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pimwalrus

New buyer's questions about getting an electric kiln and recycling my own clay.

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Hi! I am a 19 year old up and coming ceramicist here in Santa Cruz! I've been doing ceramics since my junior year in high school. I now have a wheel in my garage. I've been creating a lot of pottery but without a kiln I have yet to continue its lifelong journey. So my question here is, which brand of an electric kiln can I buy that'll be easy to understand and use for someone such as myself? I'd like to get a nice one for $500 - $1000 and for temperatures that'll bisque and glaze. I don't want one that's too big or too small, perhaps 3 feet by 3 feet? I'm not sure if I should get a round or a box type. I'd like to put it in my garage, how much room would I need surrounding the kiln in terms of the garage items? I'm a bit lost in what to do, any advice would be really great! I also want to build a clay recycling bin. I think I am going to use a box and stretch some kind of cloth (cheese cloth) over it to use as a filter? Or what do you think would be a good idea? And also, how should I dispose of clay water? Thanks so much!

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Many of the kiln manufacturer's web sites, as well as some of the major pottery supply web sites, have information on choosing the right size kiln for what you plan to make. That is good information regardless of what brand you end up buying. Those sites will also have information on electrical requirements, stand-off distances from walls, etc. Also, Google search this forum for used kilns and you will find a lot of good advice on what to look for, what to avoid, and so forth. If you know any potters who have kilns, talk with them about their experience and suggestions. Start there and get your basic information down. Then, check out sites like Craig's list or pottery studios in your area for used kilns. If buying from a potter, ask to look at the kiln log and see what type of firing has been done.

 

Clay water can be disposed in your yard . . . just add to the garden.

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I suggest you head down to Santa Cruz Pottery and ask them-very good bunch of potters there.

Santa Cruz has lots of potters

 

As far as Kiln If I was buying New It would be a L&L kiln as they hold up very well and have good resale value.-

Round kiln (multi sided) are the most universal shape.

Mark

 

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I agree with Mark, were I to buy a new kiln it would be an L&L. They are just made better. However, I've had problems with their Bartlett controllers (on two kilns, same problems). Were you to choose the L&L, just as a note to be remembered, you may want to go with using only 1 control zone. I'm not sure the PIDs on those are ready for prime time.

 

If you are selling decent numbers of your stuff, you likely won't get much value out of recycling your scrap clay. As you get better you will generate less, and the time you put into your work will be worth more than the clay you use. IMHO, you might not want to put a lot of investment in recycling.

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Choosing a kiln is a very personal process because you must fit it to your rhythm and size of production and to your body. Shop around, look at as many kilns as you can visit in the flesh. Bend over and reach inside to see how they fit your back.

 

 

You can recycle clay by making a slurry by drying the clay , smashing the larger lumps and soaking it. Use a heavy duty stirring attachment for a drill to homogenize the slurry.

Best idea is to make a plaster basin or a flat slab of plaster. I use flat slabs. I also use this process to mix paper clay and dry it out on slabs.

I used cheese cloth lined clay flower pots with a piece of paper or cardboard over the hole to keep the slurry from escaping. The flower pot absorbed the moisture as does plaster. A cardboard box may lose its dry strength if it gets too wet from absorbing moisture.

You can take an old pair of jeans or cotton slacks, tie the legs, hang them on a clothes line and fill the legs with slur. Hang til dried to a workable thickness. <- that is a Dannon Rudy method from ages ago on clay art.

 

Marcia

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As a fellow amateur potter, I recommend the John Britt method for recycling clay:

But, you might also like Simon Leach's recycling method too, and he has several videos on recycling clay that can also be found on YouTube.

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I agree with Mark, were I to buy a new kiln it would be an L&L. They are just made better. However, I've had problems with their Bartlett controllers (on two kilns, same problems). Were you to choose the L&L, just as a note to be remembered, you may want to go with using only 1 control zone. I'm not sure the PIDs on those are ready for prime time.

 

If you are selling decent numbers of your stuff, you likely won't get much value out of recycling your scrap clay. As you get better you will generate less, and the time you put into your work will be worth more than the clay you use. IMHO, you might not want to put a lot of investment in recycling.

 

 

I'm surprised to hear you had problems with the controllers. I've sold dozens of L&L's over the last 8 years without any problems. And really, one of the main benefits of L&L kilns is the 3 zone control. Bartlett controllers have been on kilns for years, including several other brands like Skutt, without any problems.

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I'm surprised to hear you had problems with the controllers. I've sold dozens of L&L's over the last 8 years without any problems. And really, one of the main benefits of L&L kilns is the 3 zone control. Bartlett controllers have been on kilns for years, including several other brands like Skutt, without any problems.

