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How to build a pottery kiln: Electric and propane kilns construction guide

HOW TO BUILD A POTTERY KILN

Are you interested in how to build a pottery kiln and you would like to make one starting today? If the answer is yes, you will like and need this guide. Below we are going to explain the two most important methods and help you build kilns that are powered by electricity or by propane gas. It is up to you to choose which alternative you prefer.

In a nutshell, a kiln is a furnace or even an oven that can reach very high temperatures and transform clay into pottery. No, this isn’t possible to achieve when using an ordinary stove or an oven. If you are a potter, you are going to need a kiln.

There are many options and variations when it comes to kilns. You can use different heating mediums. However, using electricity or propane gas are the two most appealing and the most effective methods. That’s why we will use these instead of others.

We should say something about different types of kilns out there. Although all of them are designed for the same purpose, they are different and use a different medium to reach a high temperature. When it comes to a heat source, they can use electricity, wood, or gas. These are three mediums that have been used for a long period of time and there are no other options in this case scenario.

When it comes to kilns using wood to heat up, we can see old designs and options such as bottle kilns, beehive kilns, and soda kilns. As you can see some of them are spectacular. You may want to know how to build a wood fired pottery kiln which is definitely an interesting topic.

Gas powered kilns are the most popular type. Here we can see several options. For example, we have updraft and downdraft kilns. It is worth noting that there are a lot of improvisations and DIY projects that are based on this type. They are actually one of the most popular and commonly used kilns among hobbyists and even some professionals who make pottery on a daily basis. Reasons for that are obvious. These are simple, easy to make, and affordable kilns.

Electric kilns are most popular as consumer products. You can find online countless versions and options that are all different yet similar. These are usually small models that have thick insulation and steel frame. You can see a door on the front and a power cord. Yes, it is possible to make an electric kiln and we are going to discuss that below.
Last but not least are countless, traditional kilns[1]https://scholarworks.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4193&context=etd out there. These cannot be generalized. They depend on the country where they were built and when. Some date even 6000 BC and they are almost like small buildings.

For the kiln that uses electricity to operate, you are going to need:

  • 10 inches bolts and nuts (8 units)
  • Soft fire bricks for insulation (7 of them)
  • Angle iron (7 feet in length)
  • 9×9 inches aluminum sheet
  • 1/8 x19 inches coiled element for heating
  • Hinge and screws
  • Pins
  • Power cord
  • ICS controller
  • Kaowool (1-foot square)
  • Tin snips
  • Drill and drill bits
  • Sire stripper
  • Hacksaw
  • Wrenches
  • Pliers (needle nose)
  • Hand router and 3/8 inches bit

If you are going to make a propane kiln, you need the following things:

  • Metal trash can
  • Angle grinder
  • Ceramic fiber
  • Propane burner torch
  • Nichrome wire
  • Ceramic buttons
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Building electric pottery kiln: Step by step guide

HOW TO BUILD A POTTERY KILN

Now when you have all the components and all the items needed, you can start with building your first electric pottery kiln. It is important to add that you must follow all the steps to the point and do not skip one or you won’t get a working kiln. We will try to keep all the steps as easy and simple as possible.

When it comes to price, it varies, but in a nutshell, this is far from an expensive project. If you are good at finding deals and used materials, you can make a complete kiln for $150-200. Of course, this allows you to make a simple and DIY kiln that is just effective but not pretty. If you want to customize it and make it look more professional, you will need to invest more. For the sake of this guide, we won’t focus on beauty but rather on efficiency.

1. Make the channels in the bricks

The first and the most essential step is to make the channels for the heating element in the bricks. You will have to place the heating element on the brick, mark its shape and remove it. Use a router to trace that shape. One of the bricks needs to be cut at 4 1/2 x 4 ½ inches dimensions and has two groves at the backside. This will be placed against the wall.

If you don’t have a hand router you can use a drill or an angle grinder. Sadly, these won’t give you excellent results but they will get the job done. We must add that two bricks should have identical groves while one will have 2 horizontal groves. On the other hand, if you have a heating element of a different shape, you need to follow that.

Also interesting: Kiln wash recipe.

