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Outdoor Electric Kiln

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Hi everyone! New potter here - nothing like taking up a new hobby at 45. :) Wish I had done this 20 years ago.

 

I have a wheel at home, and the center where I take classes will fire pieces I throw at home as long as I am enrolled in a class, buy clay from them and use their glazes. The people are awesome and my pieces are always fired perfectly. It's a GREAT situation - my only complaint is that since I work full-time and the school is about a 25 minute drive from my house, dropping off and picking up is a hassle, not to mention class time eats up a large part of my day off. There is never enough time, is there?

 

I have started selling my work on Etsy, and it's moving pretty well. Long term, this could be an additional source of income, or just a hobby. Either way, I love it and plan to do it for a long time.  

 

So, the point of my post: I am tinkering with the idea of buying an electric kiln at the beginning of the year - probably a small-ish one, < 3 cubic feet. I live in a house, but do not have a garage, basement, covered/screened porch or room in the house where I can realistically put a kiln. I am thinking about building a weatherproof steel "shed" to put on my patio, maybe 4' x 4' x 4' - enough to give the kiln 12 inches on all sides and room to raise the lid, without being too obtrusive even though the patio is fairly large. The box would have doors for access and the lid of the storage shed/box will lift up too.

 

I have the electrical worked out and have room for a 240v line. I know condensation and corrosion of non-stainless parts is an issue, but other than that what else do I need to consider? If the box has rain-proof vents, could I run the kiln with the doors closed in case of a surprise rain shower, which pop up all summer long in Atlanta? Or do the doors always need to be open? The yard is fenced, so I'm not worried about random children wandering up and touching it.

 

I have seen people say 'electric' and 'outdoors' don't mix, but we have an electric smoker on the patio that just has a plastic cover on it and it works fine after 3 years. A kiln is a lot more expensive and complicated though, so I want to really do my homework here. Just looking for some feedback, suggestions, experiences with outdoor electric kilns, or even why this is a terrible idea and I should just forget about it. But mostly, I'd like advice on how to make this work, if possible. Thanks!

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I'm not a kiln expert but I can tell you that my dad built a metal kiln shed for his two kilns and have been there, used regularly, for several years. He has not had any issues, aside from one: if it's very cold the kiln will run for an hour or two longer than normal, using more electricity. His coils have not burnt out sooner and there has been no damage to the elements or anything else that could be attributed to damage from being kept in an un-insulated shed.

 

I could be wrong but I believe the main concern with a kiln outdoors is exposure to the elements. I personally wouldn't even consider that "outdoors" since it's protected from dew, rain, wind, most dust, and sunlight from the kiln shed. I would recommend doing a quick vacuum with a mini shop vac right before each glaze fire, though. 

 

When we run the kilns we do leave one door open BUT we're talking about dry dry California in the summer. If you have issues with rain perhaps make a plan where the metal box for the kiln maybe has a side that you can prop open vertically to vent but keep the rain out? Hope that makes sense. Like the way a garage door opens. 

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why does it have to be so small? It just doesn't sound right to me, looking forward to hearing the kiln gods advice but a kiln tops 2000 degrees and the inside of that 4' box would be blazing hot. Why not just build a small covered are for it but leave it open and toss a tarp over when not in use or make the whole thing larger. That way you can store glazes and other firing equip in the 'kiln' shed and not have such a project to get ready for firing.

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My kiln lives in a greenhouse where I have a max/min digital thermometer.  Two roof and two side windows are open when firing, and the temperature in the greenhouse when firing is no more than 2-3 oC hotter than normal.  

 

In a small metal shed, the temp may well be much hotter.

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A few thoughts:

- you probably want the "shed" to be higher to lift the kiln lid and have decent access for loading and unloading.

- 12" clearance is probably fine on the sides - metal conducts heat well so there shouldn't be any heat buildup inside

- make sure you have an RCD installed at the indoors end of the power supply to protect against short circuits

- I'm not an electrician, but as a safeguard I would consider having the shed earthed, and also mount the kiln controls so they are insulated electrically from the shed, ideally in a waterproof enclosure (IP65 - I forget the US enclosure ratings

- use armoured cable to the shed to protect against rodents, spades etc

- make sure the cable is properly rated for the current - armoured cable and/or burying the cable may well require a heavier wire gauge to avoid too much voltage drop, and so loss of power at the kiln

Living in England I know nothing about US wiring regs, but if they are like the British they probably have guidelines for things like this - and if you don't understand the regs, get the installation done by someone who does!

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When you buy your kiln, make sure you either get a stand or get some concrete blocks to make a raised floor to set it on; you don't want your kiln directly on the ground or patio. Think about how your electrical connection will pass through the "shed". Maybe think of a modular "shed" -- four walls hinged together and a top that you take down when loading/firing; then replacing after the kiln has cooled.

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My rule of thumb: if you feel safe leaving your laptop computer in it, then you can leave your kiln in it.

 

Even with metal sides, the box will get ridiculously hot if it's closed during firing and cooling. It will be trouble for a digital kiln. For a manual kiln, not so much.

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Thank you all for your replies! You have given me a lot to think about. 4x4x4 is about as big as I can go without starting to block our living room window and take up too much space on the patio. The kiln won't be directly under the window, but in a 4' space between the end of the window and the edge of the patio. It sounds tiny, but when I measure it out, it is bigger than it sounds. I'm not looking to store anything else in it since I have a small studio in the house where I can throw and glaze, so just enough space for the kiln is all I need. 4' high with a lifting roof will accommodate the size kiln I am considering including a stand.

 

A friend of mine is a master electrician and will be handling that side of things, if I move forward with it.

 

Thanks again! This is a great forum.

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