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shawnhar

Makin a living with electric kilns at cone 6?

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I have not really seen any full time potters using electric kilns, they all seem to have moved to gigantic gas or wood fired behemoths and firing to cone 10 or 11, many of them using salt and/or soda ash glazes as well.

 I was planning on getting a 10 cf electric for bisque and a 20 cf for glaze, after we get a studio built here at home and continuing with cone 6. The thinking is I can get 2 glaze loads out of a bisque fire, and either kiln could be used for either purpose, and I can have a bisque and glaze going at the same time, so there is never a bottle neck waiting on one to finish so I can start the other. - Anyway, 30 cf does not seem like very much compared to these giant "side of the hill" and car kilns.

I know there are ergonomic concerns with loading a smaller electric many more times than a large roll in/walk in kiln, but are there other reasons everyone seems to move to these? Is it just the cone 10/11 glazes? I know you can get nicer reds and some other colors at the higher temps. I think the process of soda and salt are fascinating and I might like to try it, but I have little interest in learning to fire one of those monster kilns for myself, don't think I have enough lifetime left.  - A smaller gas, maybe, but I ain't stayin up all night feeding a wood kiln and shuffling damper bricks.

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I've seen someones thoughts on production at cone 10.  A lot of their points were on cost of materials and cost of firing.  The bigger the kiln, the less often you have to fire it, so less time is being used there.  I'm not sure about the materials part, seems like not a huge difference though I'm sure even small differences add up.  You don't have to worry about expensive frits or troublesome fluxes.  

I think a lot of production potters use electric for bisque though, I've even seen videos of Japanese production potters bisquing pots in electric (and reduction firing in electric as well).

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Shawn:

As with all things pottery: the reasons for gas or electric vary according to need, utility costs, and desired glaze effects. I have a 15.5 CF electric front loader: it holds a fair amount of product. My property is zoned agriculture and we have a rural co-op electric supplier. They recently raised our rates to 8 cents a kilowatt: still dirt cheap. I can fire a cone 6 glaze cycle for around $10; which is probably as economical as gas. Front loaders are pricey; so that comes down to save your back or save your bucks.

if you go electric; then by a production kiln. These kilns have thicker brick, and additional fiber; both of which save $$$$. When you fire big kilns; you save money by not pushing them. In a glaze fire from bisq: I will ramp at 300F until I hit 2000F: then 120f until I hit 2230F. The big power draw is the upper end of the firing: which can eat 40% of the cost for the last 200 degrees.  

The type of pieces you plan to sell will also play a role in kiln size. I drew out the interior of the kilns I was looking at: and figured out how many would fit the chamber size. Homework time.

t

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I know plenty of potters who make a living at ^6 electric. I think it comes down to what your background is; when I graduated from college, I thought if it wasnt cone 10, it wasnt good...how novice of me. All I fired in school was cone 10 reduction and cone 10 soda/salt. I learned using cone 10 glazes and materials, which just came naturally when I wanted to start my business. The thought of having to cease production so I could learn a new cone range is scary to me...could I do both, and maintain my business?

I like a big kiln (current is 60 cu/ft, 24"x36" stacking space, this one is a little small for me; I fire about 60 or more times per year), but it takes a lot of pots to fill. If you've only got time for one firing between two shows, and not enough pots to fill it, you either throw money out with a half full kiln, or go to a show with half empty boxes. Cone 10 kilns dont have to take all day to fire either; I go from ambient to ^10-12 in 8 hours, down in 12 hours. I can load, fire, unload, and reload in a 24 hour period if Im crunched for time. Colleges teach us we must preheat over night, and creep up in temp and have a 16 hour firing; if the pots are bisqued, and glazes are dry, once Ive smoked off water, and gone through Quartz inversion, I crank the heat up. My clay body and glazes handle this firing schedule, but if dunting/cracking was an issue I could slow it down.

Gas, salt, wood, raku, oxidation, saggar.....doesnt make one potter better than another.

What I will say about elect vs gas, is that in terms of cone 10 firings, you're gonna have a cheaper go of it with a gas kiln. Elements wear out much faster at 10 than at 6, and like glazenerd said, that last 300 degrees is expensive. If you're gonna fire electric, just use a clay body which vitrifies properly at 6, and get some good glazes. It takes a little more effort to get the "look" of cone 10 at cone 6, but it is doable. Steven hill had a picture on his website a few years ago; two of his mellon jars; one was cone 10 reduction, the other was cone 6 oxidation, which one was which? The only way to tell was to look at the exposed clay body's color. Cone 10 allows the glaze to penetrate further into the clay body, and the glaze has a "deeper" look; IMO a lot of out of the bucket cone 6 glazes look flat. Takes more effort to make pretty surfaces at cone 6, but doesnt make the pots any less valuable.

