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Electric Kiln Manufacturers: Which Are Best And What To Look For

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  I am researching medium to large electric ceramic kilns for a small studio-- cone 8-10-- and would like to be able to eliminate some choices to help me narrow things down when I get ready to purchase one.  The kiln will go into a new studio/garage building which is going up now and I can set up for whatever electrical load I want.

  My preference is get a front loading kiln but I will consider others if it looks like they would be better overall.

  • The main question is: what manufacturers do you think are best?    
  • Are there any manufacturers that are best to avoid?
  • Do any of the manufacturers put any special features in their kilns that make them more desirable, reliable, easier to operate, protect elements more, are safer, etc.
  • Which have the longest lasting elements?
  • Which are the best value?  
  • What are the most important options to consider getting?
  • If cost is not a factor is it a good idea to get APM elements or not worth it?
  • If cost is not a factor is it a good idea to get S-thermocouple or not worth it?
  • Are there any other add-ons that would be a really good idea (if cost not a factor)?
  • Is there anything I should look for in particular for digital controllers? 
  • If kiln comes with a digital controller is there any other equipment I need? (Some offer pyrometers as an additional option-- but is one needed?)  

The manufacturers, of course all claim they have the best kilns and that their features are the best but it is hard to know how much is marketing and how much is real. I would like to know what potters use the most and like the most.

 

Any insights you can give me would be appreciated.

 

Cheers,

Amy

 

PS-- cost is a factor in reality of course but I want to get an idea of what options are essential and which are just more than is really needed.

 

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Amy:

Every potter in here will give you different answers; each have their favorite kiln/s. I fired to cone 10 for many years before changing my recipe to fire at cone 6. If you are going to fire to cone 10 on a consistent/production type situation here is a short list:

 

Minimum of 3" IFB K-23.. although K-26 will give you added benefits of storing heat- but a minus of extra thermal mass to heat up. If you are going to have hold cycles or soak temps: then consider 3" brick with 1" fiber wrap.

APM elements are the best for cone 10 due to their longevity at those temps. Yes, they will run you anywhere from $300-$900 extra but you will get more than double the life of standard elements.

Type S thermocouple is also mandatory. A type K will fail at those high temperatures at some point.

Wattage: 1700-2000 watts per cubic foot.   Look up the wattage rating- divided by the CF size of the kiln = wattage per CF. This is a big issue for cone 10- if the kiln is not designed specifically for cone 10- will cost you a fortune to push an under-rated kiln to cone 10.

 

If you are looking at front loaders, if budget allows then elements in the door are a big plus. The doors on front loaders distort just a bit after a few firings, and there tends to be a cold spot on the bottom of the kiln- nearest the door.

Controllers are handy to have, especially if you plan on firing glazes that have specific firing ramps- IE crystalline glaze. If you are limited on time, or do not want to plan firings around your schedule- controllers are useful in that way as well.

 

I would put in a 400 amp electrical service regardless of what kiln you choose. You never know what the future holds, and you may have several kilns going at the same time. Budgets get in the way, I get that too. It is much cheaper putting in 400 now, than having to switch to 400 later if your dreams come true. I have 4 Paragon kilns- not the cheapest, but some models are highly competitive. However, with my experiences with them- they get 4 gold stars for customer service. L&L are popular, and have several models designed for production cone 10 firings. Skutt is probably dollar for dollar the best buy and perhaps the most popular due to price points. However, you have to comparison shop- because price points often mean less features. The four points I gave you are the minimum considerations for cone 10 production firings for any kiln. One last thought- if you do not know how to service your kiln- then it is wisdom to choose one a local dealer is able to service for you. Although, most local suppliers sell most major brands, but are usually loyal to just one or two.

 

Nerd

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I'm a L$L fan. Front loader are easier on you loading but they are spendy.

I own 2 skutts.

I think you need to order with the features you need from the factory.

I'm curious what Neil says. 

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Type S is only mandatory if you plan to fire cone 8 or above regularly. Zone control is just as important, if not more so.

 

APM elements are nice if you have the money, but they are expensive to replace if you get a glaze glob on one, and probably don't pay off in element costs, but will save you labor from not having to replace them as often. In 11 years of selling kilns I have never sold a set of APM elements with a kiln. Element life is a tricky question, as it all depends on how you use the kiln.

 

Any good front loader will have door elements. And a good kiln won't distort or have cold spots. A welded angle iron frame is a necessity. Front loaders cost about 3 times as much per cubic foot, and several hundred dollars to ship- the last one I sold was $700 shipping, but it was a big one.

 

The Bartlett V6-CF is the best controller. Several brands use it- L&L, Olympic and others, Skutt uses a modified/dumbed down version.

 

Cone 10 is hard on electric kilns. If you can do what you want to do at lower temps, do it.

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Was trying to leave my bias out of the recommendations, but let me add some.

I ordered all four kilns with APM elements from the factory.

My Paragon Super Dragon cost me 60% more than the same sized top loader. I have never paid a dime for shipping.

L&L Quad Pro (Cone 10 verses an L& L Hercules front loader (cone 10) is three times the price.

