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Electric to Gas Kiln

Undergraduate Research in the Arts

Kyle A. Crowder
May 16, 2014

Warren Wilson College Undergraduate Research in the Arts 2014

In my research I am looking at the feasibility of converting an electric kiln into a gas
fired salt kiln. The feasibility will be based on the expense of labor and money, and also the
product that is achieved through firing it. Depending on the functionality of the kiln, I will
further my research with experimentation in surface treatment and glazing for this specific type
of firing. I am very interested in the surface created by a salt glaze in terms of effects and
aesthetics. I hope to see this inform the work that I create now and for my senior thesis project
Many ceramic vessels we use are fired. This simply means that the clay is heated in an
oven for a given amount of time until it is vitrified
. This is not the only method of firing to
achieve this type of arrangement for functionality but the majority of functional ceramics use a
glaze to create glassy surface that is smooth and clean for ease of use.
One can think of a kiln like an oven because kilns burn natural gas, electricity, wood, or
even oil. Each fuel has properties that change the effects one can create. For my research I am
focusing on natural gas as my fuel. The benefits of this fuel are that it is reliable and consistent
compared to wood. It is a Hydrocarbon
so it allows for control over the redox
of the

vlLrlflcaLlon- Lhe acLlon or process of becomlng glass: Lhe hlgh-LemperaLure process whereby Lhe parLlcles wlLhln
Lhe mass fuse, closlng Lhe surface pores and formlng a homogeneous, lmpervlous mass wlLhouL deformaLlon."
(8lce 1987)
Pydrocarbon- .conLaln only carbon and hydrogen wlll Lhe general formula of C
." (WenLworLh 1973)
8edox- 8educLlon or CxldaLlon ln Lhe aLmosphere of Lhe klln, ln oLher words Lhe amounL of oxygen allowed
compleLlng Lhe burnlng of Lhe fuel.

atmosphere. The costs of the fuel are dependence on a fuel company and gas line repair can be
dangerous and should be done by a professional.
The kiln that I have built is a 10 cubic foot updraft
cone 10, natural gas burning
salt kiln. Cone 10 refer to the specific temperature to which one is trying to reach to
vitrify the clay body, for the porcelains and stonewares that I use this is about 2350 degrees
Fahrenheit. For my project I am working only with salt, or sodium chloride as my flux. This salt
added to the kiln when it is almost at peak temperature creates a glaze on bare clay.
A glaze is composed of mainly three parts. There is a glass former which is silica or flint,
a flux that lowers the melting point of silica and a stabilizer that bonds the surface of the clay to
the glaze and keeps the glaze suspended on the pot. These three parts are present in all glazes in
some shape or form. There are many other parts that are not essential like colorant, stains,
secondary fluxes, and opacifiers. Glazes are typically applied to the pot by dipping or spraying a
liquid mixture of the compounds.
The purpose of the flux in the atmosphere allows one to leave parts of a pot unglazed
when it goes in the kiln. The flux in the atmosphere replaces the flux that a glaze would contain;
the other two parts of a glaze are in the clay, a stabilizer in the form of aluminum oxide and silica
in the clay body. The flux acts on the surface of the pot and creates a glaze. Once one fires a kiln
with these fluxes, it is forever going to have residue that will affect future firings. I am

updrafL klln- A klln whlch has a drafL LhaL enLers Lhrough Lhe lnleL flues aL Lhe boLLom of Lhe klln, passes lnLo Lhe
chamber, and exlLs Lhrough Lhe flues ln an arch or dome." (Clsen 1973)
ALmospherlc kllns- kllns wlLh a flux added Lo Lhe aLmosphere lnslde Lhe klln. Compounds Lyplcally used are wood
(calclum carbonaLe, CaCC3), Lable salL (sodlum chlorlde, naCl), or soda ash (sodlum carbonaLe, na2CC3).

experimenting with only sodium chloride that is in the form of Mortons Canning and Pickling
This glaze is hard to describe in terms of color, it is typically a brown or orange color
with stoneware clays do to the iron in the clay, and with porcelain it is typically white because
there is no iron present in the clay. For simplicities sake the glaze will take the color of the clay
body because the clay body makes up two-thirds of the glaze.
Salt glazed pots first appeared in Germany during the late 13th or early 14th centuries.
(Rogers 2002) The technique is thought to have been a mistake by using old barrels which
contained brine in a wood kiln. The salt from the brine would have deposited a strange texture
most likely considered a mistake. Since then salt glazing has continued to spark interest in
potters across the world.
When building kilns it is important to know the difference between different bricks
because they are made for different jobs. Hard brick or high fire brick is used as a face brick,
meaning it is lining the inside of the kiln. This brick is more resistant to deterioration from the
atmosphere. Soft brick is the insulating brick. It is less dense and holds heat better but does not
stand corrosion for very long. This is where the decision to use an electric kiln for an
atmospheric kiln can become problematic. Electric kilns are only made out of soft brick so to get
around this one can apply a kiln wash
over the walls to protect them.

klln wash- ls composed of a refracLory compounds LhaL proLecLs Lhe brlck and makes lL lasL longer, reclpe LhaL l
used on page 8.

