Thursday, July 1, 2010

Part 2: Setting Up My Glass Studio - The Elusive Kiln

Do I need a kiln?
I spent some time deliberating over whether I needed a kiln straight away, as it was another big outlay of my hard-earned cash and I was able to make beads just fine using vermiculite and a fibre blanket.
Or so I thought... I then learn't that if I wanted to sell my beads, they would definitely need to be annealed in a kiln. The next question I faced was, which kiln?

If so, which kiln?
My first consideration was cost and my second, space. You couldn't swing a big cat in my studio, so I wanted a compact kiln, that could sit next to my workbench.  After trawling through websites and chatting with manufacturers, I decided the Paragon SC2 was just the ticket.  It was compact, affordable and has a digital controller built in. The next decision was where to buy the kiln from. I contacted the Paragon USA factory and got a quote for shipping to New Zealand. I also contacted Cindy Durant, a Paragon distributor in Australia, who had come recommended. Cindy's quote for one Paragon SC2 kiln, shipped to New Zealand was the most competitive, so I ordered through her. The NZ customs charges came to $128NZD. The total cost of the kiln came to about $1200NZD.

It was an exciting way to start the day when I opened the front door and a massive parcel was sitting on the doorstep.  I felt like a small child opening a Christmas present! I was now the proud owner of a kiln! I quickly skipped through the manual, wanting to know how everything worked immediately! That is a trait I seem to have, I always want to run before I can walk!

How does it work?
I emailed Lisa-Jane at Bord to Bead for some advice on firing programmes, after all I had absolutely no idea what temperature soft glass fires at and at what rate it needs to cool etc...
Lisa-Jane suggested the following programme's;

Programme:  #1 - Soft Glass Bead Annealing (Hot Beads)

Segment 1
Ramp Rate: FULL (999°C/1799°F)
Temperature: 515°C / 959°F
Soak Time: 3.30 hours or session duration
Segment 2
Ramp Rate: 315°C /599°F
Temperature: 200°C / 392°F
Soak Time: 0 mins

Programme:  #2 - Soft Glass Bead Annealing (Cold Beads)

Segment 1
Ramp Rate: 330°C / 626°F
Temperature: 515°C / 959°F
Soak Time: 30 mins
Segment 2
Ramp Rate: 315°C /599°F
Temperature: 200°C / 392°F
Soak Time: 0 mins

I turned the kiln on with nervous excitement! I entered in programme 1 and pressed start.
The first thing I noticed was how quickly the kiln 'ramped up' to 515°C. It took about 5 minutes!! The second thing I noticed was the smell. It stank out my whole house with a gas-like smell. I thought I was going to have to put it outside permanently. Fortunately it was only this first time that it did this, so it now lives next to my workbench. The third thing I noticed was when it reached 515°C, it turned itself off! Not ideal. I tried restarting it, changing the programme around, re-reading the manual in a little more detail, changing sockets etc... This was a very disappointing start but another lesson was learn't - Don't plug your kiln into a shared socket! (If you have two sockets in the same fitting, only use one) It doesn't like sharing and simply turns itself off. So now the kiln has a socket all to itself and works perfectly.

Another tip, don't forget to order a kiln mandrel rack when you order the kiln. I forgot!  I couldn't wait, I wanted to start using the kiln right away so I used the fire brick holders as a make-shift rack. This worked fine but not as a long term solution as they did fall over quite often and limited the amount of mandrels I could fit in. I ordered my kiln mandrel rack from Annie Rose and it does the job properly.

At the end of my bead making session, I always want to have a quick peep at my beads! I have to stop myself though or else I may end up with more cracked beads. I have been taking my beads out of the kiln when they are around 50°C. I have been told this is fine BUT they should not be put in water straight away. They need to cool to room temperature first. This may seem obvious but in the  excitement it is tempting to take them off the mandrel and start cleaning. This advice has saved me a few beads I'm sure!

If you have any kiln tips you would like to share, I would be very interested in hearing them!

Part 3: Setting up an extraction system...coming soon!


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