My front loader does have a welded steel frame with clamps on four corners. Static pressure is the beast of firing to cone 10.

I have a personal bias for Orton controllers, never had a problem with any of the four.

 

Nerd

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This is super info. Thanks everyone!

I am going to look everything over and research some more. After that I may have a few more questions.

And, I love to hear user bias and opinions-- that's what I want.

NOTE: If you are a rep for a kiln company please don't chime in. I am already talking with reps from some companies.

At this point I really just want to hear from potters who do not sell kilns.

Cheers

Amy

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When I bought my kiln, I went with L&L (EasyFire, 3.5" brick).  Bought if from a dealer who also did installation (he gave me a price comparable to ordering on-line with no installation).  I chose L&L as I had been firing those kilns at the studio I was teaching/taking lessons.  I like the element tray feature as changing elements at the studio was much easier than in other kilns.  I also looked at used kilns, Craigslist, etc. and saw that most of the kilns offered for resale were other brands (lots of Olympic, Skutt, some off brands) and very few L&Ls.  That indicated to me strong user satisfaction with their purchase.  I've not regretted my purchase.  I fire to Cone 6, changed elements, relays, thermocouples after 100 firings -- more as a preventive maintenance and firing were starting to get longer.  I am big on preventive maintenance having been the financial manager for laboratory in an earlier life. 

 

Yes, an L&L will cost more up front, but over the life of the kiln you will likely find it a better investment.  I wanted to buy one kiln to last me my life as a potter and I believe I've found it. 

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Was trying to leave my bias out of the recommendations, but let me add some.

I ordered all four kilns with APM elements from the factory.

My Paragon Super Dragon cost me 60% more than the same sized top loader. I have never paid a dime for shipping.

L&L Quad Pro (Cone 10 verses an L& L Hercules front loader (cone 10) is three times the price.

My front loader does have a welded steel frame with clamps on four corners. Static pressure is the beast of firing to cone 10.

I have a personal bias for Orton controllers, never had a problem with any of the four.

 

Nerd

 

The Super Dragon lists at $11,465. At 15.3 cubic feet, that's $749 per cubic foot. A 10.57 cubic foot Paragon Viking top loader lists at $4030. That's $381 per cubic foot. That's just about twice as much for the front loader. At discounted prices of $8600 for the Dragon and $3023 for the Viking, the difference comes out to 2.8 times as much for the font loader.

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Do I think one manufacturer is the best?

 

L&L

 

 

 

Because of any special features?

 

1) Ceramic element holders, and 2) multizone/multi-thermocouple controller.

 

And I don't know how well other kiln manufacturers handle this, but when you buy an L&L, you get extremely clear and concise written instructions for how to disassemble, move, and reassemble the kiln. And any time I've called or emailed L&L for help, I've gotten prompt and expert advice.

 

 

 

Longest lasting elements?

 

This is not dependent on kiln brand or element brand. This depends entirely on how your fire.

 

 

 

Best value?

 

I agree with bciske here, the best values are the ones you don't find on Craigslist.

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Amy:

 

As you can tell; potters become very attached to their kiln/s of choice. I would agree L&L element holder design is superior and should be considered if you plan on doing your own replacement. Do I think they are superior in other ways? Got my doubts. Most kiln companies order the brick, elements ( or wire), relays, controllers from other sources. They bend the metal frames, stainless jackets, control boxes and assemble the components: so there are as many similarities as there are differences. If budget restricts: buy Type S thermocouple and forego APM elements. Skutt came out with a 14 & 16 CF models a couple of years back: front loaders, multi zoned, and vent system. Is it the best money can buy?- no. Is the best buy for the money- yes. Do I think the L&L Hercules front loader is better? yes. Would I spend the extra money for it? No.. with one exception- if it was going to be my one and only kiln and budget allowed- and I did not know how to service a kiln or repair brick- but I do. So in the words of the wise around here.. "it depends."

 

Super Dragon are up to $11,500 list? wow.   I bought mine 5 years ago with APM elements, Type S thermocouple- delivered- set up for $8600.00. I think they listed for less than $10K back then.  Amy- by the way, a large front loader also weights 1000-1300lbs.

 

Nerd

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My thoughts are from over 40 years of using skutts-I think they are great low cost kilns but after over 4 decades with them and around them I wish I made the jump last kiln to an L$L .I have hung with skutts all this time rebuilding them ,nursing them, swearing at them wishing they had just spent a few dollars more  and the problems would not be there maybe.

Heres why-

I feel skutt plays catch up with new ideas and is not an innovator . I know they use cheaper parts (for example) the screws always rust out as they are poor quality steel along with the handles(all my are rust buckets and have been replaced) and cheap stainless wraps. The spot wield always fail at least on the last 3 kilns. For a few cents more quality screws or better stainless could be had. My jacket on one kiln which has hardly been used is a rusty looking piece of Cr-p.I do not live next to the sea and they are in a dry location.I started with skutt in the early 70's and they have moved slowly in terms of innovation,very slowly .