I also agree with glazenerd, that if you're gonna make a living at pots, with an elect kiln, get a commercial grade kiln; components will last longer, operating costs are cheaper, overall cost is cheaper, more consistent product. I hear great things about Cone Art kilns, but have no experience....that would be an expensive bisque kiln for me. If you can find an elect car kiln, this makes loading pots SO much easier than a front/top loader. Being able to access all sides (practically) of your stacking space makes for tighter, and faster to load kilns, plus, you're not bent over

Edited by hitchmss

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I know a lot of full time potters who work out of electric kilns at cone 6, far more than who do cone 10 reduction, and they don't seem to have any trouble keeping up with firings. One thing to remember is that a gas kiln with 20 cubic feet of stacking space is much larger than an electric kiln of the same volume. So gas kilns look bigger, but aren't always that much bigger in terms of how much you can fit in them. The walls are thicker, and the fireboxes add a lot of volume to the interior. I had a 24 cubic foot gas kiln that was a basically a 6 foot cube (exterior). My 21 cubic foot electric is 4.5'w x 4'd x 3.5'h. It takes up 1/4 of the space of the gas kiln, but hold 90% as many pots.

Gas kilns require a lot more engineering in terms of hookup and venting, and require a lot more attention when firing. And in many suburban/urban areas like where I live, you just can't have a gas kiln in your home studio. They are louder, stinkier, don't fire as consistently as electric kilns, and the learning curve to fire them is much greater than electric. However, if you need a large kiln, like over 20 cubic feet, it is cheaper to build your own gas kiln than to buy a big electric. Gas kilns require less maintenance- there are fewer parts that will wear out. If you prefer the look of reduction fired work, then you need gas.

Firing costs will depend on fuel costs in your area. Where I am, electricity is not cheap, but it's still cheaper than gas when it comes to firing kilns.

Don't confuse gas with reduction, or with cone 10. They are three separate concerns. You can fire gas in oxidation, and you can fire gas at any temperature. I used to bisque in my gas kiln all the time. You can fire in reduction at cone 6. I have heard of many studios switching to cone 6 reduction or oxidation in order to save money on gas. Gas is simply a way to heat the kiln, just like electricity. You don't have to do cone 10 reduction.

If you're using white clay, firing in reduction has far less impact on the look of your pots than if you're using brown clay. I work in porcelain, so the only reason I would need to reduction fire is if there were specific glazes that require reduction. Tenmoku and Shino are really the only ones I've found that I can't do in oxidation. Copper reds can definitely be done in oxidation, some experts say even better than in reduction.

As far as tie spent loading and unloading kilns, it depends on how you work. If you're a true production potter like Mark, who makes a lot of work, then time loading kilns is an issue. If you don't produce in that volume, it may not be such an issue. I know a full time potter who works out of three 7 cubic foot electric kilns. They only take 15 minutes to load, so it's not a big deal to load one every couple of days. I know other who work out of two 10 cubic foot kilns. It also depends on if you need to have the ability to have quick turnaround times on small orders. If you've only got a 40 cubic foot gas kiln, orders have to wait until the kiln is full. If you're Mark, that's not a long wait at all. For others it could be several week.

My big electric is 21 cubic feet. I can fit $3000-$4000 worth of pots in it, depending on what forms I'm firing. If I only glaze fired once a month I could make almost $50,000 worth of pots a year. I actually don't totally fill it with my work very often. Mostly just Janaury-May when I'm building up inventory for summer shows. During the summer, I fire off my small kiln more often, to replace specific pots that sold.

If you're into cone 6 oxidation, then go for it. Get the size kiln you need, plus one half that size, and another small one for quick orders. You'll be covered for any situation. If you prefer reduction, then go for it. But don't feel like one is better than the other.

 

 

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As a general rule I have noticed is electric use is very popular more so in present day than in the past. The other generalzation is its a bit less so out west than back east.I only know a few electric cone 6 full time potters out west

Electricity costs a lot out here say comeared to the midwest where its jusr about FREE.Not sure of costs in the East. Mea on this boiard is a cone 6 full timer in electric . Not only is she working in and out of electric but in a basement as well.Shes has to have a strong back to handle that load.She does have a plan on how long she will do this.

