For the last couple of days, I have been spending time on getting to know more about enameling kilns, since I am currently trying to collect and decide on tools for my OWN future workshop! … My mind is still throwing a huge party by the mere thought of it! 🙂
So, I started off having a look at all the major websites, such as Rio Grande, to compare models and prices. In the USA, it seems like the most common kiln makers are Paragon, Sierra (but it looks like they closed down), Evenheat, Olympic, Amaco etc.
For my studio, I would like to have a kiln that is preferably not too small, preferably heats up to 1200°C, not too expensive and that can have the heating elements changed easily, since I am currently facing huge problems with the Chinese kiln at the AIVA studio. A nightmare really!
On the Rio Grande website, they offer two types of kilns, one small version, ‘Rio Model 900 Enameling‘ and one big version, ‘Rio Model 1000 Enameling‘. I would like to get a kiln that can be programmed, in case I have to leave the studio or want to fire glass/porcelain, so a fully manual one is not an option for me. Both Rio kilns come with a digital programmer that can be individually set. The main differences that are important to me are the size and the temperature range. The small kiln has a chamber that measures 216mm x 229mm x 114mm, the big one measures 215mm x 230mm x 220mm. The max temperature of the small kiln is 1093°C, the big one reaches 1232°C. The small one costs $685, the big one $899 plus shipping (app. $50).
Then I continued having a look at the Paragon website and I instantly fell in LOVE with this kiln!
Yes, I admit that the colour does give me a special thrill and I know that the mere sight of this little machine would put a smile on my face every day! …and I really thought that this would be the one but there are some issues with it of course…
I originally thought that it would be great to have a kiln that can be used for several making processes, like enameling, firing PVC clay, firing porcelain and glass etc. and all of this seems to be possible but the question comes up if it makes sense to go for this one, since it is more specialised for firing PMC clay, not enamaling. It is more pricey than the Rio Kilns too. It would come to $860 plus shipping (the price is from the Paragon website) but I was willing to consider a buy anyway because I thought since it is made by a proper kiln company, it would weigh up the price difference in quality. Until I found out that the Rio kilns are made by Paragon too! Have a look at an online discussion about this here: www.pmcguild.com
Another fact that makes me hesitate to buy this kiln is the fiber chamber which has the heating elements embedded in it. In case of the heating elements breaking or any other sort of damage, the entire chamber needs to be replaced, which is not only a more complicated procedure but also more pricey. I found one website that offers replacement chambers for the kiln: http://www.ottofrei.com They sell them starting from $270. 😦 Depending on the use and the duration of each heating session, the heating elements will die sooner or later.
Also, apparently ceramic fiber chambers were originally put into kilns for the use of PMC. The ceramic fiber makes the kiln heat up and cool down faster, which is more appealing for the PMC firing process. Since for normal enameling, the heating temperature needs to stay on a steady level for a longer period of time, the heating elements have to ‘work harder’ and might die faster. Normal firebrick kilns need more time to heat up and cool down but they tend to keep the heat for longer, which makes it easier on the heating elements too. Also, the heating elements are not embedded in the walls but lie in a slot that is cut into the firebrick, which makes it super easy when having to replace them.
I found a really great blog that explains kiln and maintenance related issues pretty well: www.electrickilns.blogspot.com
After this set-back… (I was pretty disappointed!)… I decided to go with a firebrick kiln, since I will need it more for enameling, and I started to compare the Rio kiln models with the other Paragon firebrick models. It looks to me like the ‘Rio Model 900 Enameling‘ is pretty much identical with the Paragon ‘Xpress E9A‘ ($835 on Paragon website).
Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a similar Paragon model to the big Rio kiln. The bigger Paragon models won’t heat up to 1232°C, which is quite a shame, since I would like to be able to fire ceramics as well.
I then found two more interesting websites on my quest to find out more about Paragon kiln pricing (I am on a budget of course) and to my surprise, I found the Paragon ‘Xpress E9A with window’ for $697 including shipping at www.cooltools.us and for $645 including shipping at www.metalclaysupply.com. Both companies offer the option to choose from different casing colours (pink, purple, black & turquoise) for an additional $50. So, there might be happy mornings ahead for me, thanks to a quirky pink little machine!
So far so good… But now I find myself in a little dilemma not being able to make the decision to either go for the small Paragon version (in blue or in pink) or for the big Rio kiln.
I am not sure, if I will really ever properly use the measurements of the big kiln, so why pay so much money, but then it would give me the possibility to fire ceramics (maybe). On the other hand, the small kiln is more cost efficient and saves space in the studio. (The big Rio kiln will cost about $950!! and they are currently sold out!) By the way, does anyone know of a similar model that is comparable to the big Rio kiln?
So, is it better to go for a small version first and maybe get a bigger one at a later point or should I opt for the big pricey one in the first place, although I might not really need it?
I would love to hear your opinion on this! Please leave a comment in the feedback or mention me on Twitter & FB! I would really appreciate it! Thanks.