2. Insert the heating element

If you want to know how to build a kiln for pottery you will need to know how to insert a heating element properly. This is a relatively simple process. You need to use 2 bricks and create the floor or the base. The size of the bricks will determine the dimensions of the kiln. Place the two bricks on either side and the one with straight groves at the backside. Insert the heating element in the groves you made.

Drill 2 holes at the back which will be used to run the ends of your heating element away from the kiln. Use the pins we have specified above to secure the heating element. As it gets hot, it will want to move and flex and you need to prevent that. Use as many of the pins as you need. Below you can see how this will look when making a massive kiln. In our case, you will see a much smaller heating element.

Most heating elements will come with the aforementioned pins. Those that do not include are usually more affordable. This also means that you will need to get these additionally and use pliers to insert them. There are other possibilities as well you can use for this process, but simple pins, work the best.

Also interesting: Best ceramic kiln for home use.

3. Make the frame for your kiln

Now we must make a frame from steel that will hold all the pieces together. You can use aluminum as well, but steel is more affordable and for easier to work with.

Cut metal to 14 inches in length. You need 4 of the units. Make additional 2, 9 inches in length. These two will be used for the bottom. Use bolts and nuts to connect all of the pieces and create a large holder that will keep the bricks inside at all times. We must add that you need to add 2 more bricks at the top. These will be used as the roof and they are mandatory, obviously. If you want, you can even weld the frame and avoid using the nuts and bolts. However, this is a more complicated method and won’t allow you to disassembly the kiln in the future and upgrade or repair it.

The frame will only hold all the things together and it is very simple in design. You need to make one that can hold your bricks and a heating element accordingly. If you like, you can add wheels at the bottom. You need 4 wheels. You can use the small wheels from office chairs or get these wheels for toolboxes or etc. Install and secure them so you can easily move your kiln. This is an optional addition and you can add it at any given moment. There is no need to worry about it.

4. Make the door for your kiln

Use the angle grinder to cut the aluminum sheet into 9×9 in inches shape if you have a larger sheet. Cut the corners and bend them. You will get a square door that is ½ inches thick on the sides and 1 inch thick in the center. Measure carefully and make sure the door fits nicely to the opening of your kiln.

Cut the Kaowool into the shape that matches the door you have just made and squeeze it in the sides. This is the main reason why you need to make edges wider and then bent them. You should now have a thick door with plenty of insulation on the inside.

As you can assume, now you need to attach the door using the hinge. You will have to drill the correct holes into the frame, secure the hinge and connect it to the door. You are done with this step and now you have a creation that looks like a proper kiln.

Adding a handle to the door is an option but not a mandatory step. An interesting fact is that you can find and use a handle from an old stove or even a metal toolbox. The easiest one will have two threads so you can use bolts to connect it to the door. Keep in consideration that a handle must be aluminum or metal and must be strong. Do not add wood on the handle or anything that may make the handle flammable!

5. Connecting the heating element to the power source

For most of us, this is the most appealing step and one that makes us believe we have already made something beautiful. If you recall, you already have two ends of the heating element at the back of your kiln. Use a power cord 6 feet in length or any other length you like and connect the two wires to the heating element.

There are multiple ways you can do this. The best and the simplest is to use a small nut and a bolt. Connect the wires and squeeze them with the bolt. This will make a connection secure and you can test your kiln already. The green wire must be connected to the frame. Use a small secure or nut and bolt to secure it.

Now you will have to plug the kiln into the ICS controller and plug the controller into the socket. The best option here is to use stand-alone ICS controllers and there are countless options on the market. Basically, it will turn the power on or off, according to the setting you choose.

There is no need to add that you must not connect the power cord to the socket before or after you connect the heating element. Wear protective gear when working with electricity and take your time. It is mandatory not to touch the wires when your kiln is turned on. Yes, you can use some insulation to insulate wires, but due to extremely high temperatures, it will likely melt.

Here you need to pay close attention to the power input and the power of your heating element. Most will work perfectly with any adjustment, but some will need a different setting. You need to look at the specifications of your heating element.

6. Test the kiln

The process is complete and now you have a ready kiln that can be used immediately. There are a few things to keep in mind. The first one is to stay safe when using a kiln. As you know, these things can get hot quickly and can reach very high temperatures. Wear protective gear and stay far away when it is on. If any issue happens, turn the unit off and let it cool before you start working on it.

