How to Choose a Kiln for Your Studio
A table top jewelry kiln is a wonderful addition to any jewelry studio, and making the decision to purchase a kiln is thrilling. Making an educated choice about which kiln is best for your studio means you will be happy for years to come, and we're here to give you everything you need to choose the best kiln for your studio and your budget.
The Perfect Kiln for Every Jewelry Artist
There are many small table top jewelry kiln models to choose from and a wide range
of prices. To figure out which kiln is best for your studio, first decide what projects you want to use it for.
Then download our Kiln Comparison charts. The first chart shows you what each kiln model is capable of firing so you can quickly narrow your choices. The model comparison chart shows every detail about each kiln laid out in an easy to read grid, right down to the cost per hour to operate and the hidden costs of each model.
The Kiln Comparison charts make it very easy to see which kilns are best for what you will be doing. Use the charts to narrow your choices, and then read the quick overview of the models you are interested in below.
Kiln Models - Quick Overview
All of the best studio kilns are listed below with detailed information on things you'll want to know before choosing one for your studio. The information is an overview of the various models, options, features and drawbacks to each model.
Paragon SC Models
Designed for the studio artist working in metal clay, enamels and small glass projects. This model comes in 2 sizes: SC2 and SC3. The difference between each of these models is the interior size, which is called the firebox.
SC Firebox Sizes
- SC2 - 8" wide x 8" deep x 5.75" high, holds 2 shelves
- SC3 - 8" wide x 8" deep x 7.75" high, holds 3 shelves
Both the SC2 and SC3 models are available with an optional Viewport for keeping an eye on glass and enamels. An optional Bead Door for annealing beads is also available. The doors open from the front, allowing easy loading and unloading without losing a lot of heat. The SC kilns are programmable digital kilns for accurate, reliable firing. The top temperature for the SC kilns is 2000°F, so they are not the choice for high fire ceramics such as porcelain. The SC kilns have a ceramic fiber interior, so they are easily portable. Cost to operate per hour: .15 to .17*
Paragon Caldera Models
Caldera is a multi-purpose glass and ceramics kiln that can also fire metal clay. The Caldera is a programmable digital kiln with a top temperature of 2350F. Since the Caldera was designed with glass fusing in mind, it loads from the top. In fact, the entire lid is removed to load and unload it. That means you'll need extra space to put the lid, and if you think you'll need to unload when the kiln is hot, you'll need a fireproof place for the lid. The Caldera firebox is 8 x 8 x 6-3/4" deep and can hold 2 shelves per firing. The Caldera is unique because it is expandable to 11-1/4" deep with the optional Bead Collar. The Bead Collar allows lamp-workers to anneal glass beads by inserting the mandrels through the Bead Door and can be added or removed as needed by lifting the firebox and setting the collar in place. The Bead Collar does not have heating elements in it, so when the collar is in place, the kiln can only reach 2000°F. You won't be able to use the collar to add height for ceramic firings unless it's something that can be fired at 2000°F or lower, such as bisque ware. If you want to monitor your glass and enamel firings, there is also an optional Viewport Lid available. The Caldera is a brick kiln, so routine travel with this kiln is not recommended. Cost to operate per hour: .16 cents*
The FireFly is like the Caldera, except that it is only 4-3/4" deep, so it can only handle 1 shelf per firing. The FireFly is designed for those who want to fire metal clay, enamels, fuse glass and fire small ceramic pieces. The FireFly is a top loading kiln with a hinged lid that can be opened with one hand. The FireFly is available with a programmable digital controller or a manual control knob. The manual version requires the user to monitor the entire firing and adjust the temperature as it drifts. Both FireFly models are available with an optional Viewport in the lid. This is a brick kiln, so routine travel with this model is not recommended. Cost to operate per hour: .15 cents*
The Xpress E9A is a small front loading brick kiln with an interior size that measures 9" x 8.5" x 4.5". Fire metal clay, enamels, glass and low-fire ceramics. This model is especially good for firing bronze clay because of the roomy interior. (For more information on bronze clay, see our bronze clay information section). The Xpress E9A has a programmable digital controller for accurate, reliable firing. The Xpress E9A is a brick kiln, and while we normally do not recommend travel with a brick kiln, this one has the bricks protected inside a double-wall case, therefore it's more portable than the other brick kilns. Cost to operate per hour: .10 cents*
