Bisque Firing | How to Do It, The Purpose, & Tips

This article will be your easy guide to bisque firing, giving you tips and tricks to make sure your creations turn out great in the kiln. We'll cover the basics of bisque firing, why it matters to get the temperature right, and everything you need to know, whether you're just starting or looking to improve your pottery skills.

What is Bisque Firing?

Bisque firing is a critical stage in ceramic production. The process converts raw, bone-dry clay into a resilient and porous ceramic form. This transformative process is essential for ensuring the piece's structural integrity during glaze firing, creating a stable foundation for safe and successful decoration. 

Related: What Can a Kiln Be Used For? 

The Stages of Bisque Firing

Bisque firing, a fundamental process in pottery crafting, encompasses several essential stages. Firstly, the clay objects must undergo thorough drying to eliminate moisture and avoid potential cracking in the kiln. Following this, a preheating phase gradually increases the kiln's temperature, effectively removing any remaining moisture and minimizing the risk of thermal shock during bisque firing. The main bisque firing stage involves heating the kiln to a specific temperature range, typically between 1650-1940°F (900-1060°C), for several hours. This critical step allows the clay to undergo chemical changes, resulting in hardened and durable pottery with a porous surface suitable for absorbing glazes.

Once the bisque firing process is complete, the kiln is turned off, and the pottery is allowed to cool gradually. This slow cooling process is vital to prevent thermal shock and potential damage to the fired pieces. Once cooled to room temperature, the bisque-fired pottery is carefully removed from the kiln, marking the completion of this preparatory stage. 

Regardless of the desired peak kiln temperature for the initial firing, the commencement of the procedure remains consistent. It is imperative to maintain an oxygen-rich atmosphere in the kiln. This is naturally achieved in an electric kiln, but an abundance of air is essential in a fuel-fired kiln. Without sufficient oxygen, the combustion of organic and sulfur compounds cannot occur, potentially leading to defects in subsequent glaze firings. This emphasis on the kiln environment highlights its critical role in achieving successful ceramic outcomes.

What Kind of Kiln Should You Bisque In?

Choosing the right ceramic kiln for bisque firing is crucial to ensuring the proper transformation of raw clay into a durable, porous ceramic material. Here are some considerations when selecting a kiln for bisque firing:

1. Electric Kilns

Electric kilns operate using electricity to heat coils or elements embedded in the kiln walls, offering precise temperature control suitable for bisque firing and other ceramic processes. 

They come in various sizes and designs, from tabletop models to larger production kilns, making them adaptable to different spaces and workflows. Electric kilns are ideal for indoor use and do not produce harmful fumes, eliminating the need for extensive ventilation systems. 

They are energy-efficient, can maintain a stable temperature, and often come equipped with programmable controllers for customized firing schedules. While they typically have a lower initial cost than gas or wood-fired kilns, they still provide reliable and consistent results, requiring minimal maintenance. Widely available and accessible, electric kilns are a popular kiln choice for beginners and experienced ceramic artists, offering a practical and user-friendly option for bisque firing ceramics.

2. Gas Kilns

Gas kilns burn natural gas, or propane, to generate heat for firing ceramics. These kilns offer advantages such as faster firing times and reaching high temperatures, making them suitable for various ceramic processes, including bisque firing. Gas kilns are often favored for their efficiency in achieving specific glaze effects through reduction firing. They come in different sizes and designs, providing flexibility for studio spaces and production needs. 

However, using gas kilns requires access to gas and proper ventilation due to the combustion process. While they may have a higher initial cost than electric kilns, the ongoing fuel expenses can be more economical. Gas kilns require periodic maintenance, such as checking burners and ensuring proper ventilation systems, making them suitable for those with experience or a willingness to learn about gas-fired ceramics. In summary, gas kilns offer versatility and efficiency, especially for those seeking specific firing effects, but considerations such as fuel availability and safety measures need attention.