Figure 1

Figure 4
Figure 2

The construction design was based on William Bakers design,
Figure 1, a kiln builder and soda fired potter in Penland, North Carolina. It
starts with a layer of cinderblock on a level surface. Then bricks are stacked
to create a firebox
. The electric kiln is gutter of all elements and electrical
wiring and place on these bricks. With all of this together you end up with
about 11 cubic feet of space in the kiln. There
are two holes for the burners and on pull out brick that will act as a
salt port. The lid from the electric kiln has a 9x9 inch square cut out
for the chimney. A damper was constructed out of steel to allow
a18x24 inch kiln shelf to slide over the hole to act as a damper to
the chimney to control the flame. These types of dampers work very similarly to ones for wood
stoves or fireplaces.
Here you can see the flames hypothetical path through the kiln. The shelf right before
flue is there to help recirculate the flame. This creates a similar effect to what a down-draft kiln
would have. It would usually have
burners near the bottom of the kiln and
the chimney port would also be at the
floor level. The flame then, based on
brick arrangement would have to go up
the wall, into the middle, through all of
the pots, and then out the bottom. This typically is more even in terms of temperature. With a

llrebox- space ln Lhe klln bullL Lo allow Lhe flame Lo pass lnLo Lhe klln wlLhouL belng sLopped by brlcks or poLs.
Fig. 3

kiln this size the most important part is arranging the shelves to allow an even distribution. I have
found that staggering the shelves dramatically increases the evenness of the firing.
The next step was the natural gas and burners. I contacted Mark Ward of Ward Burner
Systems in Tennessee and laid out the right burners I needed to fire this kiln in about 12 hours. I
built an adjustable stand for the two MR-750 Venturi burners
. These are controlled manually
with ball valves and a Safety Shut-off valve
This is the most expensive part of the whole
set up. Natural gas can be a dangerous if the
right precautions are not taken to ensure that
everything is done correct and safely.
The last step was the chimney and
damper set up that I designed to be done very
cheap and quick. We had been given a quote
of about $2000 to install a stainless steel insulated chimney through the roof. I could not see that
much money go to something that was relatively temporary. It is import to think of the scale of a
project and make sure that one considers the longevity of a kiln when they are building it. I dont
expect this kiln to last more than 20 or so firings because of the damage the salt atmosphere can
do to the soft brick. The chimney I built was made of zinc coated steel piping made for heating
and cooling ducts in homes. Its cheap, only about $30 for all the pieces. The reason I even

venLurl burners- llgure 4. (Ward 8urner SysLems n.d.)
SafeLy ShuL-off valve- ConLrol shuLs off boLh maln & plloL gas. lloL gas ls Laken from wlLhln Lhe conLrol. lloL
acLlvaLed by reseL buLLon. (Ward 8urner SysLems n.d.)
llgure 4

llgure 3
included the chimney was because of the heat buildup and the smoke from the salting under the
roof. This is not a great solution, after 6 firings it has mostly fallen apart.
The damper is a control of the airflow leaving the kiln. This in turn controls the draft or
pull of the kiln. By not allowing much air to escape through the chimney, having the damper
mostly closed, creates a reduction atmosphere in an
updraft kiln because there is fuel that is not being
burned due to a lack of oxygen being pulled in the
kiln. Open the damper and oxygen is effectively
pulled through the burner port and a mostly complete
combustion of fuel is achieved in the kiln. It is
important to control this because they affect the color
of glazes. Oxidation will give you a pale celadon
glaze. Reduction can make a copper green glaze, into
a copper red glaze. These colors based on the
different isotopes
of the colorants based on more or less complete combustion of fuel changing
the levels of carbon and oxygen interacting with the colorants in the glaze.
Firing the Kiln
The first firing happened Monday the 31st it was a failure It was a hard night/early
morning watching the kiln stall at about 1900 degrees F. I struggled to get up the next day and
think about trying to do it again. I stated by investigating the burners. Turned out the orifice was

lsoLopes- aLoms of any one elemenL can have dlfferenL mass numbers based on Lhe proporLlon of neuLron,
proLons, and elecLrons. (WenLworLh 1973)

the wrong size. Because we had found these in the department, this was not a fault of Mark
Ward, it was the orifice of the burners I had found that were drilled at about 3/16 of an inch, built
for high pressure propane. I had assumed that because they were used on a natural gas system
before that they would work. After realizing this I changed out the orifice to the proper size of
1/8 of an inch. I tried it again on the following Wednesday. I could not even believe it, but it
made it all the way up to cone 10 within 13 hours.
Price Breakdown

