control Kiln. Zone Control is an optional upgrade available that places a thermocouple in each section of the kiln. This allows the controller to sense when one section of the kiln is firing too hot or too cold and make adjustments during the firing.
In a 3 section kiln, the one key will display the temperature in the top section, 2 will display the middle, and 3 will display the bottom. The controller must be configured for Zone control for these keys to work.
The five key will display the programmed rate of rise in degrees per hour for the active segment in the program.
The seven key will perform an Amp check and then continue the firing. It will temporarily stop the program, turn each relay on individually and give you the amp reading. Once all the relays have been cycled on it will continue the firing. A list of the desired amp readings for each model can be found under the Library tab on the Skutt website under troubleshooting.
Each Amp reading represents a section of the kiln starting from the top. If your kiln only has two sections the 3 reading will be zero. If one of the sections that does exist comes back with a reading of Zero, chances are likely you have a relay out. If it is reading low, it may be an indication that your one or more of the elements in that section are starting to wear out. It is a little more complicated than that so if you want a complete description on how to accurately interpret the results read the white paper on Interpreting Diagnostics under the Library Tab of the website.
The eight key will flash 3 decimal points representing the outputs on the control board. The outputs are what tell the relays to turn on. The one on the left will represent the top section of the kiln, the middle represents the middle section and the one on the right represents the bottom section.
This is a very complex troubleshooting tool and almost always needs to be used in conjunction with other tests to gain useful information. Most likely this test will be initiated at the request of a Skutt Technician.
The zero key will tell you the elapsed time since the kiln was started. This can help you estimate when to be there for the ending of the program.
The View key will tell you what segment of a program the controller is currently running. It will also tell you what we call the “traveling set point” and the temperature of the circuit board. The traveling set point is the temperature where the kiln is supposed to be if it were keeping up with the program.
Just because you program a kiln to fire at a particular rate to a temperature does not necessarily mean it is capable of achieving that rate. It will only do the best it can. This diagnostic feature allows you to see the actual performance. Again this feature requires advanced troubleshooting skills to extract meaningful data and will most likely be interpreted by a Skutt Technician.
The Board Temperature is a very useful in determining if your kiln room is properly ventilated. It’s kind of hard to believe that the room temperature could have much impact on the temperature of the circuit board when it is sitting so close to a kiln chamber that is 2350F, but it does.
If the board temperature reaches 160F the kiln will shutoff to avoid damaging the controller. We calculate that if the room air exceeds 100F while the kiln is firing you run the risk of getting an “E-bd” error and the kiln shutting off. Often times a fan blowing on the controller is enough to prevent this from occurring.
One last feature accessed through the view key is “skip step”. This will advance any program to the next segment in the program. To activate skip step press View then ENTER and ENTER again.
Review is generally used prior to pressing Start to ensure you have entered the correct program but it can also be pressed while the kiln is firing just in case you are second guessing yourself (or someone else who may have programed the kiln).
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https://skutt.com/images/hidden_controller_features_360.png265360Mike Sievershttps://skutt.com/images/Skutt-Kilns-Logo-NC-1.pngMike Sievers2017-07-19 17:59:572018-01-24 15:37:01Ceramic Hot Keys
There are few things more disappointing than opening your kiln and finding your glass project destroyed by a cracks, bubbles, divitrification, foreign objects, or other reasons.
We do not consider ourselves glass experts (although some of us love fusing glass), but as kiln experts we have chased down a lot of solutions to imperfections through research. Usually the best people to ask about glass problems are the glass manufacturers themselves. All of them have great information on their website and are more than happy to help. That being said, we would like to share some of the successful solutions we have come across. In this blog we will start with cracks caused by thermal shock.
What are Thermal Shock Cracks
Thermal shock cracks occur when one part of the glass is expanding (heating) or contracting (cooling) faster than another part of the glass. This difference in expansion rates creates cracks and causes the glass to crack.
Glass will not crack after it reaches 1000 °F because above this temperature it behaves more like a liquid than a solid. Glass is considered an Amorphous Solid which technically is neither a liquid or a solid but that is a whole different conversation.
How Can You Avoid Them
Potential Kiln Issues
Many people’s first instinct is to blame the kiln. Sometimes it is the kiln, which is great news for us because we know how to fix kilns. More often than not thou there is something else going on. Kilns are pretty simple creatures. They basically just do what they are told. The most common kiln problems associated with thermal shock would be a failed element or relay that causes the kiln to cool too quickly or unevenly.