Related: Best Kilns for Home Use 

ALL ABOUT the Bisque Firing Process With YOUR Kiln

Bisque firing is an important step in the ceramic firing process. It involves firing THE clay objects in a kiln to a specific temperature to harden the clay and prepare it for glazing.

WHY BISQUE FIRE? What Happens If You Skip the Bisque Firing Stage?

The bisque firing deals with ALL THE unwanted stuff in YOUR clay, like water molecules and organic gases. Skipping this step can lead to bubbling or pinholes in the glaze, making your creation far from perfect. Moreover, the surface won’t be porous enough for glazes to stick properly, potentially turning your project into a time-wasting letdown. Ultimately, even though bisque firing takes longer, it’s the key to a successful ceramic project, ensuring that your glazes and decorations stick just right and your hard work pays off. Skipping the bisque firing step and jumping straight to glaze firing might seem tempting, but it’s like building a house without a proper foundation. The bisque firing process is crucial because it prepares the ceramic for the high temperatures involved in glazing. Without it, your masterpiece risks cracking or falling apart.

Bisque Firing Temperatures

Determining the precise bisque firing temperature isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula. The recommended range typically falls between cone 06 and cone 04, irrespective of the specific clay or glaze temperature.

Choosing a particular firing temperature serves specific purposes. Opting for cone 06, for instance, induces clay shrinkage and porosity, creating an ideal surface for glaze adherence. On the other hand, firing cone 04 enhances the overall strength and durability of the pottery.

A higher bisque firing temperature generally results in a less porous ceramic. If you aim to achieve a finished piece with increased porosity, facilitating better glaze absorption, opting for a lower bisque firing temperature is preferable. This nuanced approach to firing temperatures underscores the importance of tailoring the process to meet specific artistic and functional objectives in ceramic production.

Related: What is Raku Firing

How to Reach the Bisque Firing Process With a Kiln

Bisque firing is an important step in the ceramic firing process. It involves firing the clay objects in a kiln to a specific temperature to harden the clay and prepare it for glazing. Here's a step-by-step guide on the bisque firing process with a kiln:

1. Prepare Your Clay Objects

Preparing clay objects for firing involves several vital steps to ensure successful and durable results. First, ensure the clay is thoroughly dry to prevent steam from building up during firing, which can lead to cracking. If the clay is freshly made or too moist, let it air dry or use a drying cabinet to remove excess moisture gradually.

Once the clay is adequately dry, inspect the objects for any imperfections or air bubbles. Smooth out any cracks or irregularities using the appropriate tools. It's also essential to bisque-fire the clay before glazing, which involves firing the objects at a lower temperature to remove residual water and strengthen the clay. After bisque-firing, the objects are ready for glazing, if desired, followed by a final firing to achieve the desired finish. 

2. Load the Kiln

Loading a kiln for bisque firing is straightforward but vital for good results. Raise the bottom shelf 1 inch above the kiln surface for proper air circulation, maintaining a 1-inch distance between your ceramics and the kiln's elemental walls to ensure even heat. Leave 1 to 1.5 inches of space between the ware and the top shelf, allowing for uniform heat distribution. Keep the kiln cover 1.5 to 2 inches away from your ceramics for effective firing. If stacking, maintain a 1/4 inch gap for side-by-side placement of pieces on a half shelf. This thoughtful loading process optimizes kiln capacity and consistent bisque firing for subsequent glazing or finishing.

3. Ventilation 

Pay attention to the ventilation in your kiln for a successful bisque firing. Keep a small gap between the kiln lid and its body to release initial moisture and gases. Ensure any vent holes are clear for controlled gas discharge. Watch for excess smoke or strong odors during firing, adjusting ventilation as needed. Gradually close the lid gap to retain heat, avoiding quick closures to protect clay objects from thermal shock. Sustain some ventilation in the final cooling phase to control the process and reduce the risk of cracks. Always follow the manufacturer's guidelines for ventilation if you want to safely fire your kiln. 

