You’re a Potter who has decided to invest in your first kiln. You’ve heard there are two main types of kilns, gas and electric. But you’re not sure which type is right for you. That’s why it’s a great idea first to consider the difference between a gas and an electric kiln.
The main difference between a gas and electric kiln is Reduction(gas) and Oxidation (electric). The gas kiln removes the oxygen from the kiln, called reduction. The electric kiln creates oxygen in the kiln, called oxidation. The other differences are firing and operating the kilns, the placement, ventilation, efficiency, and installation.
Read on as I will go through all these differences and more to help you choose which type of kiln is best for you.
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Fired Ceramic Look of a Gas and Electric Kiln
Because one of the main differences between a gas and electric ceramic kiln is reduction (gas) and oxidation (electric), it is also the main reason why you would choose one over the other. The type of kiln you choose will significantly impact the look of your ceramics and clay. Your preferences will help you decide which type of kiln is best for you.
Ceramic Look of Gas Kilns
Reduction occurs when the burning gas takes the oxygen from the kiln, clay, and glaze, replacing it with carbon atoms. This changes the colors and even textures of the glazes and clays.
Fuel-burning kilns are mainly used to achieve a reduction effect with oxides, like iron oxide, that create a chemical reaction to the reduction atmosphere. You can create a chemical change with a gas kiln by adjusting the kiln’s fuel, damper, and airflow of the peepers. That is why firing a gas kiln can be challenging and fun to try to achieve different looks and replicate them.
Ceramic Look of Electric Kilns
Oxidation is when the kiln contains enough oxygen to form free oxygen that oxidizes the glaze and clay. The oxidation firing of electric Kilns tends to leave clay and glazes looking bright and lighter. There is a relatively clean atmosphere of an electric kiln compared to a gas kiln.
Keep in mind that if your electric kiln has less ventilation during the firing, the kiln atmosphere will get fewer oxygen atoms, and the colors will turn darker.
Difference Between the Firing of a Gas and Electric Kiln
The electric kiln uses heating elements. These coils generate great heat, but the gas kiln uses actual fire to generate heat. Let’s take a closer look at what each type of kiln needs to fire properly.
Gas Kiln Firing
A Gas Kiln is heated up using either natural gas or propane. And there are two main types of burners, a blower burner, and a venturi burner.
Fuel for the Gas Kilns
Natural gas comes from a gas line that is run to your resident or business.
Whereas propane comes from a tank and is portable, allowing the kiln to be fired anywhere outside.
Burners for the Gas Kilns
A Blower Burner works like a hair dryer, using a fan to mix the air with the gas to create a flame. The blower burner must be plugged into an outlet to operate.
A Venturi Burner does not require a power source to create a flame. The entrance of the venturi burner is wide, then narrow, and wide again at the end. This creates its own air intake, which allows the gas to mix with the air to create a flame.
Natural gas kilns can reach higher temperatures than electric kilns. Past cone 10 – 2345℉ (1285℃). The greater temperature range makes gas kilns better for certain types of high firing.
Electric Kiln Firing
An electric kiln firing is a process of using electricity to heat up coils in the kiln. These elements are wrapped around the kiln for a more even firing.
Power for Electric Kilns
Electric kilns rely on a stable electricity source to heat the elements. There are many different Kiln sizes to choose from. A tiny test kiln may be able to use a household outlet, but most kilns need more power than that. Electric Kilns need to be plugged into the proper outlet. Most kilns need an Electrician to install the proper outlet.
Small electric kilns like my Skutt 818-3, 2.3 cubic feet, produces 6,400 watts and needs 240 Volts and 26.7 apps to fire.
A larger Kiln like the Skutt KM-1227-3, 9.9 cubic feet, produces 11,520 watts and needs 240 Volts and 48 apps.
Burners in the Electric Kilns
The burners in an electric pottery kiln are coils. These heating elements work the same as a burner on an electric stove. A relay switch controls the electrical current that goes through the coils to generate a tremendous amount of heat. The clicking you hear is the relay switch working automatically.
Electric kilns will vary in maximum temperature. For example, some kilns may only fire to lower temperatures, cone 04 1945 ℉ (1063℃) or less and as high as cone 10 2345℉ (1285℃). Therefore, it is essential to know the maximum firing temperature When Buying an Electric Kiln.
What Is the Difference Between Operating a Gas and Electric Kiln
The main difference between how you operate a gas and electric kiln is the gas kiln requires hands-on manual adjustments throughout the firing, and with the electric kiln, you program it. Some Potters love to use and operate a gas kiln. They feel more in control of the outcome and love the results. On the other hand, many potters prefer to program their kilns with a less hands-on operation using an electric kiln.
Both types of kilns do require the use of Pyrometric Cones (Witness Cones) for the most accurate gauge of temperature.
A Digital Pyrometer with a Thermocouple is also recommended when using a gas kiln. The pyrometer gives you a good reading of the temperature of your gas Kiln.
