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Types of Pottery Kilns
Purchasing a pottery kiln is no inexpensive undertaking. It is the largest investment a potter has to make. But which type of kiln should you buy Good question.
In this article, I will take a closer look at different types of kilns available and a history of how pottery kilns were used in the making of handmade pottery and other ceramic pieces.
2nd century pottery kiln
Primitive kilns were no more than the simple hearths used for cooking, warmth, light, and protection. In fact, pit kilns being very easy are still incorporated in hand made pottery and ceramics. Clay has been used since prehistory for decoration and function but it is unknown how the actual firing process was discovered. It is thought that the first fired pots originated nearly 10,000 years ago, when agriculture began. These early farmers needed storage containers and fired clay served these needs well. The earliest kilns were pits dug into the ground and the pottery loosely stacked on top of each other. Flammable materials were placed around the pottery and the fire was allowed to burn down. After cooling, the pots were cleaned of the ash and residue and were then used.
Another early form of pottery kiln, the beehive kiln, was the first kiln constructed that looks like what we consider a kiln. The pots are stacked in an arched chamber retaining greater heat than the pit kiln and making the pottery more durable. An alternate type of the beehive concept was built in China around 500 A.D., yes way back then, and called the stepped kiln. This kiln used the simple form of the beehive, but had multiple chambers in a terraced pattern so that the kiln capacity could be increased. This worked well in villages where pottery making was a primary activity, and where a large volume of pottery was needed.
A well known kiln concept that is used today is the natural gas kiln. Rather than using the flammable materials of the pit and step kilns, natural gas is used for the fuel. There are both updraft and downdraft natural gas kilns available. The advantages of natural gas as a fuel are that it produces very low levels of pollution, and that the fuel is relatively inexpensive. In some areas propane is more commonly used as a fuel; however care must be taken as propane is heavier than air and if the flame should get extinguished, the gas can settle and produce a potential for explosion. Natural gas will disperse on its own since it is lighter than air.
The only new kiln technology is the electric kiln. Unlike other methods which utilize a fuel for operation, electric kilns run by coiled wires that bring about heat. A toaster operates on the same principle. A lot of the modern electric pottery kilns are equipped with electronic shut off devices, called kiln sitters, to monitor the firing process. Still, any kiln must never be left unattended.
So there you have it, a brief history of the kiln and the different concepts behind it and its construction. Now go make pottery.