4. Program the Kiln

Programming the kiln ensures precise control over the firing conditions. It involves setting specific temperature parameters, typically between 1700 to 1900 degrees Fahrenheit (927 and 1038 degrees Celsius), and controlling the rate at which the kiln heats up, known as the ramp-up phase. This gradual increase helps prevent thermal shock in the clay objects, preserving their integrity. Additionally, programming includes holding or soaking at the peak temperature, allowing the clay to mature fully and burn off any remaining organic materials. This meticulous control of the firing process ensures consistency, repeatability, and optimal kiln operation.

5. Ramp Up

Ramping up is a critical phase in the ceramics firing process and involves a controlled and gradual increase in kiln temperature. This deliberate ascent is essential to avoid thermal shock and potential damage to the clay objects. At the outset, the kiln temperature is raised slowly, allowing for the careful evaporation of any lingering moisture within the clay. This precautionary measure prevents the accumulation of steam, which could lead to undesirable consequences such as cracking or, in extreme cases, the explosive failure of the clay.

Following this initial stage, the temperature is incrementally increased to reach the specific bisque firing temperature. The rate of temperature increase, known as the ramp rate, is tailored based on factors like clay type and firing requirements. This staged approach ensures that the clay undergoes the necessary physical and chemical transformations without excessive stress. Successfully navigating the ramping-up phase is crucial for achieving a well-fired bisque and preparing the ceramics for subsequent glazing processes, if desired.

6. Hold at Bisque Temperature

After the kiln reaches the specified bisque firing temperature, typically between 1700 and 1900 degrees Fahrenheit, it enters a phase where this temperature is maintained for a set period. This period is known as the "hold" or "soak" time. During this time, the clay undergoes crucial chemical and physical transformations. The hold allows the clay to mature fully, ensuring it is stable. Additionally, any remaining organic materials in the clay are burned off during this phase. The duration of the hold is determined by factors such as the type of clay being used and the desired characteristics of the finished pieces. Holding at bisque temperature contributes significantly to the fired ceramic objects' strength, stability, and quality.

7. Cool Down

After reaching the desired bisque firing temperature in the kiln, it's crucial to cool it down properly. First, turn off the kiln and let it naturally cool. Avoid opening it until the temperature drops significantly. When it reaches around 200 degrees Fahrenheit, crack the kiln lid for ventilation. Once the kiln is at room temperature, inspect the bisque-fired pieces for a chalky appearance, indicating readiness for glazing.

Patience is key to preventing thermal shock during the cooling process, which can cause cracks in the ceramics. After ensuring the kiln is cool, clean up any debris, and if glazing, proceed with that step. Proper cooling is essential for the durability of your pieces and sets the stage for the next stages in the ceramic process.

8. Unload the Kiln

Unloading the kiln holds a significance equal to loading and firing it. The anticipation of revealing the fired creations from the kiln is akin to unwrapping a present. The effort invested in clay preparation, designing, forming, and patiently navigating through the various stages of the firing process makes unloading a pivotal moment. It is crucial to exercise caution and avoid hasty actions driven by excitement, as a simple misstep can lead to undesirable outcomes. To ensure a successful unloading process, wait until the kiln is at room temperature or, at the very least, cool enough for safe handling.

Remember to follow the guidelines provided by your clay and glaze manufacturers, as different types of clay and glazes may have unique filing requirements. Always prioritize safety when working with a kiln, and follow the manufacturer's instructions for your specific kiln model.


Bisque firing is crucial, transforming raw clay into a durable canvas. This guide covers kiln selection process steps and emphasizes the need for careful preparation and controlled programming, regardless of kiln type. Temperature variations highlight the importance of tailored firing for artistic and functional goals. Skipping bisque firing is like building a house without a foundation, risking structural integrity. Patience and precision in bisque firing lead to a journey from clay to a masterpiece with durability, artistic expression, and success.

Looking for a great pottery kiln? Check out some of our favorites:

Olympic MAS1823HE

Evenheat HF 1210B

Jen-Ken A3FC 1822 Ceramic Kiln

Paragon Janus1613

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