Books on Kilns
Tips on Kiln Designs
Take everything you read with a
grain of salt. Investigate a variety of
sources and get as much first hand knowledge as possible
information on maintaining wood and salt kilns can be found in
Densmore Brickyard, Essex Jct. Vermont
Photo by Robert Compton shortly it was demolished in 1973
Books on Kilns
||Publisher & Date
The Kiln Book - Materials, Specifications & Construction
Fredrick L Olsen
Chilton Book, Radnor, Pa 1983
||Olsen's book has the most
technical information of any studio level kiln building book.
Kilns Design Construction and Operation
Chilton Book Co, 1968
Library of Congress: 68-57512
||The "first book" on building
kilns, it was the bible to potters in the early 1970's.
Wood-Fired Stoneware and Porcelain
Chilton Book, Radnor, PA, 1995
||Jack's book was the first
contemporary look at wood firing, and has insights on building wood
The Self Reliant Potter: Refractories and Kilns
Deutsches Zentrum fur Entwicklungstechnoloien, 1987
||The best book for the general
understanding of combustion and basic principles of firing-
Unfortunately it is out
Foxfire 8 - Southern Folk Pottery
Anchor Books, Doubleday, NY - 1983
ISBN - 0-385-17741-0
||This foxfire edition has an article on
an old time groundhog kiln.
Kiln Building With Space Age Materials
Frank A Colson
D. Van Nostrand Co, 1975
||Written in 1975 some of the
space age qualities of it are now dated, but interesting look at less
traditional material of kiln construction.
Coll Minogue & Robert Sanderson
University of PA Press, 2000
||This book's format highlights a
variety of potters and the kilns they use in wood firing.
Transatlantic Arts Inc, Great Britain
ISBN: 0 693-0117-8
||Not a kiln building book but a
must of any potters library, has references to kilns.
Raku a Practical Approach, Second Edition
Krause Publications, 2001
||The book on Raku firing and
information on Raku Kilns.
The Complete Potter: Sawdust Firing
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994
||Primitive Firing methods and
simple low fire kilns
& C Black, London, UK, 1995
||Simple kiln designs used in
" I am frequently asked for plans of the kilns
at our pottery. I do not have blueprints for most of these kilns.
Their construction incorporates basic principles and relationships, but I
rarely never drawn up detailed plans before starting construction "
"The old saying "give a man a fish and he
eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime" is
appropriate in regards to kilns as well. Plans are only as good as
your understanding of process."
|Robert does not
claim to be an expert kiln builder, however he has built over 20 kilns, and shares some of his experiences below.
||Comments below may help potters contemplating
building a wood fired or another type of combustible fueled kiln.
Kiln Design Tips
Kiln Styles and Results
be a potter
Lifestyle and aesthetics vs. efficiency.
Many potters, who are new to wood firing, have unrealistic
expectations for the pots made in this process. Saying "wood fired pottery"
to a potter, is like saying "
pasta" to a cook, there are many types of pasta resulting in different
Some styles of wood firing result in crusty, ash encased pots
which are unlikely to be used functionally.
Other wood fired kilns result in
pots that are delicate, with smooth glazes and blushes of color from the
A potter's choice to build an Anagama, Noborigama,
Fast Fire or Primitive Low Fire Kiln, should reflect the type of work they
want their kiln to produce.
One can buy bisque blanks, use
commercial glazes and fire in electric kilns. This eliminates most of
the problems potters face regarding process. Yet many potters choose
to make pots by hand, mix their own glazes and fire in kilns that guarantee
a certain amount of individuality.
When deciding on a kiln's design consider the beauty of the tool. There are kilns that function great
but look like a pile of rubble and other kilns which have a lovely presence.
A kiln's design is personal
matter. Just as some potters can thrive in a cluttered and chaotic
studio and others require order and serenity some potters regard their kiln
only as a tool others see it as work of art.
Take a look at the
Kilns of Interest,
Robert included photos of kilns
with interesting aspects of door, arch and surface treatment. He continues to update
this section, with new photos of kilns he has visited, as well as comments on design elements of
Visit working potteries whenever you can..
