My first larger kiln was a 24"octagon with a 21" round shelf. I was so excited at the time that I didn't realize that a 21" round shelf meant that a only a 15" inch square would fit on the shelf. I knew that was not going to be enough shelf space for me so the problem was easily fixed a year later when I sold that kiln and purchased an oval. So, now I had an oval, which I loved by the way, but that one had a two piece shelf, making it harder to do larger pieces without the dreaded line. The full shelves were a $250 upgrade which seemed like a lot of money at the time. However, I really should have upgraded and not cheaped-out as it would have saved me alot of hassle. Lesson learned.
About two years later, I then bought a new square one. This one had a 24" shelf and gave me a lot of utility. But again, I'd discovered there were issues I hadn't thought about. That kiln was very low to the ground and killed my back to load. Also, the lid was a bear to open and close from the front because again I didn't think I needed the lid lifter... so I'd have to stand on the side to open it. That added torque to the lid and a crack soon appeared. Again, I was being frugal and should have upgraded. After the lid was replaced, I sold that one too and continued my quest.
With all of that said... here's my checklist of what to think about when purchasing your first larger kiln. I wish someone would have shared this with me about 20 kilns ago.
- Think about what kind of work you might want to do in the future. Your choice might work for today's needs, but will it look for tomorrows needs?
- Think about your body. This might sound silly to you, but if you intend to use your new kiln a lot, you'd better be comfortable loading it, scraping the shelves, vacuuming it and lifting the lid. You will absolutely use the kiln LESS if you are not comfortable. Be smart, get the lid lifter, or the full shelf, or the clamshell, or the taller stand, even if it costs more. It will be worth it in long-term utility.
- Be honest with yourself. Will you change the relays every year or two without someone standing over you to do it? If not, then think about getting mercury relays, which never need to be changed. Yes, they're an upgrade, but in 14 years and over 25 kilns I've had a few relay failures. Two of my failure happened with full kiln loads and the relays stuck in the "on" position. It does happen and it's no one's fault. It's just like a blown out tire, it just happens.
- Think about how lazy or energetic you are. No one is judging you here! I can be lazy and I'll admit it. How much do you love to scrape shelves and vacuum? I don't love it, so I avoid it. The way to fix this problem and make it less irritating is to actually purchase extra shelves with your kiln. It's actually much less expensive and far healthier to use kiln wash than it is to use fiber paper. The more shelves you can rotate, the less scraping and coating it will feel like you are doing.
- Finally, really think about getting what you want. I cheaped-out on several upgrade items that would have made me happier with my kiln long term. Even if it hurts a little, get what you need so that you don't have regrets.
- Think long-term about your artwork needs!
- Think long-term about your physical needs and how they might change!
- Think long-term about your nature and how you want to spend time!
- Think long-term about your budget and what you'll really need to make you happy on #1-2-3!