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QotW:Electric or gas reduction firing at any cone you choose, which is more work overall and at what stage of the pot making is it more work than the other? Also, is firing one way more enjoyable than the other?


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This weeks QotW comes from another Moderator, and not surprisingly a thread of discussion covering the use of electric vs combustible firings. The discussion started as a search for materials, and went sideways lamenting the lack of cone 6 potters in some areas and cone 10 potters in others. It also made assertions about the difficulty or ease of one or the other disciplines involving ceramics as if they were from two different planets in different solar systems. Hmmmm! See more on the thread here: 

 

@Min's Question for the QotW:Electric or gas reduction firing at any cone you choose, which is more work overall and at what stage of the pot making is it more work than the other? Also, is firing one way more enjoyable than the other?

best,

Pres

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Oh you evil doer's. . . . just as I bought a new electric kiln, You had to bring back the old haunts and wishes of having a gas kiln in my garage. Oh how bad you are, not even thinking of the 1K for the gas line to the garage, or the variances I would need on zoning even though I live in a dual zone Commercial/Residential zoned area. I don't think downtown Tyrone would want a gas kiln on main street even if it is closer to the paper mill! That said, the ghosts have vanished, and reality of being over 70 comes to the forefront as I really don't need to get into this at this date.

I will admit on some level that I really would like to do ^10 again, and have those surprises from the kiln that I used to get years ago in grad school or before in undergrad. I miss the grainy clays with enough tooth to allow you to feel the pull easily, the rich reds and browns with iron spots and matt surfaces that begged to be touched. It was the introduction to clay, to glaze, and seemed to be the holy grail. Yet over the years, I have found that even though it is not as exciting as combustible reduction, electric can be surprising also. Atmospheres in all kilns exist, and crazy things happen in electric as much as in reduction, when you have fugitive oxides settling and mixing with other surfaces for a blush of pink or orange red. When layers of sprayed glaze become pools of water with the feeling of a deep pool waiting to be explored. Granted some colors, textures and surfaces are really tough to get in electric firing. However, my electric kiln takes up little space in the shop, can be fired overnight or during the day. I don't have to feed it fuel by hand or watch for the perfect time to introduce salt or make certain the damper is closed or open. It is easy. 

Is electric without its faults? No, I remember when I first started to go ^6 at the HS. There was not internet, Ceramics Monthly covered very little in the way of ^4-8, and even less in the way of oxidation. Occasionally we would find an article with some glaze recipes, and some discussion of new trends, but not often. I would find glazes from A.R.T. ,  Minnesota Clay,  and Amaco. As with any glaze, it would take a lot of testing to become proficient with them, and over the years when students would combine different glazes on their pots I took not of what happened, as I required that when they glaze they took notes.  Then the internet appeared, and various ceramics forums began discussing Cone 6 as the new Cone 10. Then Mastering Cone 6 Glazes came out, and other books, and suddenly there was much more information. 

Yes, if it weren't for so many factors I might have taken the other route and fired cone 10-12 reduction. However, I took the one that made sense for me firing electric both at home and at work. Constantly learning, and always looking to make better pots both in design and surface. It has been fun, and someday maybe I'll  take a summer workshop to refresh my memory of HF stoneware clay in my hands and the feel of the pull and even the touch of the fire.

 

best,

Pres

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I've done my share of both and they have their own ups and downs.  I find gas firing more enjoyable because I like to tinker and feel like I'm more responsible for the outcome.  But when I've got things to do, it's really nice to set it and forget it with my electric kilns.  As far as the outcome of either.. I mean I don't think there's a huge difference personally.  Yes, reduction firing can be used to get some great/different colors, but so can electric, and I can make things look fuel fired in an electric, so it's not a big selling point for me. 

Gas firing was more expensive in both energy and time for me, which is why I eventually got away from it, and by using a spray gun and unique glaze combinations I have been able to achieve the same look and feel, so I'm exclusively electric now.