Ask questions, see what type of kilns they fire, and pay attention to the
kind of results their kilns produce.
How to Fire
Some books have plans for
building kilns, and some potters sell plans of the kilns they fire. One should realize that how a kiln is fired is as important as it's specific
Stacking patterns and length of firing time can will the results.
Acquire an understanding of the principles regarding combustion and draft,
then you can
make informed decisions regarding design.
Wood Fired Kilns
|Fast Fire Wood Kiln Designs
Size of Wood Kilns & Fireboxes
The Phoenix & Olsen Fast fire,
have huge fireboxes (under the ware chamber) that are equal to the entire
loading area of the kiln.
Many of the Fast Fires are made entirely of
Insulating Fire Brick (IFB) so they will fire fast because of the superior
insulation. How long the IFB brick will last, especially if you use any salt
of soda, is a question you need to consider.
Comments on small kilns
I believe there is a point of
diminishing returns when building a small wood fired kiln. The smaller the
kiln the larger the firebox needs to be in relation to the overall size of the structure.
point the firebox ( even if is was 4 x the size of the firing chamber) will
be too small to attain stoneware temperature.
Just think if you had a kiln that was 12 inches in
diameter and the firebox was 9 inches in diameter, (3x of the entire kiln).
Even with this huge ratio of kiln to firebox you would not attain a fire hot
enough to reach stoneware temperatures.
I can't give a definitive size that is too small, but I will say that my 16 cu ft wood kiln is more difficult to
than my 60 cu ft.
Both kilns have the same ratio of firebox to chamber, but
the physically larger firebox in the 60 cu Ft kiln has more room for
The ratio of firebox to chamber are identical
with both kilns, but the 16 cu ft kiln has less physical capacity and is
more difficult fire and reach to temperature.
the hot face of wood and salt kilns is lined with hard firebrick.
The determining factor in the durability of these bricks the ratio
between it's silica and Alumina. Generally the higher the Alumina
content the more refractory and resistant to corrosion from wood and
salt vapors. Bricks with over 50% alumina content are very good for
Hard Firebrick that can be purchased in hardware stores is often low
to medium duty, and while suitable for many gas kiln applications, they
tend to flux and may compress under weight loads in a wood/salt kiln.
IFB (Insulating Fire Brick)
Often referred to as Soft Bricks, these are great for Insulation, but
their porous nature ( which makes them such good Insulators) also allows
fluxing vapors to penetrate into the bricks and dissolve them from the
inside out. Roberts use of IFB is generally as a backing layer behind the hot
However to maximize the insulation in his wood kilns, he bricks up the
kiln doors entirely with IFB. While they deteriorate more quickly, they
are easy to stack in doors, provide great insulation, making the firing
go more quickly. Since the kiln doors are not part of the permanent
structure bricks are easy to replace when needed.
kilns using little or no mortar.
When using IFB , which are extremely consistent in size, it is easy
to dry lay the bricks. There are commercial bonding mortars that can be
purchased but gluing bricks together often produces expansion cracks.
Most electric kilns that are entirely made of IFB will have bricks cut
to fire the lower section of the kiln while the roof is glued together
as a flat top.
When laying Hard Firebrick, which tend to vary in size. Robert uses a
mixture of 50% clay and 50 % grog as a leveling agent. This is not meant
to glue the bricks together, but rather to fill gaps.
On a hot face interior this mixture will fuse and bond the bricks to
Spy Hole Design Ideas
||Ron Larson incorporated a nice
design touch for spy holes
a tapered brick and
a tapered hole.
Permanent Cone Pack
|Spy Hole Cone Shelf
This avoids having
to stack the kiln shelves to line up with a spy hole, so the potter can
see the cone pack
|Spy Hole Cone Shelf
By extending the brick two
inch's into the firing firing chamber, the cone pack can be located in
the same position in every firing. This allows for a more consistent
reading from one firing to the next.