Gas kilns also need a pressure gauge that reads the pressure of the gas throughout the firing.
Thermocouples that read the temperature of the kiln are already installed in the electric kilns.
So, let’s take a closer look at both.
How to Operate a Gas Kiln.
A gas kiln is not a set-it-and-forget-it kiln. Even with a programmer, the kiln is not entirely autonomous (self-programming). You still have to adjust the gas valve and damper. Plus, you don’t want to leave something with an open flame unattended.
Gas kilns may differ slightly in lighting them as to where the ignition and valves are located. I found gas kilns easy to light.
- Turn on the gas or propane supply.
- Press down on the button on top of the valve for about 45 seconds.
- Use a long wand lighter that you would use to light a fireplace or BBQ and light the pilot light or ring bar.
- Adjust the valve to allow sufficient gas flow to produce a flame.
- Once the pilot is lit, hold the button until the thermocouple is hot and the valve stays open on its own.
- Turning the gas valve on the burner lights the burners.
If there is no pilot light, turn the value open and light the burner.
And there you have it. You can then adjust the gas flow with the valve and the airflow with the dampers and Peepers throughout the firing.
Even though the gas kiln is harder to use and has a certain caveat that the electric kiln does not. Gas kilns can still be fun and exciting to use. You are in control of the oxidation, reduction, flame, and temperature by adjusting the damper and gas valve.
How to Operate an Electric Kiln
Models may differ slightly. Basic programming for a Kiln:
- Preheat menu will pop up. You can decline or select the time you want to per heat. Preheating is also called Candling.
- Program in the cone value (temperature)
- Program the rate or speed of your firing. Slow, Medium, or Fast. Fast is only recommended for overglazes such as lusters and decals.
- You can put a hold on the kiln at the end of the firing. You can hold it at the peak temperature for 5 to 20 minutes. I usually hold for 20 minutes at cone 5.
- You can also program a slow cooldown.
The Program knows when to heat the coils and to what temperature. Electric Kilns can be programmed and, for the most part, left alone. I do prop the lid up for ventilation until it hits 1000 degrees. After that, the kiln can’t keep up with too much heat expelling from the top of the kiln.
After that, all a potter has to do is check on it from time to time. You can not hang out in the area where the kiln is being fired because the kiln does emit fumes (even with a vent), but you should stay on the premises as long your kiln is firing.
The Difference Between the Placement of a Gas and Electric Kiln
The main difference between the placement of a gas and an electric kiln is that the gas kiln can be placed outside without any coverage from the elements. Whereas the electric kiln has to be protected from the elements and needs to be in a sheltered area.
Placement of Gas Kilns
You can fire the kiln anywhere outside with no covering if you have a propane tank with a venturi burner.
If you place the kiln in a building, it should have a chimney for the burning of fuel and fumes to escape outside. If you have a blower burner, you must keep the kiln out of the elements because the blower burner needs electricity to run and is not waterproof.
Placement of Electric Kilns
You can place an electric Kiln in a well-ventilated area separate from your living quarters, a separate building, or your garage. You can even place your kiln outside, but it must be covered and protected from the elements. Electric kilns should not get wet.
I keep my Skutt Kiln in the garage. I remove the cars and open the garage door when I fire up the Kiln.
Ventilation Difference Between a Gas and Electric Kiln
The main difference between the ventilation of a gas and electric kiln is that the gas kiln has to have a hole and damper on top of the kiln for the exhaust to escape. And the electric kiln can use a vent but does not need one.
Ventilation for a Gas Kiln
Gas kilns must be adequately ventilated to avoid dangerous buildups of fumes. There must be a hole on top of the kiln with a damper. Or a chimney with a damper, especially if the kiln is indoors. The burning fuel must escape like a wood-burning fireplace, gas burning fireplace, or a wood firing kiln.
Ventilation for an Electric Kiln
Although Electric kilns do not need a Ventilation System, you will need the kiln area to be well-ventilated. You may also want to Vent Your Kiln for the glazes to turn out better and extend the life of the elements (coils).
For more detailed information on venting an electric check out, Is it Recommended that a Pottery Kiln Be Vented? Then, I will tell you about the Updraft and Downdraft Venting systems recommended by most Kiln Manufacturers and the alternative venting solutions that many potters use, including myself.
Both Types of Kilns need to be in a well-ventilated area
What Is the Most Efficient – a Gas or Electric Kiln
Electric pottery kilns are more energy efficient. This is because electric kilns use as much energy as they need to reach and maintain a specific temperature. Therefore, less heat is emitted from the kiln, especially if you have 3-inch bricks because the kiln has a half-inch more insulation. Therefore, when Choosing an Electric Pottery Kiln, you can take the size and insulation into account.
Gas kilns consume excess fuel, especially during the reduction firing process. Flames will shoot out through the hole in the kiln, releasing a lot of heat from the kiln. So, you may end up using more fuel to keep them powered, especially if you’re consistently firing ceramics throughout the week.
