by Marc Ward
Clay Times March 2005
Just as the New Year brings out a rash of well-intentioned health club memberships, so spring ushers in plans for a new kiln. Iím getting calls from excited potters, nervous potters, and potters resigned to spending money they feel they donít have. The excited potters are building their first kiln or the kiln they always wanted. The nervous ones are feeling they are in over their heads and the resigned folks have realized they canít squeak out another year on that Ďole workhorse. Whatever group you fall into, there is one thing,Ö one overriding thing, that your plans must include.
That one thing is the burner system that is the correct one for the kiln and your gas supply. Youíll notice I didnít just say ďthe burner systemĒ. The one thing you need is the ďcorrect systemĒ for your kiln and gas supply. I hear a sad scenario played out far to often. Itís a scenario that can be avoided. Donít assume.
Donít assume if you build a kiln just like so-and-soís it will work exactly like theirs. I have already had to give the bad news to several people this year that what they built wonít work with the burner system they were planning to use. A few of these folks only have the option of taking the kiln down and starting over. If Joe Fakeash has built a kiln that you copy and you donít copy everything, and I mean everything, your chances of having a kiln just like theirs is slim. Are you using the same gas? Are you using the same pressure? Are you providing the same Btuís per cubic foot? If this is natural gas, do you have the same meter capacity? Is it the same distance from the meter? Same pipe size? Same number of elbows? Now, Iím not trying to scold anyone, I just want people to avoid some heartache by getting all their ducks in a row. Ducks donít get rowed-up by assuming.
Donít assume those old burners you were given are going to work. Donít assume that safety stuff you bought on ebay for such a steal is going to be useful. And, hereís the hard part; donít assume everyone who claims expertise knows what theyíre talking about. The only thing you can assume is that the last sentence will cause me some grief. But, itís time I threw down a gauntletÖ. Not to mention too many clichťs.
There are far too many folks out there giving advice, leading workshops, and getting paid to teach and donít know the things they should. Oh, GodÖ there, Iíve said it. But, itís really about the assumption thread I was working on. If youíre not supposed to assume, whom do you ask?
That, I canít tell you. What I can tell you are a few of the questions you should ask BEFORE you take a workshop, BEFORE you buy plans, BEFORE you trust someone to help you. Hopefully, if enough people start asking these questions, the worthless workshops, the crappy plans, and the questionable programs will bone-up on what they need to know or they will quit selling half of something for full price. I canít tell you how many people I talk to that have been to or bought something to help them build a kiln in which the burner system was not really mentioned. This is not a kiln building workshop or plan. Itís brick stacking. Now, brick stacking is an integral part of kiln building, but itís only half the equation. Many of these hopeful potters set out stacking bricks like they were shown only to have me tell them that what they were shown wonít work for them.
Now, I know that some folks are thinking that Iím sounding pretty damn self-serving Ďcause Iím a burner guy. The truth is; I sell burners, not advice. The advice I give away when you buy burners because I want the kiln to work. The burners are going to get sold anyway. What could change is that people get the help they need and pay for by many of these so-called professionals. Ouch. Hereís where the email flames start. To make it hard on those that are selling themselves as experts and fair to those paying for the knowledge, hereís a list of questions that might be asked BEFORE someone signs up for a workshop, buys plans, or enrolls in a kiln-building course.
Is this a kiln you have built before and successfully fired?
(This doesnít necessarily need to be answered in the affirmative, but a track record of successful kilns is mandatory and references should be available.)
What temperature & time frame is the kiln designed for?
If I want to fire it to a different temperature or in a different time frame, will the burner requirements be spelled out?
Will varying burner requirements be giving or available if the kiln is built from different materials or needs to be fueled with other gases or pressures?
Will the kiln be completed and fired or is this masonry construction only?
If I have problems or questions, are you available to help me with follow-up information?
Only you can be the judge of how these questions are answered. But, I really feel that if these questions are asked, youíll get a good feel for what you can expect to get for your time and money. Good Luck. Have Fun & Be Safe.