The Home Artist kiln has the largest interior space of all the models we offer. The Home Artist has a round firing chamber because it was designed for china painting, raku, and glass fusing. The firing chamber is 12 inches in diameter and 12 inches deep, allowing a total of 4 shelves per firing. The top temperature is 2000°F, so for those who plan to fire ceramics, be sure your clay does not require more than 2000°F. The Home Artist kiln has a ceramic fiber interior and a luggage handle, so it's completely portable. Cost to operate per hour: .20 cents*
The Ultra Lite kiln is a small tabletop unit that was designed for jewelers focusing on granulation, fusing and enamels. With the addition of the special ceramic firing discs, metal clay can be fired. The maximum temperature of the Ultra Lite kiln is 1550°F, but can be increased by 100°F with the addition of the flat cover. There are Brass Covers that can be purchased which allows you to add gold foil (keum boo) to your work. The Ultra Lite is a manual kiln with no temperature read-out or control. The unit is on when it's plugged in and goes to maximum temperature. There is an optional temperature controller that gives the user low, medium and high temperature settings. The Ultra Lite kiln is easily and safely portable. Cost to operate per hour: 15 cents**Based on US national electrical costs per kilowatt hour
Digital Controller vs Manual Control
A digital controller is a special electronic microprocessor that controls the firing of your kiln from start to finish. A firing program is entered through the keypad and carried out automatically by the controller. All of the digital kilns we offer feature the reliable Orton Sentry Xpress digital controller. On kilns designed for ceramics, the controller fires to fahrenheit, centigrade or cone. On kilns designed for glass, the controller fires to fahrenheit and centigrade.
A manual control is basically a knob that you turn on like an oven dial. The higher you turn it up, the higher the temperature. But, because it's manual, you have to watch the kiln as it heats and adjust the knob up or down every few minutes as the interior temperature rises and falls. It's important that you think this over before ordering a manual kiln. A manual kiln cannot be left to fire by itself. You must monitor the entire firing from beginning to end, adjusting the temperature every few minutes to maintain the correct interior temperature. You also have to use an external timer to time the firing or watch the clock and manually shut the kiln off when the firing is complete. A manual kiln is a tradeoff of money and convenience. It costs less, but requires more from you.
Interior: Brick vs Ceramic Fiber
There are 2 types of kiln interiors, and each has certain advantages. A brick interior is made with firebrick as the insulating material. Firebricks heat quickly and can handle very high temperatures. Not only can they fire metal clays, glass and enamels; they can also handle high-fire ceramic clays such as porcelain. The drawback to a brick kiln is the bricks themselves. They are heavy and fragile, so it's probably best to avoid moving a brick kiln. The vibration of travel creates brick dust, and the bricks themselves can be broken during transit if the unit is not well packed. When you do move a brick kiln, you'll want to vacuum the interior before firing again. Another thing to consider is that the heating elements are exposed in a brick kiln. The heating elements are pinned into grooves in the bricks. You'll need to be fastidious about keeping the interior clean since any foreign matter left on exposed heating elements can short them out. On the other hand, when the elements do go out they are easy to replace by the end user since they are exposed. The FireFly has 1 element, and the Caldera and Q11A have 2 elements.
A ceramic fiber interior, called a Muffle, is a one-piece shell with the elements molded and protected inside the walls. A muffle kiln has a top temperature of 2000°F so you won't be able to fire porcelain or ceramics with it, but you can fire bisque ware. One drawback to a muffle kiln is that the entire ceramic interior must be replaced when the elements go out.
The life of a kiln is based on the heating elements. Elements will burn out, just like a light bulb burns out, after a certain number of hours. So, the harder you work your kiln, the sooner the elements will need to be replaced. If a kiln has a top temperature of 2000°F and you always fire near this top temperature, the elements will burn out sooner than if you always fire below that temperature. It's a good idea to choose a kiln that is rated higher than the wares you wish to fire regularly so you don't always push it to it's limits. For most jewelry artists working with metal clay, the top temperature that you will fire at is 1650°F, so any kiln we offer will not be overworked by firing metal clay.
Does your kiln need to be moved regularly?
If you are teaching classes or planning to teach classes, you may want to choose a kiln that is easily portable. A brick kiln is more easily damaged during transport than a ceramic fiber kiln. Brick kilns are also more bulky and heavier than ceramic interiors.
