Kilns from every manufacturer are configured with features that allow for different types of functions. These features are available in fiber and brick models. Here are a few of the configuration options and their benefits:
Top Load Kilns - Just like the name says, you load these from the top. The lid can either be hinged, or completely removable. This type of kiln is beneficial for jewelry makers who are loading lots of smaller pieces into a kiln. A top load kiln is perfect for those working with powders and frit right on the kiln shelf. Top loaders are also great for seeing what you are loading into the kiln, which can be harder in a front load kiln. If you have shorter arms and want a deep kiln, you might find top loaders to be a challenge. Top loaders are perfect for draping because they allow you to center your glass evenly over the drape mold.
Front Load Kilns - Front load kilns open like a refrigerator or microwave, or can open like an oven door. This type of kiln is beneficial for removing items from the kiln while they are hot as in enameling, or if you are doing hot manipulations like combing. Front loading square kilns. These kilns are designed especially for the user to manipulate the glass while hot. When the door is opened, the heat escapes up and the user can manipulate the glass easier with less direct heat in this kiln design. You will usually pay a premium for this configuration. If you have limited upper body strength, you may find front loading kilns to be a challenge as you will need to lift your work onto the shelf and slide it back. This is also true for the weight on the shelf and placing it in front of you.
Clam Shell Kilns - A clam shell loading kiln will open from the bottom and the top and sides will lift up onto the hinges, A clam shell kiln will sometimes also be a top loader as well. This kiln really delivers the best of both worlds; accessibility and free access to your shelf, in addition to ease of loading, and convenience. You will likely pay a premium for a top –load/clam shell kiln, but it’s usually worth the cost!
Flip Doors (aka; Punty Doors, Bead Doors, Doggie Doors) - These are a must if you are preheating rods, or making beads that need to immediately go into a kiln for annealing. Many times a flip door is added to make a kiln suitable for multiple functions. Think about what you plan on doing most and choose the kiln that is perfect for that function. Sometimes adding a flip door to a kiln makes it less efficient, and makes it harder for the kiln to reach top fusing temperatures. Consider this when you purchase.
Windows (aka; quartz portholes) - These are not the same as vent holes or peep holes. A window is a quartz porthole that allows the user to see into the kiln at peak firing temperatures. This feature is a purposeful add-on to a kiln, but not an absolute necessity. Windows are especially helpful when checking on the progress of a slumping, draping, or drop ring project. A window will also allow you to check the progress of a pot melt/aperature pour or screen melt.