The 3-D Department had old hard and soft bricks that I used so this cut my cost down.
Hard bricks run at about $3 dollars for a 9x4 ! x3 brick and soft bricks are about a dollar more
per same size brick. I used scrap kiln shelves and cinderblocks. The electric kiln was donated by
the department but it is not rare to find someone looking to get rid of an electric kiln for free. I
also have a background in fabrication so small pieces like the burner stand and damper slide
were built for free.
$370.00 for Safety-Eye automatic gas shut-off valve
$500.00 for Natural Gas piping and instillation
$38.00 for chimney
$100.00 for 3 ft. x 100ft. roll of Kaowool
Total cost to build: $1008
Firing Breakdown
After one failed attempt and five successful ones I am very pleased with what has been
achieved in a kiln of this caliber. I have honed in on an ideal firing schedule that hopefully will

grant consistent results in the future. I start the kiln in the morning, candling
for three to four
hours. During this time salt port and peeps are removed and the damper is at about three inches.
In the first bump I close the peeps and salt port. I bump the gas to about a quarter of total
pressure and push the damper in to two inches. This must be slow because this is a very fragile
state for clay going up and cooling. I hold this until cone 012 is totally flat top and bottom. At
this point the gas is bumped again to almost full pressure and primary air at a half inch. The
damper is adjusted within half an inch usually increasing with the temperature. This lasts three to
four hours until cone 6 falls top and bottom. The gas and primary air can be totally opened at this
point. Salt is added after cone 9 is half over every 20 minutes or so. However much salt you are
adding should be evenly spaced within the last hour or two of the firing. Once cone 10 is half
over I shut the kiln off and close it up tightly and wait till it is all the way cool to open it. This is
not perfect but its a place to start. It should all happen within 12 hours but it varies on many
Overall through the whole process, ending up with the result I did, I believe that this is a
worthwhile experiment. For only about $1000 I was able to achieve passable salt fired pots. I
dont know how many more firings I could really do in it based on the state of the bricks after 6
firings. I hope that some of the resources and techniques I have laid out help and encourage
others to attempt this. It would be perfect for a beginner potter or a school, like Warren Wilson
College, without the kiln facilities large schools have.

Candllng refers Lo holdlng Lhe flame very low Lo warm up Lhe klln.


The Kiln Wash is sprayed or thinly painted on the walls of the kiln. This recipe comes from Gay
Smith who got it from Tony Clennell whom used it for a soft brick soda kiln in Washington.
Tonys Kiln Wash
2 parts kyanite (sillmanite)
2 parts zircopax (ulltrox)
2 parts alumina hydrate
1 part vee-gum
For an atmospheric kiln one needs to wad their pots because the flux in the atmosphere will melt
everything together. This will keep your pots from sticking to the shelves.
Wading Recipe
1 part alumina hydrate
1 part EPK (Kaolin)
Flashing slips can add a great color variation to your work. This can be applied on bisque or
leather hard depending on the amount of clay in the slip. Testing is a good idea for these because when I
was given the recipes, they said they worked on bisque clay but I found they bubbled and cracked when I
Coffman Yellow
Nepheline Syenite 60
EPK 40
Soda Ash 1
Titanium Dioxide 5
Matt Longs Red
Grolleg 70
Nepheline Syenite 30
Yellow Iron Oxide 0.5
Titanium Dioxide 0.5
Bowers Orange
EPK 42
OM4 Ball Clay 42
Zircopax 10.5
Borax 5.5
One has to be careful with glazes touching the flashing slips, sometimes they bubble. These
glazes I have included work very well and some have been specifically formulated for salt or I have found
look really nice.
Randys Green
Flint 16
OM4 Ball Clay 10
Whiting 9
Zircopax 7
Barium Carbonate 13

Dolomite 6
Custer feldspar 21
F4 Feldspar 18
Tin oxide 4
Copper Carbonate 6
Bentonite 2
White/Yellow Salt *(For Yellow Salt add 2% Red Iron Oxide)
Nephlyne Synite 60.7
Dolomite 20
Zircopax 15.2
OM4 Ball Clay 4.1
Bentonite 4
Shaners Oribe
Custer Feldspar 31
Whiting 22.1
Silica 25.3
EPK 12.6
Talc 7.9
Bone Ash 1.1
Copper Carbonate 5.2
Snowfall Rutile
Custer Feldspar 30
Whiting 19
Silica 24
EPK 16.5
Talc 10.5
Dark Rutile 6.2
Copper Carbonate 1.25
Bentonite 2

Olsen, Fredrick L. The Kiln Book Materials, Specifications & Construction. Radnor,
Pennsylvania: Chilton Book Company, 1973.
Rice, Prudence M. Pottery Analysis; A Sourcebook. Chicago and London: The University of
Chicago Press, 1987.
Rogers, Phil. Salt Glazing. Philadelphia: University Of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.
Wentworth, Becker. General Chemistry. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1973.
Baker, William Converting and Electric Kiln to Soda. Wordpress.
Bowers, Bruce. Converting an Electric Kiln for Wood or Gas Firing. Ceramics Arts Handbook.