About 20 years ago they gave up on a socket they had used for 20 plus years with no alternative other than hard wiring .Which is fine unless you want to move the kiln. Who ever wants to move a kiln anyway?They still to this day make the control box hard to access  and mount it to close to the hot wall. I have a friend who just bought a skutt cone 10 zone control with s thermocouples -its just a slightly upgraded 1027 style with ridiculously thin protection on 4 inch protruding thermocouples -these will get snapped in no time.The materials are always on the cheap side just like they have been since the 70's. Reminded me of Volkswagens slow change.

Manufactures that innovate like L&L make working on the kilns easier by moving the control box off the side a bit to keep it cool and hinge it away if you need to work on it. Give you better element holders so when (not if but when and everyone will need this) change out the elements it's easy and does not chip  the bricks or need pinning with wires I just redid the elements on my skutt and its been the same old system for 50 years. There are better ways to make and work on kilns. Skutt with get to them  eventually just not as fast or as good as other kiln makers who are innovating .

Yes L$L costs more but for me a professional its worth it. I just wish I had made the switch 40 years ago. I do not use electrics much in my production but the next one will be an L&L.Even Bailey has his own element holder system like L$L so why would you copy a design -because its better.

My old skutts may not ever leave in one piece as they are to brittle to move in all regards but mostly from bad stainless jackets, handles ,and exterior parts-the bricks are still in great shape as skutt could not find cheap ones and most likely had to buy quality bricks.

Rant over

Heres a current photo of one of my old skutt-this speaks for itself

post-8914-0-23304800-1452966734_thumb.jpg

post-8914-0-23304800-1452966734_thumb.jpg

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I'm gong to be the lone voice in the wilderness to speak up for Cone Art. It has many of the features of the L&L (lacking only the ceramic element holders, I believe. Not sure about the access panel swing out thing). They will coat it with ITC in factory for an extra few bucks, if you want extra element protection if you're really planning some abuses. Normally they get left out of the discussion because of the price tag, but they're made in Canada, so the current exchange rate will give you roughly a 30% discount if you're in the US.

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DC:

 

My supplier has two Cone Arts on display in his shop. Although I have not fired them, I have gone over them visually and read the specs. Will have to say they "look" like they are very well made. I noticed thicker gauge steel, heavier TC covers, and heavier base. I cannot offer a recommendation because I have not fired one, but they did catch my attention.

 

Nerd

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Wow Mark that is rusty. My 45-50 year old Skutt 231 is not that bad. I agree that all the fasteners are bad but so is my older Olympic kiln. 

I was planning on a purchase for a new L&L, I like there element holders and zone control, but the CDN$ is soon bad that it was not an option when I found a used Skutt (2003) in new condition. 

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Over the years of teaching, I have had to deal with Skutts in classrooms, L&L's, some older cone art, and American Beauty, and others. Yeah, some of those names date me! I have never found a kiln that fires as well as an L&L, is as easy to repair, or to clean out. I wished I had a front loader at times. . . uuuh, but multiple layers up to 5 high on my home kiln really work well for getting a load done.Unlike many hear, I have an all manual L&L. It has done well, and when I bought it, I really wanted to fire up and down easily. Most folks were not doing that just using the cone setter. Now days, all of this is a moot point with the electronic controllers out there. I may be adding one to my old L&L soon, just not certain yet. If I were buying new, it would be an L&L with the trimmings, electronic controller, thicker lid, maybe thicker brick walls.

 

 

best,

Pres

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All this info is incredibly helpful. I really appreciate everyone's input. I am starting to understand what features to look for and options that are good to add. I think the kiln I really want to get with all the bells and whistles would cost about 20K. ;>)

It will probably be a year or so before actually purchase one but now I think I can make some good decisions.

Cheers, Amy

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Hi again everyone,

  I was looking as Ceramics Monthly and saw an ad for Geil Kilns. (www.kilns.com) Has anyone had any experience with them?

  Before now I've not heard of them. It looks like they have a very nice easy element changing system.  

  I am looking at the EHW8 and EHW12 electric kilns.These have elements on the floor and roof and two sides-- instead of on the door and back like L&L.  Is there any advantage or disadvantage to having them on the top and bottom?

  The smaller kiln also has fiber instead of brick on the door.  Would this make any difference?

  Another kiln they have is called a "medium duty" kiln and it does oxidation and reduction and can use propane tanks for gas.  I've never seen this type of kiln before.  Has anyone ever used a dual purpose kiln like this-- one that works with propane like this one does?

Thanks,

Amy

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i am flabbergasted.      you plan to pay $20,000 for a kiln?   seriously?   how big a studio, how many potters, how much must you sell before you pay it off?  i know prices have gone up but you are planning to spend only a few thousand dollars less than my first apartment cost.  am i that far out of touch???

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The ones I was looking at were significantly less than that.  Definitely under $10K.

  But-- even though this is really none of your business-- I've worked hard for more than 35 years and have saved enough to get a few things I want in life.  At this point I am just researching and learning about kilns. 

  Bottom line: I didn't post on this list to get judged-- I posted on it to get info.  Please don't waste my time.

 

"putting you down does not raise me up."  Interesting.

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sorry you think i am wasting your time.  i am simply an ordinary person who has no possibility of spending so much on a kiln.  you go right ahead.

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