How Much Does It Cost to Fire a Gas and Electric Kiln?
Firing a gas or electric kiln has too many variables to give you a set cost. Where you live in the world will determine how much your gas, propane, or electricity will cost. Other factors Include:
If You Candle Your Pottery
Candling is done to ensure your pottery is completely dry. If you are candling for many hours, expect the energy cost to be higher.
How Much Insulation a Kiln Has
Most Modern Kilns have two-and-a-half-inch kiln bricks for installation. However, you can buy a kiln with thicker fire bricks to make the firing more energy efficient and reduce the cost.
The Dragon series Paragon kilns have 4-inch firebrick walls. The top and door have 3-inch firebrick with an inch of ceramic fiber insulation. The floor is 4 and a half inches thick. Making this Electric kiln even more cost-efficient.
The Rate of Firing or Speed of Firing
Kilns can heat up slow, medium, or fast. The rate of speed can also impact the cost of running your kiln.
If You Do a Controlled Cooling After the Fire
Your elements or fuel is still burning after the end of the firing to cure the glaze better or create an effect. This will also raise the cost of running your kiln.
If You Put a Hold on the Firing at the End
Putting a 5 to 20-minute hold on your kiln with increase the cost, but not by much.
The Size of the Kiln
Naturally, smaller kilns will require less energy to reach their set temperature. So, kiln size is also something to consider, especially if you’re hoping to reduce energy consumption costs.
My kiln is a Skutt 818 with a 3-inch brick. With 2.3 cubic feet, that produces 6,400 watts and needs 240 Volts and 26.7 apps to fire. After putting a 20-minute hold on at the end of the glaze fire, I let it cool down naturally. It costs around 5 dollars to glaze fire and 3 dollars to bisque fire.
Installation for a Gas and Electric Kiln.
Before investing in a gas or electric kiln, you’ll need to consider installation costs.Installation costs for gas kilns will vary depending on the gas line. Installation costs for electric kilns vary depending on the power supply.
Installation for a Gas Kiln
You are in luck if you have a natural gas line hooked up where you are placing your kiln. However, if you don’t currently have a natural gas line installed or a line to your kiln area, you’ll need to add that to your Installation cost.
Or you can forgo any installation cost by using propane. You only need to purchase a tank of propane.
Installation of an Electric Kiln
For most kilns, you will need an Electrician to install the correct outlet and ensure you have enough power for the kiln to operate.
But the pricier issue may be laying new lines. This is because electric kilns rely on a stable electricity source, and some households may need to install new electrical lines to prepare for larger Kilns.
Local Permit Laws and Restrictions
While some areas may require permits for all kilns, most local laws are concerned with gas kiln installation because natural gas and propane can be dangerous, especially if the fuel leaks into unventilated work areas.
Before choosing between a gas or electric kiln, consider your local laws regarding kiln installation and use. You may find that your community doesn’t require permits for electric kilns (especially smaller ones) but does require safety permits for gas kilns.
Applying for permits before installing and operating your kiln can protect you from legal trouble. Call your local county representatives to learn more about zoning and kiln permits in your area.
Can Raku Firing Be Done in a Gas and Electric Kiln
Although a Raku firing can be done in an electric kiln, raku firing is mainly done in a Raku kiln or a gas kiln because a gas kiln firing chamber can reach 1800 degrees in an hour of firing. The fastest heating I know of from an electric kiln is two hours.
Then you take the pottery out of the kiln and place it in a can of sawdust, paper, grass, leaves, or cold water. Close the can for reduction, taking away any available oxygen.
For more information about Raku firing, check out What is Raku.
Gas and electric kilns each have advantages and disadvantages depending on what type of firing you need. Understanding the differences between Gas and Electric Kilns is essential for anyone pursuing Pottery. Gas kilns are excellent for high temperatures, reduction, and Raku firing. While electric kilns are great for ease of use and oxidation firing.
Installation and energy costs vary greatly. This will depend on the size and type of kiln you choose, plus your location. Finally, be sure to check for permits if necessary. Whether you choose a gas or electric kiln, safety should always be the top priority. Do your research before purchasing or installing any type of kiln. Now that you know the differences between the two, enjoy your Gas or Electric Kiln.
Can You Put Something in the Kiln Twice
Yes, you can. Reglazing is a great way to save the pottery that was not glazed right the first time.
Reglazing can be done several times but keep in mind the more you refire, the weaker your ceramic material becomes. For more detailed information on reglazing, check out Can You Reglaze Pottery.
Does a Kiln Make a Room Hot
Yes, but it greatly depends on how well the kiln is insulated, the size of the kiln, The size of the room, and how well-ventilated the kiln area is. For example, I fired my Skutt 818 kiln with 3-inch brick walls when the garage was 92 degrees in the middle of summer and peaked at 100 degrees.
The kiln will shut down automatically if my control box exceeds 160 degrees. The better insolation keeps the control box and the kiln area cooler.