Category Archives: L & L

a successful first bisque

I wrote this post just over a month ago, but for some reason, I never posted it. So here it goes (and there is more to follow).
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I’m declaring my first bisque firing a success.

I have never been so excited to fire a bisque before. But after more than a year of producing nothing but green-ware, it’s a big milestone to fire this bisque.

The process of getting to this point has been long. The house renovations, the studio building, etc… all took a long time. But it was the end part- of getting all the electric service upgraded and everything hooked up and running really seemed to take forever! It really did take a long time, but I do know that my anxiousness about it made it feel like it dragged out even longer.

After many phone calls to the electric company to finish the hook-up of the upgraded service, it took the crew 3 tries to get the work done. First time they got to our house, rang our bell and said “we can’t stay, we have another appointment.” Next day: “We only have one tall ladder and we don’t have it with us today.” Then a few days later, they finally came with all the right equipment.


View from our 2nd floor balcony.

A huge thanks to Paul Randall from The Pottery @ Raccoon Highway.  He did a lot of things to help get me to the point of firing including chiseling a hole through our foundation to install the kiln vent. That was not an easy thing to do! Thank you Paul!

I took my time loading the kiln. For the past 10 years, when firing at Lillstreet, I had to sign up for a time to load the kiln whether it was electric, soda or straight reduction. More often than not, you’d be loading a warm kiln that had just been unloaded by a class or another studio member. And then there was usually a time deadline that the kiln had to be unloaded so the next person renting the kiln could load and start up their firing. So I decided to luxuriously load my kiln. (yes, that’s what I consider a luxury!). So when I knew the first firing was in sight, I started loading her up. I ended up making more pieces to ensure a nicely loaded kiln. I hate wasting space!

After all the electric was done, and the venting was hooked up, I wanted to do a few things to ensure that the ceiling and kiln room didn’t get too hot.

While we were building out the space, we did put up cement board on the walls near the kiln. It is spaced off the wall so there is both a heat resistant barrier, and also the air space helps with insulation. Luckily there are 4 windows in the room, so I wasn’t worried about air intake and exhaust. And of course there is the Envirovent exhaust fan that is installed on my kiln.

Two things that I did need to figure out- A heat deflector and a fan that could keep the air moving in the room.

I knew from previous experience how important a heat deflector above a kiln is. It’s summer, and the room above the kiln room is my sister’s dining room. The floor above is wood (obvious concerns) and I also didn’t want to make their living space too uncomfortable to be in. So I took a piece of thick pink foam insulation, high heat spray adhesive and some wide aluminum foil and attached the foil to one side of the foam (side facing the kiln). The foam and the adhesive were left over from our previous construction and the foil was leftover from Thanksgiving. There are radiator pipes above the kiln (a bonus is that they don’t mind getting hot!). I used the pipes to suspend the foam over the kiln and have a nice air space between the foam/deflector and the ceiling/floor above.

I don’t know if you can tell, but the foam is a full 4′ x 8′ sheet. If you don’t happen to have a piece of pink foam insulation around, you can buy a sheet that has foil on 1 side. But since I already had some, I didn’t want to have to buy a new sheet.

The next thing was air movement. I wanted a really good fan that could keep air constantly flowing over the kiln (by the ceiling). I ended up getting a Vornado fan. I had it next to a similar size/design Honeywell fan and the difference was pretty shocking. The Vornado fan is many many many times stronger than the Honeywell (both were from Target).  So we aimed the fan from across the room, angled up at the ceiling, and towards the windows. Sure enough, at the height of the firing, the air space above the heat deflector was *cool.* It was actually the coolest spot in the room. And I kept checking in the dining room by walking on the floor with my bare feet and I didn’t feel like it was a single degree warmer than anywhere else. Amazing! Of course this is just a bisque. The c.10 firing is next. But I feel like this was a really successful test run. (spoiler alert: I’ve since fired the kiln to c.5 and c.10 and both were successful, and the heat deflector/fan combo worked like a charm.)

This photo is a little funny, but it gives you an idea of the set up. The way the Vornado fans work is that there is a very directed column of air.  So by aiming it up at the ceiling, it gave a constant flow of air over the heat deflector for the whole firing. Super simple and low tech- but it worked.

Next step is mixing up some glazes, finishing building the spray booth and finally firing a glaze firing. Yay!

In non-clay news, I’ve been spending a lot of time gardening. At the beginning of the spring, we didn’t have a single plant growing in the yard, and no grass. It’s so satisfying to have a lush green space now. Last summer we were so deep into the construction, our yard was a total mess- nails, scraps of wood and broken glass was scattered about. We didn’t spend any more time in our yard than it took to walk from the driveway to the house.

I planted a vegetable garden in our front yard. I’ve always wanted to have a veggie garden in the front yard- frees up the back yard for play space and it’s a nice way to get to know the neighbors.  Plus, it’s quite sunny. I started off kind of small this year, but it’s been a great success, so I’m planning on expanding it quite a bit next summer.

My new L&L kiln

Can you tell I’m excited?

After being without a kiln for the last 11 month, I finally got my kiln! It’s an L&L Davinci x3236-D Automatic. I have been asked many times how I chose my kiln. It is a huge decision to make, so I wanted to share my thought process and maybe it’ll help someone out there make their choice a little easier.

First decision: What kiln manufacturer did I want to go with? This was the easiest part of my decision. I’ve long coveted an L&L. They have a number of design features that strike me as both brilliant and completely logical. The big ones are:

  • The element holders are hard brick. Makes sense, right?
  • The electric controls are separate from the kiln. Sensitive computer parts are kept far away from the heat. Again, very logical.

The other thoughts I had about what manufacturers to go with.

