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About Kiln Electric Controllers: Article or Project

What You Need To Know About Electronic Kiln Controls

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In writing this article I have made two presumptions, rightly or wrongly, that you are already familiar with the firing process of an electric kiln fitted with a kiln sitter, or that you are investigating the possibility of purchasing your first kiln fitted with an electronic controller and have already read Majik’s article on “How To Fire Your Kiln”. By saying this it will save a lot of repetitive comments on firing techniques.

I also wish to make it quite clear that I am in no way associated with, or connected to any kiln or controller manufacturer.

So firstly what are some of the advantages of electronic controllers?

1. Firing to whatever cone temperature you require can be done without the use of pyrometric cones. So, you no longer need to have a wide variety of cones to fire at different temperatures. You simply pre set the cone number that you require and the kiln will cut off at the appropriate temperature. This is very useful if you are like myself and experiment firing glazes to different temperatures to those recommended by the manufacturers, or if you want to use potters glazes which are not always fired to the more commonly used cone 06.

2. The start time can be delayed to suit your personal needs. If you have a studio or shop that is open to the public you don’t normally want to have the kiln firing when you have clients or students present. So the start time can be pre set to when you are closed and you don’t have to be there to start the firing process. It will then run through the firing cycle until the pre set cone no. is reached.

3. This facility can also be used to take advantage of “off peak” electricity, thus reducing energy bills and helps to make you a little more Eco friendly

4. If you wish to change the rate of fire or ramp normally slow, medium or fast, this can also be done without your being present.

5. There are certain glazes and techniques that require a “hold time”; again this can be pre programmed into the firing cycle according to your requirements.

6. Choosing your firing time carefully enables you to fire the kiln according to ambient temperatures. By this I mean that if you are working in a warm or hot environment, i.e. S. California, Texas, Caribbean etc, then the kiln can be fired overnight and not in the heat of the day. Or on the contrary if you live in Alaska, the firing can be timed to finish just before you start work, so that the kiln heat has already warmed the workplace.

So, what are the disadvantages?

1. The extra cost. The price difference between a standard kiln with sitter and that fitted with a controller will obviously vary from one supplier to another but in my recent research I found that the average price is around $250 extra.

2. Some suppliers do not make it clear that kiln sitter options are available. Many of the supplier’s websites generally advertise kilns fitted with controllers. In some cases I had to specifically ask for prices of kilns fitted with a sitter and even then was told that if I chose a sitter, there are many things that I wouldn’t be able to do with it, all unrelated to ceramics, e.g. working with glass.

3. Being a mini computer, for that is all a controller is, they are probably not going to last forever. All of the guarantees that I have seen are for 12 months, which of course is the norm. However, should a controller fail after that, it is almost definitely not repairable and if it is repairable the cost will probably be higher than a new controller. So unless you are prepared, or able, to fit the replacement yourself the cost will be around $250 plus the cost of a technician to replace it for you. The total bill could be 50% or more of the original purchase price of a small kiln. A kiln sitter on the other hand, if looked after, could last for 20+ years with no problems. That’s how old mine is on my original kiln.

So where do I go from here?

1. Do I need an electronic controller? That is a personal choice. Unless you are going to make use of the advantages listed above, I would say no.

4. Visit as many manufacturers sites as possible. This will give you an indication of the choice available and the cost.

5. If the site doesn’t have a FAQ section contact them directly with your questions, not their agents. If at a later date you have a problem and the agent isn’t able to help you or gave you bad advice the manufacturer might not accept liability.

6. Choose only a controller that does what you want it to do, not one that is either too simple or too complicated for your needs.

If you are in any doubt about the complexity of a controller or how easy they are to use, I would suggest a visit to the Paragon Kiln site. There you will find that you can simulate, on line, how to set up one of their controllers in easy to follow steps. Please note that I am only suggesting this as a demonstration and in no way should it be seen as a recommendation for their products.


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