Electric is far easier for me.

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I have taken clay classes at two schools that had electric and gas firings, one was a college the other was a arts school.    Both suffered from complaints from the city, fire department and neighborhoods that were several blocks away.   The city and the fire department was always coming up with new rules and regulations  for the kilns and firings.  They were trying to make it so difficult to fire gas kilns that the schools would eliminate them.   I knew that I would always live in the city limits and would be better off going electric,  Richard Zakins book had just been publish on oxidation firing and I was inspired and felt like I was at the beginning of a new evolution of ceramics.   Gas firing was the only way to go when I graduated,   I have never regretted my decision.  The research and development of C5/6 oxidation glazes took off and exciting colorful glazes were created and the new evolution in clay continues.     Denice

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For me electric kiln firing was a stepping stone in my progression. I leaned to use them  and bought one in collage (used) and have always had one around working in some form. Out of school I used to bisque in mine now and again and would do luster and decal fires in one. I made my own beer bottle labels for a spell and fired them on in my electric as a 20 something . When I was starting I wanted to leartn about all kilns and electrics wherte in the mix. Now in my area electricity is very high price and tahst be a constant here a swell for my life.

But the heart of ceramics in the long run and what keeps me today in ceramics is the unknown or the  reveal if you will. In electric firing the results are (or where back then at least) very dependable.This was cone 06 back in my day not cone 6. I never heard of cone 6 in the 70s. Cone 6 was and is a temp I go thru to get somewhere else.The unknown is the results of glazes in reduction fires and the challage to make them spectacular. Thats the hook that got me and the same is true with my salt kiln. I like working with glazes and those on the edge are the best when they work. This unknown factor has kept me in production all these years. I love the unknown about every glaze fire -no knowing that all my effort is paying off or crap its a disaster (which by the way was a small kiln load last friday I overfired ) lost 1./3 of it but man the keepers are over the top. Now I;m a glaze and fire potter-thats the thrill not the making.

Sure I did raku,pit and wood firings as well as salt in school but reduction hooked me in the long run and I could build the kilns at home which I did during school as well.

Sure the making is fine but I like the glazing and firing better. I feel the electric is more like paint -you open the jar and thats that-now I know since cone 6 and making your own glazes (I mentored a few in this field) its more an unknown now but back in the day it was not. So I have put a few pieces in a friends cone 10 electric oxidation (he got the super duper high fire crystalline model to do that) and they looked like stock colors to me. I feel the electric is more easy to use and for sure to get permitted especailly these days. For me its gas reduction or die and its carried me for 45 years now. I'm sure if it was only my electric back then I'd be an electrician or Plumber full time now instead of a potter. I like the challage of the fire and in an electric you progarm it and once you find it thats that .Each and every fire for me is an unknown to some degree-thats the past I live for.

Edited by Mark C.
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I originally fell in love with fuel firings of all kinds. When I went to college, all functional work was done at cone 10 reduction, and cone 6 wasn’t really a thing. Salt, soda, wood firing, even raku. Any time I could heat up some pots and throw something dirty at them, I was a happy kid. The chemistry is cheaper, and you could still build a small gas kiln in your backyard. I turned down a number of offers to come get a gas kiln out of someone’s yard when they were moving after helping a friend secure one. Sigh.

Ten years after graduation, I still hadn’t been able to set up a business though, because gas kilns are regulated under the same section of the code as industrial boilers and fracking equipment (custom built appliances). Because of a few workplace accidents, they started actually enforcing the rules around custom appliances.  If I build my own kiln, it’ll cost about 20K including a mandatory CSA approval sticker before someone will hook it up. I can’t even buy burners if I don’t have a gas fitter’s ticket. If I import a prebuilt one from the US, probably about the same cost, last time I priced it out. There are a couple of places to rent gas kilns available to me, but it’s prohibitive to do that as a business.

