Thursday, August 9, 2012

Brick by Brick

Where to begin? Well for those of you who have been following for some time, you know I have a pretty tiny little kiln that I fire nearly around the clock to maintain the flow of my business. There are still tumultuous times, but for the most part I have fallen into a routine of running that little pottery cooker that seems to work, at least for now.

When I bought this kiln in the Spring of 2010 it was brand new, shiny and perfect. It was small, and smaller even than the kiln I had before, but it seemed a practical size that I could grow with. I'm a dreamer and my dreams for my business, though somewhat loose have always been big. I was positive that I was accounting for "big" when I purchased this kiln. For about six months I was right. It was a struggle to fill the kiln and I fired only a few times a month, often sneaking friends' and students' pots into my personal firings just to fill the kiln.

Then in Fall of 2010 I moved to North Carolina and decided I wasn't going to get a "real job." My solution was to instead make a ton of pottery and sell a ton of pottery, and in the middle of those two steps, fire a ton of pottery. I still stubbornly held onto the notion that my little kiln was actually not so little, but rather: economical, practical and underestimated.

Okay, so now a year and a half later I have more than realized my little kiln is teensy. I've been trying to see my business growth and the resulting perception that my kiln is shrinking as a good thing, and truly it is, so I don't really need that kind reassurance, but I am going to share with you all that I have been feeling a little overwhelmed lately. I'm not (surprisingly) overwhelmed by my expanding business and the orders which continue to pour in. I am enjoying that part tremendously. I love to be busy, I love a challenge and I love the feeling of directly creating something successful and valued. Thankfully these qualities work well in business. I am however overwhelmed because of my kiln.

(This is an older photo, I could now probably double the number of pots loaded in this crazy looking bisque.)

I need a bigger kiln. A really big kiln which will support what is growing into a really big business. I realized the other day that my business and current kiln situation is basically like trying to run a growing restaurant from a toaster oven. No fancy oven or stovetop equipment. Worldwide customers, a growing list of wholesale and commission contracts, and a toaster oven. While I can more than keep up on the making end, I am falling behind on the firing end. It is upsetting to feel something close to failure creeping in simply because of equipment, and not because of ability, capability or willingness. But this isn't a sad story, I promise.

I have been researching new, large kilns for some time and they are several thousands of dollars. Sad face. That's a lot of money. I was too discouraged to purchase a used kiln after my last used kiln overfired and failed, so I haven't even been looking at used kilns. Used was simply out of the question. My outlook may have just changed. Three weeks ago my little kiln began to have problems. Elements were replaced and a few firings later issues arouse again. New thermocouples and a few more elements and the kiln should have been in tip top shape, at this point nearly every essential heating component was brand new. Then the major disaster happened. The top element ends fused together during the firing and ended up completely melting the element beneath it. I had never seen this kind of kiln damage, even after my last kiln severely overfired (bad wiring actually done by an electrician) which melted pots into puddles of glass, resulting in this kiln's reassignment to Raku Kiln.

(Kiln interior: failed and melted element. Damaged holders, damaged bricks and shelves. The puddle of liquid used to be an element. The damage was to the entire ring, ruining nearly all the bricks and element holders, in addition to the downward damage shown.)

(Failed thermocouple)

(Cracked Ceramic Terminal Block which resulted in loose wires.)

The entire kiln needed to be disassembled and rebuilt. I ordered and received firebricks in the mail, pre-fit with holders. New elements and a new terminal block were also installed. When I say "I rebuilt the kiln", I mean rebuilt. Propane torch, bolt cutters, heavy duty electric grinder, a gazillion screwdrivers, sander, pliers, tons of safety equipment and seven hours of two person work later, Kim and I had completely rebuilt the kiln, brick by brick.

(New parts sent free of charge from L&L. Thankful for the factory warranty and incredible customer service.)

With these humungous kiln repairs behind me and my first (fingers crossed) successful, loaded firing underway right now (1,556 degrees Fahrenheit at last check) I am feeling much more confident about my future kiln upgrades. I am scouring Craigslist and ebay looking now at used kilns rather than new. A fraction of the price these kilns are seeming well within my reach by the Fall. And now that I have an oh, so complete understanding of every, single, tiny part in a kiln I feel comfortable purchasing a second hand piece of equipment that may just need some TLC.

My dad said it best when all these kiln problems first happened, "Just imagine all you'll learn from this! Having the knowledge and understanding of the electrical workings of a kiln is invaluable. You're learning what would otherwise be a very expensive skill to learn, simply by being on the job!" Honestly at the time I was on the other end of the phone rolling my eyes. Now however I completely share his opinion!


  1. wow! what an accomplishment! i am so impressed.

    I'm continually inspired by what you're doing! keep it up Lindsay!

  2. this is a helluva story, Lindsay :) you are pretty amazing! I can't imagine what I would do, if my kiln broke down...well, I guess one can never know, until it is their own problem to solve, right! But my goodness, great job!!! :)