You can tell if a crack occurred during the heating or cooling process by looking at the edge of the crack. You know that they occurred before the kiln reached temperature when the edges had time to soften after the crack occurred. If it occurred on the cooling phase of the firing it will have sharp edges. If this is the case you may want to test fire your kiln to see if all the elements are working correctly
Use the Right Kiln
To avoid these cracks you want to make sure the piece expands and contracts evenly throughout the piece. This is easy to do with small thin pieces because heat can transfer through the whole piece fairly quickly and thus stay uniform. Really wide, tall or thick pieces are more difficult to manage the expansion uniformity.
The keys to success lie in the direction of heat radiation for a given project and the rate at which you increase or decrease temperature.
Most glass kilns have elements, in the lid (FireBox14), the side walls (GM1018) or both (GM1014). Most larger kilns will have at least one element in the bottom to provide a heat source under the shelf. Kilns that are designed to fire on multiple layers will not have lid elements because the top shelf would fire too hot. Kilns with elements in the bottom or rare due to the fact that debris tends to collect in the the bottom of the kiln and can contaminate the elements. Conductive heat from the shelf helps to compensate for this.
On a wide project that is not very thick, like a flat fused panel or a shallow slump or drape mold, it is best to heat the piece from the top. This helps ensure that the heat is dispersed across the entire project evenly.
Tall pieces are kind of hybrids. Good examples would be tall drape molds or very deep slump molds. In both cases, the project starts out flat and then becomes tall as it deforms. Ideally you would want to heat these pieces from both the top and the side. Thick pieces like deep cast molds would also benefit from top and side heating.
Slow it Down
Okay so not everyone has the benefit of owning multiple kilns designed to fire a variety of projects so what do you do if you want to fire a flat fused panel in a side fired kiln or a tall drape mold in a top fired kiln. The answer is slow down your firing rate.
If you are using Skutt’s Glass Fire Mode, be sure to consult the GlassFire Mode sizing chart in your manual before you choose a firing speed.
If you are writing your own programs using Ramp/Hold, you may want to do a little research on the proper firing speed for the size of the piece you are firing. Sometimes building steps into your program can help. An example of this would be adding a 15 minute hold at every 250 degree increment to allow the heat to balance out before you move to the next segment in the program.
Keep projects at least 2 inches from the elements. If you still have problems, shield your project from direct exposure form the elements with shelf posts or fiber.
Post up your shelf at least 1 inch to allow heat to flow under the shelf.
When using GlassFire Mode use the slow speed and make sure your piece falls within the guidelines of the Glass Fire Mode Chart.
When designing your own programs in Ramp/Hold Mode, slow down the firing rate between start up and 1000F and again from 1000F to room temperature and add holding steps to the program.
Wait until the kiln is at room temperature before you open the lid.
Annealing Cracks look very similar to Thermal Shock Cracks. Happy Firing!
Let’s face it, elements are expensive and there are plenty of things you would rather be doing on a Saturday than spending an afternoon replacing them. Unfortunately, just like the brakes on your car, you are eventually going to have to replace them. The good news is that, also just like brakes, there are a number of things you can do to extend their life. In order to better understand why we recommend certain practices it is helpful to know a little something about how elements age.
The most widely used element wire is Kanthal A-1. It is composed primarily of Iron, Cromium and Aluminum. Element life is determined by the rate at which the Aluminum oxidizes. The hotter the element temperature, the faster it oxidizes. The amount of time you spend at high temperatures (ex: slow cooling Cone 6 glazes) compounds the problem.
Whether it is a new kiln, or you have just installed new replacement elements, the first firing is critical. You will notice new elements are bright and shiny. The outside surface of the element begins to oxidize when it reaches 1832 F. The temperature of the kiln could be significantly less. The degree of temperature difference will depend on the element design, the rate at which you are firing and a number of other factors. As the element oxidizes it forms an aluminum-oxide layer around the core. The goal is to form a uniform, dense oxide layer that is well bonded to the base metal. We have found a Medium Speed, Cone 04 ConeFire program does a very good job of achieving this.
This oxide layer prevents the further oxidation of the alloy base metals by providing a barrier that resists the diffusion of oxygen into to the alloy and also prevents the diffusion of metal ions to the alloy surface. The first time you fire the element it is basically naked with nothing to protect it. If you fire the kiln empty with nothing to release damaging gases, it helps the element form a nice uniform oxide coating with minimal initial damage to the metal.
As you continue to heat and cool your kiln the element continues to expand and contract. Every time it expands and contracts, tension is formed between the the oxide coating and the base metal because they expand at slightly different rates. This forms little fissures in the oxide layer which expose the core. The exposed core then oxidizes and fill the fissures with new aluminum oxide. This both elongates the element and reduces it’s diameter.