Most full timers I know are all gas kiln users in cone 10 still. They learned that and stayed with it.

Just go to a large juried art show and see whats up with the potters and ask how long they have been at it.

You nevers ee much salt or wood fired pots as production as its to hard for that. You need to go to speciality areas like Seagrove on the east coast to see much of that.

Some history is needed to understand the cycle. When I started out in late 60's-schools taught high fire . The general public who was intrested in ceramics went to slip cast shops ( we used to call them (oldlady ceramic shops in collage) . Sorry Oldlady no harm meant.

They cast things like bunny rabbits and ashtrays-in fact I had a wholesale deal with one of them to get 40% off all Kemper tools in the early 70's.

These shops were everywhere .You could cast forms or buy the bisqueware. They over time all but went away and morped into the paint your own craze.

These new shops sprung up in the cites and spread out to small towns-at one time they where all over.

Meanwhile as Steven Colbert likes to say us full timers just kept working in high fire selling our wares at art shows

Business was good as homemade items where very popular in the 70's and as the imports hut the markets in the 80's a little less so (imports like the 99 cent slip cast China mug)Things slowed  up a bit then handmade became popular once again-this goes in cycles as well.

The Magazines show this same cycles -look at  CM s (ceramic Monthly) in the 60's and early 70's they show the same trends .Cone 10 was king in mid 70's

My fellow full timers and I have spent some time talking about these public trends over time.

When the paint your own shop trend started to slowy die out -late 90s and early 2000's the next craze which many of feel was a incrediable kiln marketing ploy was the cone 6 movement.This is also shown in the magazines at the time. Now you can buy an electric and do the whole process at home. The cone 6 glaze market really expanded and the ads started to show glazes that said  like cone 10 glaze but its cone 6.

Now  I have seen a change to more art centers getting back to cone 10 and overing that to the public(just saw a new one in a CM article yesterday in Sebastopol Ca-they are building a soda and a wood train kiln and have electrics and are offering workshops and you join as a member. This is a trend that is now just starting again-really back to the 70's where some of us never left.

Now be aware this is my take  on this and others will have there own ideas, all are relevant-this is also one big generalization of my 45 years in the field on the west coast .I'm sure I will take some heat for this but its what I have experienced so its my truth not anyones else's .

Back to present day . I know of a few mostly Washington state potters who are making a living with electric cone 6 buts its harder on the body in my view as loading and unloading into an electric is hard. Electric costs can really eat you up out west as well.I have seen many a cone 6 person try to get traction in my field and then fade away. I cannot say why other than there are many factors-the biggest is the hard work to make it full time.

If I was doing it in an electric I'd get one that raised off the bed (tophat like L&L sells-they call it something else)

My self after 45 years have become very profecient at cone 10 glazes and learning to flux them at cone 6 has less than zero interest for me or my felloow cone 10 potters.If I switched to electrics at my sky high electric rates I'd be out of business soon and my back would not survive.

If I lived in an area where electric rates are super low this may appeal more to one.I'm a reduction person and my entire market base is built on these snappy glaze colors-thats what my customers like. Thats what I like (I'm sick of blue myself)

Our local Art center does not fire cone 6 only cone 10 reduction and does some glaze fuzing. Our local collage does not teach cone 6 only cone06 electric and cone 10 gas. For some reason they never went with cone 6? same is true with our local JC.

Salt and wood are so labor intensive you need a crew and for production work without a crew you need to be young-it will take a toll on you.

I fire my salt kiln with 3-4 other potters always-to much work alone and never production pots.

Thats my two cents out west with cone 6 making a living-it can be done 

Myself I suggest a small front loading gas kiln-Easy on the back-or if your electric rate merit it a front loader electric

The thinking is take care of your back now as later its to late.The only reason I could stay in this field for 45 years at 10 tons a year is my car kiln.I cannot overstate this fact.

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6 minutes ago, neilestrick said:

Copper reds can definitely be done in oxidation, some experts say even better than in reduction.

Are you referencing localized reduction using SiO2? I have never seen any copper reds fired in Oxidation; I know my reduction cone 10 reds dont like a heavy redux; I actually cycle in between ox/redux for the last 30 mins of firing to clear up the surface, but if I dont reduce at 012, I wont have any red at all?