 

 

 

Hey Neil! Lest I forget again, thanks for the tip on pancaking out the clay when throwing off the hump. It is working very well!

 

Anyway, I'm kind of surprised that you haven't had any problems, but not real surprised. We fire our kilns around 4 times a week, year round. Both kilns began their breakdown period by having error 1 issues (RoR if I remember right). The newer of the two lasted less than 2 years before developing this issue. The company I work for has full time electricians to work on the kilns and they couldn't find the problem. The only solution we found was to limit input to data from 1 thermocouple. Countless phone calls to L&L failed to yield a solution. I suspect this is because they aren't trained to deal with PIDs. I wondered if the heuristic wasn't coded to function with the wear rate we put on the kilns. I know we replaced the boards, the thermocouples, the elements, the relays, the wiring (we improved the grade of wiring even). If I remember right it was the early stages of temp. control where some the breakdowns occurred ~500-1000 deg. or they couldn't reach temp, stalling out in the 1750-1900 range. I still think that the heuristic got freaked out. It is worth noting that we only bisqued in them. In the end they were really too much kiln for the job.

 

Again, were I given a choice I would buy the L&L. And, if I hadn't found that Orton controller for $16 I would have bought a Bartlett controller to go on my kiln. I think both are professional products, an opinion I don't have for many of the devices used by potters.

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I'm surprised to hear you had problems with the controllers. I've sold dozens of L&L's over the last 8 years without any problems. And really, one of the main benefits of L&L kilns is the 3 zone control. Bartlett controllers have been on kilns for years, including several other brands like Skutt, without any problems.

 

 

 

Hey Neil! Lest I forget again, thanks for the tip on pancaking out the clay when throwing off the hump. It is working very well!

 

Anyway, I'm kind of surprised that you haven't had any problems, but not real surprised. We fire our kilns around 4 times a week, year round. Both kilns began their breakdown period by having error 1 issues (RoR if I remember right). The newer of the two lasted less than 2 years before developing this issue. The company I work for has full time electricians to work on the kilns and they couldn't find the problem. The only solution we found was to limit input to data from 1 thermocouple. Countless phone calls to L&L failed to yield a solution. I suspect this is because they aren't trained to deal with PIDs. I wondered if the heuristic wasn't coded to function with the wear rate we put on the kilns. I know we replaced the boards, the thermocouples, the elements, the relays, the wiring (we improved the grade of wiring even). If I remember right it was the early stages of temp. control where some the breakdowns occurred ~500-1000 deg. or they couldn't reach temp, stalling out in the 1750-1900 range. I still think that the heuristic got freaked out. It is worth noting that we only bisqued in them. In the end they were really too much kiln for the job.

 

Again, were I given a choice I would buy the L&L. And, if I hadn't found that Orton controller for $16 I would have bought a Bartlett controller to go on my kiln. I think both are professional products, an opinion I don't have for many of the devices used by potters.

 

 

I fire my kiln 3 times a week with no problem, and put them in schools that fire constantly, so I'm not convinced that the number of firings is really to blame. However, that stalling is familiar. I had a customer who had a similar problem last year. After firing the kiln for 2 years, out of nowhere it started stalling around 1700 degrees, and nothing would fix it. Finally, after replacing elements, thermocouples, relays, etc. we figured out that there was some sort of interference coming through the power line. We realized it was a computer problem when we saw the numbers on the readout suddenly jump to a random number for a split second every 5 to 10 minutes. If the jump lasted long enough, we'd get an error code. There had been a lot of power outages in our area due to storms, and shortly after that the problem started. The solution was to run a ground wire to the circuit board. No problems since then. L&L also has a way to hook up a separate power supply to the board if this happens. The ground was good enough for this kiln, though. Grounding the thermocouples can also help sometimes.

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I'm surprised to hear you had problems with the controllers. I've sold dozens of L&L's over the last 8 years without any problems. And really, one of the main benefits of L&L kilns is the 3 zone control. Bartlett controllers have been on kilns for years, including several other brands like Skutt, without any problems.

 

 

 

Hey Neil! Lest I forget again, thanks for the tip on pancaking out the clay when throwing off the hump. It is working very well!