  • I have had a lot of experience with Skutt kilns. Lillstreet had a ton of them. The 2nd floor set of kilns didn’t get particularly high usage, but it seems like there was always one down for one reason or another. More often than it seems like they should have. I’m sure there are lots of people who swear by their Skutts, but based on this experience, I didn’t want to go in that direction if I didn’t have to.
  • Any kiln is going to run into a problem at some point. So the question is- how are you going to fix it? If you’re super handy, it might be something that you can tackle yourself. If not, then who? A friend of mine, Donovan Palmquist of Master Kiln Builders is a dealer and repair person for L&L so I knew I had that covered. Plus I was able to order my kiln through him. You can also contact your local ceramics supply place and ask them if they have a repair person for a particular manufacturer. If you don’t have a supplier nearby, ask other potters in your area. Or you can also call a company directly and ask them to give you the name and contact information of a dealer/repair person in your area. Hopefully it’s not something that you’ll need for a while, but it’s good to know ahead of time so when the kiln breaks right before your last firing before a show, you’ll know what you need to do in the midst of your state of panic. Also, L&L has a 3 year warranty.

Second part of the decision: Size and shape.

My long term plan: Sometime next year, I am planning/hoping to build a soda kiln in my back yard. But I want to progress with making work right now, and not just wait until the soda kiln to happen. So I wanted a kiln that I can take up to cone 10. Even after I build the soda kiln, I want to be able to high fire non-soda pieces. A couple of years ago, I started making a lot of c.10 (reduction) dinnerware, or sometimes designed place setting that were a mix of soda and straight reduction (specifically tried to avoid dinner plates in soda). I wanted to build that option into the kiln I got. For the interim, I want to be ready to fire work in friend’s kilns- soda, wood, salt, etc… and not worry about clay bodies, etc… And hopefully there will be some glaze overlap too.

The other part is that I didn’t want to outgrow the kiln in 6 months. I want to make larger work- wide platters and tall bottles. Especially once I have the soda kiln- so I need to be able to bisque larger pieces. At this moment, I plan on having the footprint of the soda kiln be two 14″by 28″ shelves. The interior of my new L&L is 30.5″ square and the height is 36″ which will allow me to make the size pieces that I want to. I ended up getting a larger, more expensive electric kiln than I had originally planned, but it would ultimately be more expensive for me to buy a 2nd kiln in a year or two. So I had to wait a little longer to get the kiln that I knew would fit my needs now, and in the long term.

Shape. The square makes sense to me. Whenever I load octagonal kilns, I often get frustrated. Do I need to say more than that?

Below I’ve included the specs of the kiln (from L&L):

Specifications

  • Internal Size: 30 1/2″ square x 36″ high
  • Number of Sections: Four
  • Brick: 3″ of premium select K23
  • Max Temp: 2350F, 1287C, Cone 10
  • Control Panel Mount: Floor Standing, Plug-in, separate from kiln
  • Control: Handheld DynaTrol with Dynamic Zone Control, 4 preset programs, 6 user defined programs
  • Industrial Thermocouples
  • Hinge: Spring Loaded Counterbalance
  • Stand: Heavy-Duty Welded Angle Iron
  • Power Hook Up: Direct Hook-Up
  • Heavy Duty Elements
  • Three Year Warranty
  • Listed to UL499 Standards

And this is the vent system for the L&L kiln:

VENT-SURE KILN VENT SYSTEM


  • WALL MOUNTED VENT BLOWER

The vent blower motor is mounted on the wall. This keeps the heat of the kiln away from the motor (for long motor life) and keeps the motor vibration away from the kiln (which can cause ware to move, damage to the kiln, and misfiring of cones on a Kiln Sitter).

  • VACUUM IS SAFER THAN PRESSURE

The vent tubing is kept under vacuum instead of pressure (unlike competitive brands). This insures that any leak in the tubing does not blow noxious fumes into your room.

  • EXTERNAL VENTING IS BETTER

External venting is safer and surer than venting to the inside of your kiln room with a filter.

  • LARGE CAPACITY

The blower vents up to 130 CFM (cubic feet per minute). This will handle up to a 20 cubic foot kiln (and usually larger). More than one vent can be attached to a kiln. Only 1.37 amps.

  • SIX FOOT POWER CORD WITH ON/OFF SWITCH

The blower motor features a 6 foot long 120 volt 15 amp power cord. An On/Off switch is located on the cord.

  • ADJUSTABLE VENT CONTROL

A vacuum bypass on the kiln bypass/collection box adjusts the amount of venting from the system. Don’t waste heat and energy by venting more than you need. Adjust vent to kiln size.

  • 15 FEET OF FLEXIBLE ALUMINUM DUCT

15 feet of flexible expandable aluminum 3″ diameter duct is included along with necessary hose clamps. Longer lengths or lengths of 3″ stove pipe can be used as well. Length can be as great as 60 feet horizontal or vertical with up to four 90 degree bends.

So there is still some work to be done. We had our electric service upgraded so it can handle the kiln. Every kiln manufacturer website has these specs listed.

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I have taken a lot of safety precautions since my kiln is in the basement of my home, and I have a couple more that I’m going to add in before I do my initial firing. I know all about being overly cautious of the out-gassing, etc… But if you have any specific safety features that you have taken in your space, I’d love to hear about them. I will do a future post on that part of the kiln installation since I think it deserves it’s own post.

I’m going to spend some serious time reading the manual now. It is a very full 3 ring binder. One caution that’s in the book is not to plug it into an extension cord. That totally cracked me up. Seriously, though, there is a little more electric work that has to be done before I can fire. We just did a major service upgrade to accommodate the power draw of the kiln. Before you actually purchase your kiln, look up the kiln on the manufacturer’s website and look up the electrical specs. Print out the info sheet and have it when you have an electrician come do a bid. And get at least 3 bids. Really.