Ward Burner Systems

Customized Combustion Equipment

Commercial Kilns vs. Site-Built Kilns



by Marc Ward
Clay Times Nov.1998

    For some folks the issue of whether to build their own kiln or buy a commercial kiln just doesn't exist. On one hand, some can't afford the initial capital outlay for a new commercially built kiln. On the other hand, some potters don't feel they have the time and/or skill to build their own. So, you don't fit into these two categories.  What to do? How do you decide?

    The first thing you need to factor into this decision is your long term goals. Are you going to be making a living from this kiln? Is this kiln going to be a tool of a much loved hobby? What level of trail and error are you willing to live with? Are you going to fire three times a week or once every couple of months?

    Now, I said you need to factor these things in. Is there a right or wrong answer?....... No, but the question concerning the level of trail and error goes to the heart of the matter.

    A professional may not have the luxury of bad or mediocre firings on the way to discovering they built a less than ideal kiln. Then again, a professional might have to make due with what they have while they are building their business. The person pursuing a hobby may be tickled with one good pot out of a load. Just as easily, they may become discouraged by their inability to fire the kiln correctly.

    A commercially built kiln is going to fire pretty evenly and in a reasonable time frame. Sure, there'll be a learning curve to deal with, but it will be a reliable kiln. The downsides; you're going to spend 3-5 times as much as one you build yourself. That may stop you from buying one, but it can be pretty expensive in the long run building kilns until you get it right. You are also going to have a large object delivered to your kiln site. It is going to be your responsibility to get this monster off the back of the truck and set where it belongs. With a "build on-site kiln", you won't have the same delivery hassles and your initial costs are going to be less. The only thing is; you gotta' build the thing. If cutting metal, laying brick, and solving technical problems isn't your thing, go with a commercial kiln.

    I'm going to leave you with this thought; think long term, not short term. Really analyze what your desires are in a kiln and whether you can provide for these desires yourself or need the assistance of others. A kiln is a tool. What's important is the items crafted with the help of this tool. Don't make the work you produce secondary to the choice of your firing tool.

    On a different note, I'd like to invite the readers of Clay Times to send in their questions regarding gas kilns, their use, and their problems. I'll pick a few questions each issue to answer. I look forward to hearing from you.