“Kathy, guess what – you’re getting a Skutt kiln for your home studio!”
These are the words that came out of my team leader’s mouth. Honestly, she said a few other sentences, but I didn’t intake those because I was still processing her first.
Me? My very own Skutt kiln? What kind of craziness is this?
Let me back it up a bit. Skutt is THE brand of kilns on the market. It makes you totally legit to have one in your studio. Now I was about to own one, for reals? No more driving across town like a mad woman to my friend’s art studio to fire my goods? Me, carefully hustling across the parking lots, arms loaded with a heavy box of stylized bisque…no more of that?
It was time
If you’ve been reading my blog for the past eight years, you know I’ve taken up the hobby of ceramics, mostly painting bisque. I’m self-taught, although recently I did receive formal Duncan University training from fired arts superstar, David Hoff. He says I’m heavy-handed with my technique, but that’s a good thing because it shows that I have a signature style to my pieces. All I know is I love to underglaze on anything and everything that can be fired.
Here are some of my first pieces from long ago:
Here’s the deal about the world of ceramic arts – it’s a very tight knit, proud group. From the folks who throw clay on the wheel to owners of paint your own pottery studios and lots in between. That’s because there is a lot involved – underglazes, greenware, bisque, etc. And then the whole firing process, it can all be so intimidating. It takes passion and patience. But the payoff is so worth it!
Something happened to me a couple years ago, I began to REALLY fall in love with ceramics. I looked up the hashtag #ceramics on Instagram and found out I was not alone at all. Once considered a craft of the past by the general market, this genre is picking up steam with younger creatives, fast! It’s the ultimate “big reveal” craft, and there is something so special about a solid piece of fired art.
So I started going down the ceramics rabbit hole further and further until I had to redo my studio cabinets to hold all my supplies. That year I cranked out more than 300+ mugs during the holiday season.
I’d become an expert in my own studio of one! I started posting pictures of my work on Instagram and received happy feedback. I couldn’t wait to show and tell everyone at iLoveToCreate, even though all of them love ceramics too, LOL. They made me feel super special anyway!
But then my team leader presented the amazing idea I mentioned earlier. She and the team really appreciated that I had found my own way into this high fired world. They liked that I made the craft look accessible and doable for people of all ages. They knew I loved it!
Going without a kiln – ugh.
My only glitch that I never saw as a glitch was that I didn’t have a kiln. Instead, I drove all over town to fire all my pieces. You know how it goes, I started with three or four mugs, then 12, then 60! It was all starting to get a bit out of control. Never in my wildest dreams did I EVER consider investing in a kiln. It seemed sooooo high end and scary. I didn’t feel qualified or good enough or worthy enough.
But my team leader did. She wanted me to have a kiln so I could continue on the path and share it with all of you! So now, I’m the proud owner of a Skutt kiln. Not only will I be sharing behind the scenes of stuff I make, I’ll also share tutorials as well!
Here is the delivery driver when it arrived. Gulp. Both Patrick and I stared at each other nervously as we accepted our new reality. How in the heck would we do this? Could it blow up the house? Start a fire? Were we qualified to run this thing? Talk about unnecessary paranoia! You’d think we were building a timed generator to light up the White House on election night!
I had my Skutt kiln for two months before I mustered up the courage to use it. My turning point was when I demoed at the CCSA Conference in September and asked studio owners for their tips for my “first fire.”
Some of their kiln tips:
“Don’t try to dry your sneakers on top while the kiln is on, it will melt your shoes to the lid.”
“Never confuse Cone 06 with Cone 6! They are very different firing levels!”
“Learn about the thermocouple. Respect the thermocouple.”
“Make sure to let your kiln cool down to room temperature before opening the lid, the items inside will be very hot!”
“Always, always use stilts on anything you glaze. Trust me.”
All of that kinda freaked me out even more. But I did it! I’m now on our fifth fire, and each one was 100% success! Ahhh, a girl will never forget her first fire. The anticipation, the exhilaration, the nervousness, the moment of truth… the PAYOFF! Score!
Bottom line? Super easy, gobs of fun. I feel silly that I got all worked up for nothing!