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1 minute ago, hitchmss said:

Are you referencing localized reduction using SiO2? I have never seen any copper reds fired in Oxidation; I know my reduction cone 10 reds dont like a heavy redux; I actually cycle in between ox/redux for the last 30 mins of firing to clear up the surface, but if I dont reduce at 012, I wont have any red at all?

Yes, silicon carbide. I don't do it myself, but there has been a lot of research on it.

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9 minutes ago, Mark C. said:

If I was doing it in an electric I'd get one that raised off the bed (tophat like L&L sells-they call it something else)

Yup, yup! I mentioned an electric car/shuttle, which I dont know exists. But yea, the ones that lift off are cool. Ive seen them with the floor of the kiln closer to mid thigh, rather than mid shin height so you dont have to bend over as much. Of course, cant go Toooo tall!

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14 minutes ago, hitchmss said:

It takes a little more effort to get the "look" of cone 10 at cone 6, but it is doable.....and the glaze has a "deeper" look; IMO a lot of out of the bucket cone 6 glazes look flat. Takes more effort to make pretty surfaces at cone 6, but doesnt make the pots any less valuable.

Why do cone 6 glazes have to look like cone 10 to be good? Why is cone 10 reduction the benchmark? I've seen just as many crappy flat cone 10 glazes as cone 6. Depth is depth. A good glaze is a good glaze. I can do things in cone 6 oxidation that you can't do in cone 10 reduction, so this goes both ways. Cone 6 glazes are no more difficult than cone 10, and in many ways are a lot easier. You just have to know your fluxes, just like you have to know them for cone 10.  I choose to do cone 6 oxidation, I'm not stuck doing it because I can't do cone 10 reduction.

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1 minute ago, neilestrick said:

Why is cone 10 reduction the benchmark?

I wasnt trying to infer that cone 6 was crappy, but that if one wanted to duplicate the look of cone 10 pots, it takes a little more effort at cone 6. Just my experience....mainly layering and spraying glazes.

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11 minutes ago, hitchmss said:

I wasnt trying to infer that cone 6 was crappy, but that if one wanted to duplicate the look of cone 10 pots, it takes a little more effort at cone 6. Just my experience....mainly layering and spraying glazes.

 I guess my point is that neither cone 10 gas reduction nor cone 6 electric "own" a certain look. They're just different ways of achieving the same result. When I use an earthy matte cone 6 oxidation glaze, I'm not trying to copy cone 10 reduction pots, I'm just choosing to use an earthy matte glaze.

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38 minutes ago, hitchmss said:

Yup, yup! I mentioned an electric car/shuttle, which I dont know exists. But yea, the ones that lift off are cool. Ive seen them with the floor of the kiln closer to mid thigh, rather than mid shin height so you dont have to bend over as much. Of course, cant go Toooo tall!

L&L calls it a Bell Lift. Very cool. They use it on the large industrial kilns a lot-kilns that are too tall and large for a hinged lid. They make a nice 100 cubic foot model! But you can get it on smaller kilns too.

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5 hours ago, neilestrick said:

Why do cone 6 glazes have to look like cone 10 to be good? Why is cone 10 reduction the benchmark? I've seen just as many crappy flat cone 10 glazes as cone 6. Depth is depth. A good glaze is a good glaze. I can do things in cone 6 oxidation that you can't do in cone 10 reduction, so this goes both ways. Cone 6 glazes are no more difficult than cone 10, and in many ways are a lot easier. You just have to know your fluxes, just like you have to know them for cone 10.  I choose to do cone 6 oxidation, I'm not stuck doing it because I can't do cone 10 reduction.

Neil

I think it was a marketing ploy that started this idea-In school oxidation was just one more of a miramid of choices for color and glaze look.

Personally do not think one is better or worse-actually I cannot say how many times I see an oxidation glaze and wish I could have that in my kiln.

I think it was a way to sell products to folks. Maybe not coming from technical backgrounds

As we all know one is not better or worse. I feel its harder to work in cone 6 as you have to deal with the fluxing issues (this is for those who make thier own glazes)

I personally like your cone 6 work and also know you come from all temp firing backgrounds. Its more about what you know and feel comfortable working in as well as economics  of firing. I learned form gas kiln folks from Alfreds (in school)hence thats where I ended up-yes I learned and worked in low fire as well all part of a good ceramic education as you did.You have been through more change in working temps than I -as I have only done cone 06-cone 017 and cone 10-11 as a education. I missed exposure to cone 6 in school but its just another end point really like all the other ones.

Edited by Mark C.

