Choosing a Kiln for a School Ceramic Program

Basics

Choosing a kiln for a ceramic program is not an easy task as there is no one formula that applies to every school.  Every program is run differently and will require a different kiln solution. This guide has been formulated in an attempt to minimize the frustration of the selection process.

School Level (Elemetary, Middle, High)

An elementary school will not require the kind of ceramic equipment that a high school will. The projects are often smaller, less precise and may require shorter firing times and a smaller kiln room. With that being said, it is hard to judge the kind of turn over that a particular school might have, especially if the program is brand new.

Depth of Program

Some factors to think about center around the type of program the school intends to run. Some schools will only include ceramics as a portion of a semester lesson plan while other schools have ceramics departments that run classes year round. Class size also factors into the depth of the program. You can have a serious program that puts out a lot of work but has a relatively small number of students. That kind of program would require a large sized kiln. It would be wise to contact the teacher or school for that kind of information. Different programs will do their firings with varying methods. A school that fires their kilns to cone 6 every day will have different requirements compared to a school that fires to cone 04 once a week. These are all questions that need to be addressed by the department head before selecting the right kiln or kilns.

The size of the work being fired is another variable in the kiln selection process.  As a result, we have put together a way to calculate the average cubic foot requirement for any given class.  To estimate cubic feet with any precision you need to know how many student projects will get fired in a one-week period. You will also need to know what the typical size of a project is, anything from large sculptural items to small pots or cups. Take the typical cubic inches of a project and multiply that by 1-1/2 to get the kiln volume needed to fire that project. Most teachers will not want to fire their kiln every day.

Example

A Middle School has two classes of 24 children making one project per week per child (48 children). The typical project is approximately 4” x 4” x 6”H (1536 cubic inches x 1.5 = 2304 cubic inches / 1728 to get cubic feet = 1.3 cubic feet. They will need 1.3 x 48 cubic feet of firing capacity each week (64 cubic feet). If they fire four times a week they will need 16 cubic feet of kiln capacity. So a 7 cubic foot and a 10 cubic foot kiln could work or better yet two 10 cubic foot kilns.

Why the biggest Kiln is not a good idea

To someone who is unfamiliar with kilns, it may seem like purchasing the largest kiln the budget will allow is the best solution; this is normally a good idea. If you have a smaller program, or one that requires specialty firings, buying the largest kiln may actually hinder your efficiency and creativity. For instance, if you are having a hard time filling the kiln, it will postpone your firing schedule. One might assume that you can fire the kiln half empty, and for certain firings that is the case but for a glaze firing, uneven loading can lead to uneven firing results, underfiring and cold spots. It also may cause adverse effects on the kiln interior and its elements. If you are looking to have quick turn around time for your students work, a big kiln does you no service.

Some recommendations

Small E18S, E18T

These two kiln models are great for small group/class sizes (6-10 students). Project scale size would be 5x5x5.

Medium E23T, E23S, SM23

The E23T is the most popular kiln. This is a 7 cubic foot kiln that is great for classes that exceed 20-25 students. The E23T allows the instructor to teach whole project lessons with one kiln load per project. This is most time efficient and easy way to keep students’ work together through the whole process of firing and returning work for glazing and finished work. Get the "-3" (3" versions) if you are doing high fire (above Cone 01. We recommend the SM kilns (School-Master) over the Easy-Fire kilns if your program is very basic as in an elementary or middle school setting.

Large E28T-3, E28S-3, SM28T-3

These kilns are great when two or more teachers are sharing the space. If two classes rotate projects in and out of the kiln, on alternating firings, there will be no waiting time and no confusion.

Davinci, Hercules

These kilns are a great choice for high production potters, tile makers and sculptors. Potters can load anything into this kiln ranging from cups, bowls and platters to tall vases. It is also an ideal kiln for tile makers due to its square design. Sculptors should take advantage of the bell lift option with this kiln, allowing artist to work as large as life. The Hercules or Easy-Load front-loading kilns are often specified for large ceramic programs.