As the core gets smaller and smaller, the resistance of the wire increases causing the element to run hotter thus compounding the problem.The net effect is a reduction in the power potential of the element.
As the element gets longer and thinner, the distance between coils becomes less. This is what is called element creep. When the distance between coil turns becomes less, the element gets hotter because the coil turns are radiating more heat on to each other. Remember that hotter is bad so this also compounds the problem.
A well designed element will ideally have the largest diameter (more core material to fill the cracks) and the largest distance between the coils (runs cooler). The heavier gauge elements also have more dimensional stability. When elements get above 1700 F they start turning into the consistency of cooked spaghetti. As they soften, the coils want to start laying down, causing the distance between the coil turns to lessen. Therefore, the thicker they are, the better they can support themselves at higher temperatures. Because of this you can also increase the distance between the coils (increase the pitch).
Okay, now that we know how elements degrade, lets look at what we can do to slow the process.
1. Choose the Right Kiln for the Job
Every kiln has a maximum temperature rating listed on the serial plate. It is the maximum temperature a kiln can achieve under “normal” conditions. This is a lot like the maximum load capacity for a pick-up truck. Just because a 1/2 ton truck is capable of hauling a bed full of gravel, it does not mean it is the best choice if you are a contractor who hauls gravel everyday, up hill, low on transmission fluid, in the Mojave Desert… you get the point. Things always last longer when you do not push them to their limits. A good example of this are 10 cu/ft kilns.
Kilns like the KM1227-3 are designed to use a common sized 50 amp plug. Manufacturers need to limit the amperage of this size model to accomodate the plug, therefore they cannot put the power into the design that they would prefer. At Skutt we offer the “PK” version of these size kilns for those people who are not restricted by this plug requirement. This would be a much better choice for artists that are consistently wanting to fire their kilns at high temperatures. One of the biggest reasons why elements last longer in more powerful kilns is because they can reach temperature faster and are not spending unnecessary time at high temperatures. If you are consistently firing to cone 6, you will be much happier with a kiln rated to cone 10
Ideally everyone would use low fire ceramics. In reality, there are a lot of characteristics (i.e crystal glazes) and properties (i.e. freeze resistant tile) that are impossible to achieve at low fire temperatures.
2. Keep Your Elements Clean
Road or rail vibration during shipping can cause brick dust to become airborne and settle on the elements. When you fire your kiln for he first time this dust can interfere with the creation of a good oxidation coating on the elements. It can also cause the element to run hotter as it restricts heat from escaping and burns off any combustibles. This also happens over time with just normal use. As the elements expand and contract they can loosen brick material that settle on the elements. In addition the normal dust associated with a clay studio can settle on the elements when the kiln is being loaded and unloaded. Occasionally bits of clay and glaze can fall into the element groove. These are extremely important to remove since they have the potential to completely burn through the element.
A good rule of thumb is to vacuum out your element grooves at least one a month and always vacuum out the kiln before it is fired with new elements.
3. Fire New Elements With the Kiln Empty
Just as dust is bad for the creation of a good oxide coating, so are the fumes that can emit from clay and glazes. Therefore, make sure your first firing with new elements is with the kiln chamber empty. As mentioned earlier, run a Cone 04, Medium Speed ConeFire program for best results.
4. Vent! Vent! Vent!
Even if you have the best oxide coating ever, the fumes that emit from clay and glazes can still attack the element when it expands through heating and forms cracks in the coating. Downdraft vents are your best defense against potentially harmful fumes. Downdraft vents pull the fumes from the kiln chamber before they have a chance to damage the elements. If you do not have a downdraft vent your next best option is to prop the lid a couple of inches until the kiln reaches 1000 F to allow the fumes a path to flow out of the chamber. You should also leave the top peephole out during the entire firing to handle those fumes that escape above 1000 F. Trying to reduce in your kiln will clobber their useful life and is definitely not recommended.
5. Keep the Elements Supported
We mentioned earlier that elements soften when the are heated above 1700 F (again this is the temperature of the element not the kiln chamber) and can actually droop out of a broken element groove and eventually break from elongation. Eventually this brick should be replaced but if you do not have the time you can help things by creating a little fence to hold the element in place using element pins. Usually a good time to replace brick is when it is time to replace your elements.
By following these guide lines you can easily double the life of your elements. In future blogs we will discuss the benefits of APM elements. Until then, be safe, creative and happy!
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https://skutt.com/images/element_life_360.png265360Mike Sievershttps://skutt.com/images/Skutt-Kilns-Logo-NC-1.pngMike Sievers2015-08-06 14:32:022018-01-24 15:39:53Top 5 Ways to Extend the Life of your Kiln Elements