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The difference between reduction and oxidation are the number of oxygen molecules left in the glaze. Actually I would be focused on a complete melt. Been playing with cone 3 for a couple of years now-doable. Fear not: technology will come to a kiln controller near you: "Alexa, fire me a nice red glaze." :huh: 

T

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@shawnhar I make a comfortable full-time living with two 7 cubic ft electric kilns. In my sphere there are a lot more full-timers firing electric, vs firing gas or wood. Not sure where you got that impression. 

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1 hour ago, GEP said:

@shawnhar I make a comfortable full-time living with two 7 cubic ft electric kilns. In my sphere there are a lot more full-timers firing electric, vs firing gas or wood. Not sure where you got that impression. 

I know you've got your production schedule nailed down pretty tight- how often do you fire?

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I just noticed @Mark C.‘s comments about me using top loaders in a basement studio, and how that must be tough on my back. I think I need to point out that I am only consuming about 1.5 tons of clay per year. I know that’s much less than Mark, who goes through 8-ish tons per year. I also can’t imagine loading 8 tons into top loaders, or carrying that much clay down a flight of stairs. My volume is manageable in my studio setup. My lower volume works because I have an east-coast urban audience, and I have learned how to market and price for this audience. This audience cares about quality, but they care very little about oxidation or reduction, or what cone I am firing to. They care a lot more about design. 

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2 hours ago, Magnolia Mud Research said:

Oxygen in the glaze is present as individual atoms, not molecules.   

(yeah, I'm being picky on the details) :rolleyes:

Lately?  Sorry, I meant that in a purely tetrahedron, crystal lattice sorta way. What do you want from a hillbilly farm boy with no formal education? 

 

Shawn: check your electric rates: then dive in. Higher electric rates will Reduce your cash flow, and lower electric will oxidize your profits.

Edited by glazenerd

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8 minutes ago, neilestrick said:

I know you've got your production schedule nailed down pretty tight- how often do you fire?

My firing cycles come up every 2.5 weeks. It usually involves 3 loads of bisque, and 4 or 5 loads of glaze. I run the bisque kilns while I start throwing the next cycle. Then I spend 3 days glazing (1 day for each bisque load). Each glazing cycle produces $5000 worth of pots. 

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22 minutes ago, GEP said:

I just noticed @Mark C.‘s comments about me using top loaders in a basement studio, and how that must be tough on my back. I think I need to point out that I am only consuming about 1.5 tons of clay per year. I know that’s much less than Mark, who goes through 8-ish tons per year. I also can’t imagine loading 8 tons into top loaders, or carrying that much clay down a flight of stairs. My volume is manageable in my studio setup. My lower volume works because I have an east-coast urban audience, and I have learned how to market and price for this audience. This audience cares about quality, but they care very little about oxidation or reduction, or what cone I am firing to. They care a lot more about design. 

Great point

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"Higher electric rates will Reduce your cash flow, and lower electric will oxidize your profits."

:o

:P

I'm guessin' rates are on the high end here in CA; that said, we're on "time of use" - "peak" is almost 50 cents/kwh, and "off peak" is about 16 cents/kwh ("partial peak" is in between somwhar). We have a solar array, hence just about always produce more than we  use during "peak" hours.

Key to firin' the electric kiln is to go on weekends; in winter, all weekend is off peak; in summer, there's a partial peak window 5 to 8 p.m.; if'n I get up early enough, that partial peak can be avoided.

Short version: check t'see if there are rate deals available in your area.

Note: we're also on tiered usage - if we go over "baseline" kwh for the month, all three rates go up; there are more tiers after that... 

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11 minutes ago, Hulk said:

"Higher electric rates will Reduce your cash flow, and lower electric will oxidize your profits."

:o

:P

I'm guessin' rates are on the high end here in CA; that said, we're on "time of use" - "peak" is almost 50 cents/kwh, and "off peak" is about 16 cents/kwh ("partial peak" is in between somwhar). We have a solar array, hence just about always produce more than we  use during "peak" hours.

Key to firin' the electric kiln is to go on weekends; in winter, all weekend is off peak; in summer, there's a partial peak window 5 to 8 p.m.; if'n I get up early enough, that partial peak can be avoided.

Short version: check t'see if there are rate deals available in your area.

Note: we're also on tiered usage - if we go over "baseline" kwh for the month, all three rates go up; there are more tiers after that... 

Wow, and I thought $0.11/kwh was bad!  Thank you cheap Washington hydroelectricity

Edited by liambesaw

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