 

Anyway, I'm kind of surprised that you haven't had any problems, but not real surprised. We fire our kilns around 4 times a week, year round. Both kilns began their breakdown period by having error 1 issues (RoR if I remember right). The newer of the two lasted less than 2 years before developing this issue. The company I work for has full time electricians to work on the kilns and they couldn't find the problem. The only solution we found was to limit input to data from 1 thermocouple. Countless phone calls to L&L failed to yield a solution. I suspect this is because they aren't trained to deal with PIDs. I wondered if the heuristic wasn't coded to function with the wear rate we put on the kilns. I know we replaced the boards, the thermocouples, the elements, the relays, the wiring (we improved the grade of wiring even). If I remember right it was the early stages of temp. control where some the breakdowns occurred ~500-1000 deg. or they couldn't reach temp, stalling out in the 1750-1900 range. I still think that the heuristic got freaked out. It is worth noting that we only bisqued in them. In the end they were really too much kiln for the job.

 

Again, were I given a choice I would buy the L&L. And, if I hadn't found that Orton controller for $16 I would have bought a Bartlett controller to go on my kiln. I think both are professional products, an opinion I don't have for many of the devices used by potters.

 

 

Could you please tell me where to read about this "pancaking out the clay..."? Thanks!

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we figured out that there was some sort of interference coming through the power line. We realized it was a computer problem when we saw the numbers on the readout suddenly jump to a random number for a split second every 5 to 10 minutes. If the jump lasted long enough, we'd get an error code. There had been a lot of power outages in our area due to storms, and shortly after that the problem started. The solution was to run a ground wire to the circuit board. No problems since then. L&L also has a way to hook up a separate power supply to the board if this happens. The ground was good enough for this kiln, though. Grounding the thermocouples can also help sometimes.

 

 

Now that is very interesting. We too suspected there to be a power surge issue of some sort. However, we never saw it happen. I'm going to suggest this solution since we are still firing one of the kilns occasionally. Sadly, the other has been moved into storage. One of our electricians is quite knowledgable, but he worked on that kiln so much they quit sending him to us. I'm quite excited to have the opportunity to tell him about your solution, w00t.

 

I have to tell you man, you are one knowledgable fellow. Thanks for posting. I know you don't have to say anything here and I want to thank you for taking the time to do so.

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Could you please tell me where to read about this "pancaking out the clay..."? Thanks!

 

 

The way I took it in (and it could easily differ from how it was told) was that you pinch up the amount of clay you are going to use to make the pot, then flatten it out into a disc (or pancake), then compress into the center and out two or three times, then form up the walls of the piece and lift, then cut the bottom thin.

 

The problem with throwing off the hump is that the exterior bottom of the pot will be card house clay while the interior bottom will be card stack clay. The card house clay shrinks at a different rate than the compressed interior bottom since it contains more pore water. So if you compress it well, and cut it thin (closer to the interior) you will get less cracking.

 

At least that's how I understand it.

 

 

 

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we figured out that there was some sort of interference coming through the power line. We realized it was a computer problem when we saw the numbers on the readout suddenly jump to a random number for a split second every 5 to 10 minutes. If the jump lasted long enough, we'd get an error code. There had been a lot of power outages in our area due to storms, and shortly after that the problem started. The solution was to run a ground wire to the circuit board. No problems since then. L&L also has a way to hook up a separate power supply to the board if this happens. The ground was good enough for this kiln, though. Grounding the thermocouples can also help sometimes.

 

 

Now that is very interesting. We too suspected there to be a power surge issue of some sort. However, we never saw it happen. I'm going to suggest this solution since we are still firing one of the kilns occasionally. Sadly, the other has been moved into storage. One of our electricians is quite knowledgable, but he worked on that kiln so much they quit sending him to us. I'm quite excited to have the opportunity to tell him about your solution, w00t.

 

I have to tell you man, you are one knowledgable fellow. Thanks for posting. I know you don't have to say anything here and I want to thank you for taking the time to do so.

 

 

My pleasure. I love talking about this stuff!

 

I don't think it was necessarily power surges coming through at the time of the problems, but I think when the power company fixed the outage issues the power was not filtered as well or something, coming through "dirty" if that makes sense, causing a lot of interference with the controller. We had to sit there and stare at the controller for half an hour before we saw the readout jump. It only did it for a second, then back to normal. 10 minutes later, again.

 

Just run a ground wire from the main ground nut in the control box to the Center Tap terminal on the circuit board.

 

A bad enough power surge can definitely do damage to the controller, but it's usually very noticeable, like some of the buttons stop working, or it won't take a program in one mode or another. Moisture can also cause problems. I've hear of controllers acting weird when they are in very moist environments. Sometimes just drying them out with a hair dryer will get them working again.

 

I would like to know abou the 'pancake' technique, too, as it was not me who first recommended it!

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