Here are ten kiln tips for newbies I’ve learned so far:
1. It’s not as scary as it seems. Now that I use it often, it’s really just like a big toaster oven!
2. There are kilns for every type of ceramist – from part-time dabbler (a small home kiln) to a working artist (medium-to-large). Don’t think that you would have to invest in a huge kiln for a gazllion dollars! You can buy a sturdy, brand-new compact kiln for about the same price as a Mac laptop. And if you are using your kiln to make art to sell, it will easily pay for itself and then some.
3. Electricity is not as expensive as you think. On a regular electric schedule it runs about $7.50 a fire. However, I have our household on a time-of-use plan, so my nightly fires are about $4 a fire. As long as you save up a lot of items, you can fire them all at once and keep the bill manageable.
4. Set up is relatively easy, and there is help! Skutt has videos for all of these, but here is my short version.
– Before you choose your kiln, have an electrician check out your outlets in your garage or laundry room (or where you want to have your kiln) and find out the amperage. We had a 30 amp outlet, and our kiln was 27.5, so we installed a new outlet and switch that was 40 amp to give some room. It cost us about $100 to have this done.
– Make sure to get a vent, they sell them along with your kiln.
– You will need to get a furniture kit that matches the size of your kiln (shelves, posts, stilts).
– Before you fire, you’ll have to ‘kiln wash’ your shelves. You get the powdered mixture, add water, mix and use a paint brush to apply two even coats. This prevents glaze drips from permanently sticking to the shelves, thus making them uneven. Think of it as baking spray!
– Do a test fire with the cone before you fire any pieces. I was told this sets your kiln, and you can see the cone after the firing. It should be bended over to look like it is kissing the shelf.
– In the manual that comes with the kiln, it has a quick start guide to operating the kiln. Just punch a few buttons, if I can do it so can you!
– When it starts, it’ll rev up and make some clicking noises. I fire my underglazed bisque at cone 06 on medium speed (seven hours). If I work with greenware, I make my items, let them dry completely then fire them at cone 04 at slow speed. Then it becomes bisque!
– Never leave your kiln on unattended. Don’t leave to the movies, don’t go on a day trip. Make sure you or someone else is home at all times while it is on.
– Keep in mind that after firing is complete, the kiln will take about 6-8 hours to cool. Wait until it is at room temperature to open the lids and remove your items.
– Make sure to stilt all glazed pieces so they don’t stick to the shelves during firing. You don’t have to stilt unglazed bisque.
– Be aware of the thermocouple, and make sure not to hit it while loading the kiln.
– Use cones during firing to see how your kiln is working. It should bend over and kiss the shelf. If it doesn’t bend, your kiln didn’t fire hot enough, if it melts too much, it is too hot.
5. You can fix mistakes! What I love about ceramics, is there is almost always a way to fix things. If you smear your underglaze, you can use a small knife or lightly sand it (wear a mask) to remove it after it dries. Even after firing, I’ve heard of people using a Dremel to remove unwanted glazed areas, then redoing, refiring.
6. You can make pieces big and small – and mix and match them! So far I’ve painted large bisque vases and cut my own small pendants from white clay.
7. You can make your own molds! Use silicone mold makers and a bit of cornstarch to make multiples. You can also use candy making molds too. I’ll have a tutorial on this soon.
8. Once you have a kiln and get used to it, you can host your own private pottery studio and charge friends and family to fire! Maybe you and a neighbor can go halfers.
9. Keep all your kiln supplies in the same area. If you use a standing rack for pieces to dry, don’t put it too close to where you’ll be walking around and loading the kiln. My big butt once knocked over an artist’s drying rack! I could have died, I was so embarrassed, but then I realized that rack was so close to the kiln, it’s no wonder! Even skinny Kelly Ripa could have bumped into it!
10. Get excited! You can do this! I did!
I’ve had this same kiln for several years now and it is still going strong, I really love this model. Here are some other things I’ve learned!
- If the power goes out in the middle of a fire – say there is a thunderstorm – just restart the kiln and let it run through again.
- I’ve been working with clay now a lot. I do mostly small pieces and fire these to bisque at cone 06, medium speed.
- Always check your stilts to see if they need to be retired. After a lot of uses, they will get gunked up and cause your pieces to topple over.
- Keep in mind the kiln cools as long as it takes to heat up. On average I’ve found my kiln cools about 300 degrees per hour.
- Use a vacuum to clean debris from your kiln or those pesky specs can land on your pieces.
- If you glaze the bottom of your pieces, use a nail file to sand off the stilt marks, they can be very sharp!