Pottery kilns are amazing. These shiny containers can turn oxides, clay, and flux into beautiful, shiny objects under extreme heat. When you become acquainted with how they work, and you will realize that they are like big ovens, made of elements, thermocouples, and relay switches. However, despite the amazing attributes of Pottery Kilns, you are wondering whether they are safe to use or not.
Pottery kilns are safe as long as you play by the rules when purchasing, installing, and using them. Choose the Kiln’s location carefully to ensure safety once you fire it up. The heat and vapors that kilns emit can be dangerous if the working environment and ventilation are of a poor choice.
There are many advantages to bringing a kiln home, but they are understandably intimidating to beginners. This article will highlight the dangers of improper kiln use. Read on and understand the options that will keep you safe as you indulge in your fun Pottery Crafting Hobby.
What Are the Dangers of Pottery Kilns?
Pottery Kilns can be Gas-fired or Electric. The Electric Kiln is the most common type there is. This Kiln type has heating elements that will heat up your Kiln up as electric currents pass through them.
The natural gas, propane, wood, coal, or oil-fired Kiln have some barriers to use and require fire safety permits before installation and use. I will be focusing on the safety of the most popular electric kilns.
Bisque firing is generally fired between 1828°F (998°C) Cone 06 and 1945°F (1063°C) Cone 04.
Firing Bisqueware requires earthenware to be fired at temperatures around 1828°F (998°C) Cone 06. While stoneware will need at least 2167 °F (1186°C) Cone 5. Some porcelain could require temperatures as high as 2345 °F (1285°C) Cone 10.
High heat temperatures in kilns can expose you to fumes if you are in the kiln area while firing, such as those listed below
leads to the oxidization of the organic matter held in clay, releasing gases such as carbon monoxide. The sulfur in them will later break down, releasing sulfur oxides. The breakdown of organic matter in nitrogen and nitrates rich clay could let off toxic nitrogen oxides.
Materials such as gypsum, galena, fluorspar, cryolite, Cornish stone, or lepidolite discharges fumes and gases as glaze firings begin.
Inside hot kilns:
chlorides, carbonates, and fluorides will release chlorine, carbon dioxide, and fluorine gases as they break down.
At low temperatures, lead vaporizes are hazardous, so use lead-free glazes. Most glazes are now lead-free.
These fumes are mainly released between 500°F (260°C) and 1000°F (538°C) degrees. The amount of fumes released also depends on the size of your Kiln. That’s why you should have proper ventilation and not hang out in your Kiln area.
When burning at 2345°F (1285°C), Cone 10, the surface temperature of your Kiln will be above 500°F (260°C). This level of heat can cause thermal burns.
If you have a large kiln. The heat radiated by kilns can combust combustible liquids or materials if you store them too close to your Kiln.
The Basics of Kiln Safety
Where Should You Place Your Kiln?
You can place kilns outside or inside. If you place your Kiln inside, you must have some type of ventilation. Never place in a closed area like a closet. If you place your Kiln outside, you must have some type of coverage to protect the control panel from the elements like rain, depending on where you live.
Most ceramic arts enthusiasts place their kilns in their garages or basement spaces. Here they have access to a large space. The fumes will have enough room to dissipate for safety. Your garage or basement could be conveniently isolated from the rest of your home, making the firing of your Kiln much safer.
You can also install your Kiln in a storage shed if it is of the right size and the right material. Wood, for instance, is a no-no since it is highly flammable. Your space of choice should offer the kiln adequate ventilation and clearance space around it to keep the walls cool and reduce the buildup of heat, which can cause overheating.
You can fireproof your shed using non-flammable materials as per your area’s building codes. The best practice is installing concrete studio spaces in your home if you are a lifelong ceramic arts enthusiast. You can ensure that the ventilation is top-notch, and you will have ample storage and workspaces.
Because kilns pass off vapor elements on heating, a basement is not safe if it is not well ventilated. Use the space as is, and you will have airborne fumes spreading through other sectors of your home.
A kiln in the basement should be vented for safety. Keep in mind that spaces under your doors and your home duct system will circulate air throughout your house. This air movement makes it very easy for heavy metal vapors to settle on your floors, walls, and surfaces as you fire your Kiln in your basement. Therefore, an unventilated basement with a kiln in it is a health hazard.
A kiln the garage is one of the best places for your Kiln. Most garages have a firewall, and no fumes go into your living area. You can also open your garage door for adequate ventilation
Overhead vents will draw the fumes and heat out of your kiln area but will not bring oxygen into the Kiln.
There is also a vent you can get for the bottom of your Kiln. This vent will draw the fumes out and bring oxygen in but will not be efficient in drawing the heat out of the Kiln area. The bottom line is if you have fresh air coming in and out of your kiln area, you don’t need a vent.
What Flooring Material Should You Use?
The flooring should be non-combustible because kilns emit a lot of heat. The best flooring material is concrete or strong tile. Wood, carpets, linoleum, or weak tiles will not only disintegrate if you use them as flooring, but they could be a fire hazard as well.
Professionals say that all Kilns should be on a stand or put it on cinder blocks or something like it as long as it is not flammable. You do not want your Kiln on the ground. The clearance space will increase safety from the destructive heat and give adequate airflow on the bottom.
For another good reference about owning and safety of a kiln, read 21 Kiln Questions Answered.
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Should You Wear Personal Protective Gear?
While kilns have adequate insulation, their hot surfaces can cause thermal burns or serious contact burns if you brush against them with your bare skin. For this reason, you need to wear personal protective gear when near your fired up, Kiln.
The basic safety essentials include Gloves (amazon) or Kiln Mitts. Have them on while handling the Kiln. Kilns can burn hot hours after shutting down, so take care always. Dark glasses will protect your eyes from infrared radiation and radiant heat exposure when looking in through the peepholes. Regular sunglasses may not be adequate.
You can, for instance, order the NoCry Safety Glasses. (amazon) They are durable because of their polycarbonate construction. They will protect your eyes from the harmful effects of radiant heat, will not slip off your face, and are comfortable enough for all-day wear.
What Are the Installation Safety Measures?
Install your Kiln as per the manufacturer’s instructions and your local fire and electrical safety codes. Have an electrician install your outlet. That is the area you never want to get cheap on.
Using a qualified technician keeps your insurance coverage valid, just in case something goes awry. When it comes to electricity, you do NOT want to take any chances.
Before you purchase an Electric Kiln I strongly suggest getting a Licensed Electrician to check and make sure you can safely operate the kiln you are thinking of purchasing. For this reason, I have found that Home Advisor (affiliate link) is an excellent choice for hiring an Electrician to ensure the safe and correct installation of any wiring, breaker boxes, or outlets.
After signing up for Home Advisor (no charge) you will be connected with multiple contractors in your local geographic area.
You will then be able to ask your contractors questions to see if your Kiln is compatible with your electrical system before even setting up an appointment.
I had my Garage wired for my Skutt 818-3 Kiln and it took less than one hour.
Kilns can intimidate beginner potters. Most veteran potters admit that they needed help in the Kiln’s set up on the first day that they brought their new kilns home. Seasoned potters will tell you many times that they had to ask for help when firing.
Kilns are safely being used in thousands of homes throughout the 20th century and into the 21 st century. Kilns are safe as long as you observe safety standards during their installation, use, and you observe the best ventilation practices.
- EHS Princeton University: Ceramics
- Western Carolina University: Ceramics Safety
- Baylor University: Ceramics