The newly renovated garage studio is starting to look like a weird kiln store; Oliver Wendell Kiln finally joined his brothers in the garage this afternoon (with a great deal of assistance from his chauffeurs, slideshow below). It’s taken nine months to get him here so I kinda feel like I gave birth to a giant space heater today.

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Originally, I’d planned for the Intelligent Kiln Project for my next kiln, full of probes and thermocouples and multiple zones and controllers and wireless interfaces into my network. The goal was a kiln that eventually thought about what was going on inside it and modified its firing schedule accordingly. (In other words, I was having a geek moment)

For various and sundry reasons, most notably that the kilnbuilder who took my deposit forgot to build the kiln, it never really got off the ground. Fired the kilnbuilder, thought about tackling it myself…and then saw the Olympic raku kiln and got ideas. Instead of building from the ground up, I’d trick out a stock kiln.

Big advantage: Ollie was literally a tenth of the price of my custom kiln, which left me a LOT of room for playing. I ordered him, ran into all sorts of problems with early delivery and he wound up cooling his heels in a kiln hotel (i.e., storage facility) until I could remodel the garage and make room for him.

Ollie is a modified raku kiln from Olympic, with a 6.5 foot height (including gantry) and a firing interior about 30 inches in diameter and 28 inches high. He’s capable of full Cone 10 firing (porcelain) for Mom’s stuff, with their more precise glass controller for mine. I’ve had them make a number of modifications–the gantry’s a bit lower (since I’m a bit lower than many), they’ve left several openings for thermocouples, fans and venting, plus it’s a bit closer to the ground to make sure it would fit into the garage.

The bottom of the kiln is about eight inches deep; you unplug the controller and wind the top three-quarters of the kiln up the gantry, the way you would a bell kiln, to get inside. If you open the kiln to charge a mold with glass or manipulate something, the heat mostly stays in the bell. That’ll come in handy–I can lay the bottom element directly on the kiln floor instead of needing to rout it in, then top it with a raised shelf.

But there’s a bigger reason I wanted a bell-style kiln: I am not tall, and getting a top-loader kiln deep enough to handle large molds also means I climb a ladder and dive headfirst into the kiln, then manhandle 40 or 50 pounds of very fragile stuff into place. In the past it has led to slapstick moments and a lot of bruises. With Ollie, I’ll be able to raise the lid, slide the work in with minimal hoisting, and close up. He’ll also make it easier to flash-cool certain types of glass (i.e., the Gaffer golds, oranges and reds).

Raising the bell is reasonably easy but weighty–I may think about motorizing the lift at some point, particularly if I start needing to raise the lid during firing.  The gantry shivers a bit when the lid’s raised, which bothers me. At some point I’ll see if I can’t rigidize that a bit more.


Ollie in his new home. Too bad he's sitting there backwards (with the controller facing the wall), but we couldn't tell which way was which when he was wrapped up...and now the movers are gone. Ah well.

I’ve got about 10 projects waiting on a bigger kiln, i.e., Ollie, but they’ll have to wait a bit longer. Ollie needs to be hard-wired into the house current before I can turn him on. I’d planned to bring in another 100-amp service and give Ollie his own dedicated line…but then I went to BeCON and heard Dan Clayman talking about his casting kiln configurations…and modularizing zones and circuits.

Right now Ollie has a gazillion side elements and nothing on the top and bottom; my first modification will be adding top and bottom elements and thermocouples in separate zones. The Olympic controller is a single-zone unit; I’m planning to swap it out for a pair of Digitry controllers–each can handle two zones. If I wall mount the controllers and give each its own 50-amp circuit, I can support four zones…three for Ollie, and one for Skooby, my Skutt bathtub kiln.

That would mean I could monitor temperature and modify firing programs for both kilns, and give me a lot more flexibility in managing firings. It would also mean I get the controller OFF the kiln, which I much prefer. And thereby hangs my dilemma: I only want to bring an electrician in once. If he sets up Ollie in his present configuration, he’ll have to completely rejigger the circuits when I swap over to the Digitrys. It would be cheaper (and probably more efficient) to simply go ahead and do this.

OTOH, I bought the bloody Olympic controller and it seems dumb not to use it. Also seems dumb to start pimping a brand new kiln before it’s even been fired once.

So the way things are going, Ollie is going to be the world’s biggest doorstop for awhile, while I make up my mind. Argh.

But at least my wandering boy is home.