Do you want a top or front loading kiln?
With a front loading kiln you can move things in and out more easily. Tongs, kiln forks, or gloves can be used to remove shelves from a front loading kiln even during firing. Since a kiln shelf is usually either 6 inches square or 7 inches square, placing the shelf in the proper position in the kiln is foolproof. You'll have either a ½" or 1" space between the kiln walls and the kiln shelf. If you plan to do enameling, a front loading kiln is a better choice since enameled pieces need to be removed from the kiln while they are very hot. In a top loading kiln, the lid either has to be removed (Caldera) or lifted (FireFly) while its red hot inside to remove enameled pieces or metal clay pieces that you want to get out of the kiln fast. This may or may not be a problem depending on how it's done. You can make a special lifting tool by altering a pair of copper tongs for the purpose.
Bead Doors and Viewports
Glass bead makers can order an optional Bead Door with the SC or Caldera kilns. A Bead Door allows mandrels to be inserted through the door for annealing. If you do not make glass beads, you do not need the Bead Door option.
A Viewport can be ordered for the door on the SC models and for the lid of the Caldera and FireFly models. Enamelists and glassworkers can use the Viewport to keep an eye on the progress of their firings. The size of the window varies with the model and options of the kiln ordered. See the details on the various models to compare the sizes.
Kiln Furniture & Accessories
Kiln furniture is the props and shelves you use to support your work during firing. There are several options for kiln shelves. You can use a ceramic fiberboard, ceramic board, soldering surface or firebrick. The major difference between the various shelves is their useful life. A fiberboard will give you a couple of dozen firings before it breaks down and becomes crumbly. A soldering board, such as a Solderite or magnesia surface can be used, but you'll need to let the kiln cool down just a bit before removing them to avoid thermal shock breakage. Paragon recommends a hard fiber Cordierite shelf for firing metal clay, and includes one of these kiln shelves with each SC model. These are very thin shelves made of compressed fibers that have been rigidized for strength. The most durable surface for firing is a hard ceramic shelf. The 7 x 7 inch hard ceramic shelf can be used with metal clay, glass and ceramics and will last a lifetime.
To support rounded, domed or dimension metal clay objects that might slump during firing, you'll want a bead firing dish and either vermiculite or alumina hydrate as a supporting media. Our bead firing dish is made of high-temperature alumina and lasts a lifetime, and the media can be fired again and again. A fiber blanket can also be used for support and works very well. A fiber blanket is like a thick sheet of cotton that can be used as a blanket or pieces can be pulled off to support odd shaped items. A fiber blanket will last just a few firing before you will notice it start to break down.
For working with glass, you'll need either a hard ceramic shelf coated with kiln wash or simply place fiber paper beneath your glass to keep it from fusing to the kiln shelf surface.
For enamels, you'll need a firing rack and enameling fork or something else to move the rack in and out of a hot kiln.
Table Top Jewelry Kiln Care and Maintenance
Small jewelry kilns are easy to care for but they do require regular maintenance to keep them in top condition and assure a long life. Follow this easy maintenance schedule to keep your kiln in good health.
Always vacuum the inside of your kiln with a soft brush nozzle before firing glass, enamels and ceramic glazes. Dust inside the kiln can react with the coloring elements in glass, glazes and enamels and result in smoky, hazy or burnt looking colors. Vacuum once a month if you are firing only metal clay.
The thermocouple should be cleaned regularly with a damp rag and always before firing glass, enamels or ceramic glazes. Check that the thermocouple is protruding between ½ to ¾" into the firing chamber of the kiln. If the thermocouple does not protrude the proper amount into the chamber, the kiln will read a lower temperature and overheat your chamber. If you transport your kiln regularly, be certain to check the position of the thermocouple each time you set it up.
Do not place objects to be fired directly on a kiln floor. Place wares on a kiln shelf, and place the kiln shelf on the bottom of the kiln or on ½" to 1" kiln posts. Kiln posts make it easier to remove the shelves from the kiln and allow for air circulation and even firing.
Keep all packaging when you receive your kiln. Transporting will be much easier when the kiln can be packed back in its original container. All kilns have fitted foam packing, which makes for a safe and snug ride. If you do not have your boxes, transport the kiln on it's back and place a thin sheet of foam cushioning between the door and chamber to prevent rubbing.