Once you have connected the heating element and plugged the kiln into the power socket, you can see an amazing yellow glow. Watch the kiln become hot and monitor to see are there any mistakes you may have made. Most common issues occur as poor connections at the angles, damaged insulation, or something similar. Place your clay project inside and watch it become a real pottery masterpiece within minutes.

If you like, you can add a sheet of aluminum or metal all around the kiln. This will make it look more professional and more appealing. It isn’t a mandatory step so there is no need to use it unless you want perfection. When it comes to adding paint to the equation, don’t bother. Paint you can get probably won’t last long unless you can find industrial, special paint for this purpose.

Also interesting: What is a kiln.


Building DIY propane kiln: Step by step guide

HOW TO BUILD AN ELECTRIC KILN

You can make a DIY propane kiln as well. This method is slightly easier and more affordable but can be used only by those who already have a propane torch and access to the gas. This type of kiln may be useless for those who prefer electricity. Anyway, here we will cover all the steps and all the facts you need in order to make a kiln of this kind.

1. Find a 32-gallon steel trash can

It may sound weird or strange, but this actually works and it is one of the most appealing methods. You need a steel trash can. Keep in mind that it will probably be coated with zinc (galvanized steel) to prevent corrosion. When exposed to heat, zinc will create toxic fumes so you need to wear a respirator and start the kiln outside for the first time, until the zinc burns out.

The best option here is a trash can with a lid. You will need the lid to open the kiln and remove the pottery. Yes, you can cut the base off and use that method but it is more complicated but doesn’t bring any advantages. Getting and using a smaller or a bigger trash can is possible as well, but 32-gallon units work the best.

2. Cut the port

Cut 4×4 port on the bottom part of the trash can. It should be large enough to accommodate the propane torch but not too big. You need to cut a port with similar dimensions at the lid of the trashcan. This is the simplest step here and there is no need to explain in it detail.

3. Add ceramic fibers

This is one of the more time-consuming and more important steps so make sure you pay a lot of attention and you do it properly. You must add the insulation to the trashcan. Without it, the can will simply burn out and you will have no kiln to use the next time. The ceramic fibers[2]https://orb.binghamton.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1320&context=neha are the best option here and we highly recommend these as the number one insulation. Try to remember that these can be irritating if they get under your skin so wearing gloves is mandatory. Wear a respirator as well.

Cut two layers of the ceramic fiber and place it all around the trash can. Using two layers is a much better option and the one that you will need to use. Don’t forget to add ceramic fiber to the lid and the base. The goal is to have all the areas 100% insulated so the heat cannot reach the steel and damage it.

To secure ceramic fiber, use a nichrome wire and ceramic buttons. These are not very easy or common to find these days in a local hardware store, but you can easily find them online.

Drill the holes through the ceramic fiber and the trash can. Thread the wire through the ceramic button and then through the ceramic fiber and the can itself. Secure it on the outside. Repeat the step as many times as needed all around the trash can, the base, and the lid. You will see impressive results once you are done. The ceramic fiber will stay in place, just against the trash can and it won’t move. That’s the ultimate goal and something you need to try and achieve.

4. Create a base

The trash can or better said your kiln will get extremely hot when used. If you use it on the grass or almost anywhere else, you will have burn marks left! That’s why adding a base is an important and highly recommended process. Luckily this is extremely simple. You can place bricks or blocks on the ground and position the kiln on top of them.

You can even use mortar and bricks to make a better-looking base if you are planning on using the kiln on a regular basis. There are no rules here so you can do anything you like. Just make sure to use non-flammable materials for this step.

5. Start the torch

This is the final step and the one where we can see the end result. Position the propane torch next to the port you have made at the bottom of the trash can. Keep in mind that it should be 1 inch away from the trash can so the air can get in. Ignite the propane torch and admire the result.

This kiln will require some time to get hot and transform your clay into pottery. But, it is a very useful and appealing option you can make within minutes and use it on a daily basis.


Conclusion

HOW TO BUILD A POTTERY KILN

Now you know how to build a pottery kiln and you can do it all by yourself. We hope you liked the guide and you are completely satisfied. Be free to leave a comment or two below the guide and tell us what you have found interesting or taunting. If you made a kiln using any of these two methods, make sure to share your experience with us as well so we can see how you did it.