I wound up learning cone 6 chemistry because gas kilns weren’t feasible to use anymore. It was either not make on the scale I wanted to, or change chemistry. I resisted it for a long time because I had put so much work into making at cone 10, I didn’t want to loose that time investment. When it became unavoidable, I decided to challenge myself to build work that was durable, had rich surfaces that I could appreciate, and still had a focus on good form that is one of the strong points of atmospheric firing. A bad form with a brown glaze is (insert your own colourful euphemism). 

I have found that cone six presents some interesting challenges for me that I really enjoy. Before, I was making so that I could enjoy the process. Now, I’m interested more in the finished results. The clay is cheaper, but the glaze chemicals cost more. I have found that cone ten had left me a little complacent with my chemistry because I was relying on heat to solve a lot of problems. Learning cone 6 has made me a more technically adept potter. I have a lot more material knowledge now, and that really helps with testing. When I first began potting, I had to learn to love brown, and I was always a little sad there wasn’t more bright colours to contrast with the earthy tones. Now, I can shamelessly indulge in pink and yellow in addition to green and blue. I can have the contrast between the subtle earthy texture of my red clay, and highlight it with some bright colours that were previously a lot more difficult to achieve.

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The majority of people who get into ceramics now are going to work in cone 6 if they plan to have a home studio. And for a large percentage of commercial studios it can be just as difficult to install a gas kiln because of zoning restrictions and cost, which was the case for my studio. In 2008 I moved my studio after 4 years at its original location, where I had a gas kiln, and it proved impossible to install a gas kiln at another location in my town because of landlords who didn't want it in their buildings and because of the cost. Those costs included making changes to the studio to increase fire ratings of shared walls, as well as the cost of upgrading gas lines and moving and re-installing the ventilation system. I already had the kiln and it was still going to cost me $35K+ to do all the other stuff. So instead I bought two electric kilns for about $6000, and I have never regretted it.

From the standpoints of running a community studio and producing my own line of work, firing electric has made my studio life much easier and freed up a lot of my time because I don't have to babysit the kiln. I can be at home with my family, or out on repair jobs, or at an art fair while the kilns are firing. I can have the kilns on while my students are in the studio, because they're so much quieter than most gas kilns. I can fire overnight while I sleep, and my students can load and run the kilns if I get too busy with repair work. Other benefits of electric kilns for me are faster turnaround times and more size options. Because they cool faster, I can get pieces fired and moved through the studio faster than I could with my gas kiln. My little test kiln allows me to fire just a couple of mugs at a time so I can get small orders out the door faster, and I do a lot more glaze testing than I did with my gas kiln.

It has been mentioned that people feel more connected to the firing when they fire with gas, but I have found the opposite to be true. With electric kilns I'm more connected to what's happening during a firing because I program exactly what's happening, with a precision that wasn't there with gas. I have far more control over what's happening every minute, and I put much more thought into my firing schedules than I ever did when I fired with gas. I also have to be more aware of how I load the electric kilns than I did with gas, as I don't have the benefit of moving air and pressure in an electric kiln. Even though I'm not turning up dials and adjusting dampers and doing the physical work during a firing, mentally I'm much more in tune with the firing than before.

After 29 years of making pots and working in all temperatures, I'm mostly just tired of the attitudes that one type of firing/cone is better than another. That attitude was instilled in me during my college years, and it cost me a lot of time and money and creative progress when I got out of school because I was so hung up on the idea that I needed to make cone 10 reduction pots in order to make good pots. The reality was that my situation was really better suited for cone 6 electric work, and instead of jumping into that I spent a lot of time more focused on trying to get a gas kiln set up when I didn't really need one. For most people, one certain type of kiln/firing is going to be the best option for their studio. That may be electric because of zoning rules, or it may be gas because of their production needs. Most people won't have much of a choice, but no one should ever be made to feel like they're making a sacrifice because of it. Everyone should feel confident that they can make great work no matter how they fire.

 

 

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