I absolutely love working with artists and artistically-minded people.  The creativity, energy, and vision that they bring to almost any situation is both astounding and refreshing to see.  Often, however, in our efforts to stay focused on the act of  “creating” we can loose sight of the less creative and more mundane tasks that need to be done.  I know that performing routine maintenance on your kiln is not as exciting as making art; it is sometimes tedious and can be inconvenient.  The benefits in terms of longer element life, better firings, and fewer breakdowns far outweigh the small amount of time you need to invest in doing it.

Last month I went over the tools that you need to have in your toolkit, this month I will start going over what to do with them, and how often.   Note that I have given the timeframes below in both calendar time AND approximate number of firings so that this list will be useful for casual artists, teachers, and the more prolific “makers”.

Kiln Routine Preventative Maintenance:

After EVERY firing

  • Visually inspect the bricks and element grooves in the kiln for debris and vacuum if necessary.
  • Clean your kiln shelves, if needed, and re-apply kiln wash as needed
  • Inspect the KilnSitter or thermocouples for visible damage, bending, or debris.  Replace if needed.
  • Make sure the vent holes in your kiln are not plugged with debris.
  • Make sure you filled out the firing log for that firing
  • Make sure any elements that are starting to come out of their grooves are put back in place and pinned down if necessary

Quarterly, or every 10 firings

  • Unplug the kiln and look at the end of the power cord.  Look for signs of heat or oxidation on both the power cord AND the wall outlet.  This will look like melted vinyl or greenish/blackish metal prongs.  Replace as necessary
  • Flip the breaker for the kiln to the OFF position and back ON.  The switch action should not be “soft”.  Replace the breaker if needed.
  • Make sure, when you plug the kiln back in, that the outlet connection ‘feels snug’.  A loose connection may indicate that the internal components of the outlet are starting to loosen up, and might need replacing.
  • Use shelf cones on your next firing.  This lets you verify that your kiln is actually achieving the desired cone and not in need of an adjustment to the KilnSitter or controller.
  • Vacuum the floor under the kiln and your kiln vent’s motor housing.  Don’t let dust build up in the motor coil.
  • Check your kiln’s case screws and tighten any that have worked loose.  Replace any that won’t tighten anymore.
  • Look for cracks in your lid and floor

Every 6 months, or 25 firings

  • Do a glow test on your kiln to make sure each element circuit is firing.  Note how long it takes for your elements to start to glow.  Remember that it may be normal for them to glow at different times depending on your model.  (I will go over proper “glow test” program in a future Tech Tip, as the program is a little different than a normal kiln firing.)  If anything seems strange, perform a resistance test on the elements with a digital multimeter.
  • Inspect your element connections and the internal control box wiring.  Is anything starting to get loose, “crispy”, or discolored?  If so, you ought to replace it now if possible
  • Perform a KilnSitter adjustment if you have a manual kiln
  • Remove and inspect any thermocouples that are in protection tubes.  Dump out the tube to remove any debris.
  • Visually inspect your kiln’s elements.  Are they rusting or deforming (such as starting to lay down in the groove).  This may be an indication that they need to be replaced soon.
  • Check the kiln’s steel jacket and tighten as needed
  • Inspect your kiln’s vent hose.  Look for small holes.  They can be patched with aluminum foil-backed duct sealing tape.  If the hose is really starting to degrade, replace it (they are CHEAP and available and most home improvement stores)

Once a Year

  • Look through your firing log.  Can you see any trends starting to occur, such as longer firing times?  This might suggest your elements are starting to age, and you ought to have a spare set ready to go.
  • How many firings have you done since your last element change?  How many firings are on this set of elements? Relays? Tube Assembly?  How many of them were bisque?  Glaze, and to what cone?
  • Open up your spare parts box and verify that you have the correct spare parts on-hand.  Sometimes you might find parts for a previous or older kiln that you don’t even have anymore.  If so, its time to get rid of those.

By starting to make this Routine part of your routine, you will be able to detect problems earlier, and often be able to correct them before they become major problems.  You will also be able to get things repaired BEFORE it is “crunch time” for an important show.  If you have any questions at all, you may ALWAYS pop me an email or a call here at Bracker’s.  We will be happy to help out.

Next month, I will be going over some common safety procedures that you need to know when you are working with kilns


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