Firing Solutions for Metal Clay & More
Choosing a kiln or firing solution is a big decision!
Your choice should based not only on the current artistic medium that you are working with, but also with any future mediums that you may wish to try.
Firing solutions come in many different forms besides just electric kilns, such as fuel based firing options and microwave kilns. Kilns come in many different sizes with a variety of available features that allow for maximum control.
A few questions you need to ask...
What art mediums can I fire?
This will determine what sort of firing solution you really need. If you plan to do glass, you will likely want a kiln that has the capability of firing with different segments within a program so you can take your glass through the different temperature levels. If you are doing low-fire ceramics, then you will want a kiln that fires hotter. If you will be slumping larger glass pieces, then you will want a roomier kiln.
What temperature will the kiln fire to?
This is an important question to be answered, as some kilns will not fire hot enough to work with ceramics or glass or even to properly cinter metal clays!
Do I need a portable firing solution?
If you plan to travel to teach or if you are a road warrior, RV driving nomad, maybe a more portable fuel based option would be a good choice for you or a small electric model like the Lilly Kiln™ Traveler™ with available padded travel case.
Based on the answers to the above questions and your budget, you will be able to better choose what firing solution will work best for your personal needs. Below are some more specific details on your different firing options. Electric kilns are the most widely used, but innovation has provided quite a few other options for you to consider.
If you are looking for a non-fuel based option with a contained heat source, an electric kiln is likely the choice for you. Electric kilns come in very basic analog models up to being fully digitally controlled. For metal clays, there are many choices that can be plugged into a normal 110v wall socket with no special wiring needed.
Digitally controlled kilns on the other hand are a great choice for those with a short attention span, as they are fully programmed (and programmable) and can be fired with a simply touch of a button - they do their thing and turn themselves off when finished! They are a bit more costly, but to many, well worth the money because of the ease of use and the flexibility to use them with many mediums beyond metal clays.
If you are looking for something super simple and nice to look at, you may consider one of the Lilly Kiln™ models such as the Original Lilly Kiln™, Lilly Kiln™ Traveler™ or the Lilly Kiln™ Jumbo. All plug into a normal household electric socket, fire to 2000 degrees F, have handles for carrying, a cord wrap and are fully programmable with up to 8 segments for each of its 9 programmable slots. The Lilly Kiln™ are manufactured and warrantied by Paragon Kilns. Evenheat Kilns also makes a very popular model for metal clay called the Evenheat E-360. The Paragon Xpress E12AE-12 multimedia kiln is a larger kiln that is perfect for people wanting to fire bigger pieces.
These are usually controlled with a simple knob and some include an external pyrometer (temperature gauge). These are initially calibrated to determine what temperature each number on the knob represents. With most analog kilns you will usually just time your firings and "babysit" the kiln. These are not the most ideal for glass use, nor for people that tend to get distracted.
Both Evenheat and Paragon make great models of analog kilns. The Evenheat Studio Digital Pro is a cool kiln that has an outboard digital pyrometer and has a unique top and bottom access design that is not available on any other kiln. The Paragon Firefly Kiln is a cost-effictive and efficient analog kiln that is great for beginners or budget minded artists.
If you plan on teaching or traveling with your firing solution, you may want to consider non-kiln options like a hand held butane torch. Torches are the most compact firing option and fire quickly, but many people tire of holding the torch to fire and do not like the open, non-restricted flame. The SpeedFire® SuperMini™ a superior compact fuel based firing product that fires quickly and is full proof in that it will not get to a temperature hot enough to melt your silver clay. There is a larger version of this product available called the SpeedFire® Cone. It fires hotter and can accept a larger fuel canister that will allow it to fire much longer. There is actually an adapter available so that it can be hookup up to a grill sized propane tank! These fuel based options allow for the greatest portability and the fastest firing of silver clay, but will not work with other metal clays (gold, bronze, copper) and will not work on glass or ceramics.
These kilns have been around for many years for use with glass. Their use with metal clays have had mixed results. The temperature they heat to varies greatly due to the actul kiln, how it was manufactured and the power of the microwave. The only true benefit to a kiln of this sort is its low cost. With the lack of control of temperature, a torch or SpeedFire® SuperMini™ are a better decision at a lower price. Be aware that if you do choose a microwave kiln to closely follow the manufactures direction and only use a microwave that fits their description!
Before purchasing ANY firing solution, check the specs to make sure that it has all of your desired features! This is probably the single largest purchase you will make for your metal clay art! Choose wisely young Jedi.