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The Key to Understanding Digital Controllers

The most confusing thing about digital controllers is firing rate. Once you understand rate, the rest of the controller is easy to learn.

Rate is confusing because the rate on switch-operated kilns is adjusted by merely turning dials. You don’t have to think about degrees of temperature rise. Microwave ovens require that you enter only High, Medium, or Low, and time at that temperature.

A car’s speedometer measures speed in miles or kilometers per hour. To understand temperature rate, think of a speedometer that measures temperature change per hour instead of miles. This applies to both heating and cooling rate.

“Does the increase in temperature always assume a one hour time period?” someone asked. “If I need to get to 300 degrees in 30 minutes, would I set the ramp for 600 degrees per hour?”

The answer is yes. Rate is how much the temperature needs to go up or down in one hour. (Note: Degrees per hour is becoming our industry standard for controllers. A few controllers, however, use degrees per minute or number of hours to reach temperature. But once you understand rate, you can soon master any controller.)

At a rate of 100 degrees per hour, the kiln would take 10 hours to reach 1000 degrees.

Suppose you wanted to fire from room temperature to 1000 degrees in 2 hours. To figure rate, divide 1000 by 2 hours. The temperature needs to go up 500 degrees every hour. Rate = 500 degrees per hour.

If you need to be more precise, subtract room temperature from 1000 before dividing by 2 hours. If room temperature is 100, then subtract that from 1000:

1000 minus 100 = 900

900 divided by 2 = 450 rate

Here is a sample 4-segment firing:

Segment 1) Go from a room temperature of 100 to 700 degrees in 2 hours

Segment 2) Go from 700 to 1000 in 30 minutes

Segment 3) Go from 1000 to 1400 in 2 hours

Segment 4) Cool from 1400 to 1000 in 7 1/2 hours

Figuring rates for the above program:

Segment 1) 700 minus 100 = 600 divided by 2 = 300 rate

Segment 2) You are firing from a temperature of 700 to 1000 in 30 minutes. First, subtract 700 from 1000. Answer: 300.

You are raising the temperature 300 degrees in half an hour. Since rate is measured in hours, and the temperature will rise 300 degrees in 30 minutes, rate per hour is 300 x 2 = 600.

Segment 3) 1400 minus 1000 = 400 divided by 2 hours = 200 rate

Segment 4) 1400 minus 1000 = 400 divided by 7.5 hours = 53 rate

If you are like most artists, who think visually, it is easier to understand the controller by drawing the program on graph paper. You can even make a rough sketch on plain paper showing slanted lines for rates and horizontal lines for temperature holds.

To master the temperature controller, first understand rate. Then segments, target temperatures, and holds will fall into place.


Q. What is the difference in the cost to fire a kiln in a hot room compared to firing in a cold room?

A. Room temperature has almost no effect on the electrical cost of firing a kiln. However, if your kiln is under a carport that has open sides, protect the kiln from wind. Air blowing against the case can raise the electrical cost slightly. If you use a fan to lower the temperature of the switch box, position the fan so that the air blows into the switch box louvers but not onto the firing chamber case.


Dr. Judy Fisher of Mitchellville, Maryland wrote, “E6000 is a better adhesive for glass than epoxy, because if there are spaces or gaps between the finding and the glass piece, the epoxy will have a weak bond. However, the Goop E6000 automatically fills in the spaces.

“Now that Goop has finally supplied a special tip for the E6000, one can use it more precisely than before.”

Thanks for the pointer, Dr. J. It is always good to hear from you.


Carole Dwinell of Martinez, California wrote, “Please, please go back to the old newsletter format. It was friendly, service oriented and you always added links to the website for those new items that we could check out. I miss it cause you're a most helpful person and this new format takes away from that. We sort of have to plow through all the ads to get to your information.”

Thanks, Carole, for your kind words and for sharing your opinion. It means a lot to me.

Do you agree with Carole, who wants a plain text newsletter, or do you prefer having pictures? If you have a moment, please press “Reply” to share your thoughts.

I will be visiting Orlando, Florida on November 10 at the Bead and Art Glass Fest. If you are attending the show, I look forward to meeting you.

Thank you,

With best wishes,

Arnold Howard Paragon Industries, L.P. – Better Designed Kilns 2011 South Town East Blvd. Mesquite, TX 75149-1122 Voice: 972-288-7557 & 800-876-4328 / Fax: 972-222-0646 /

PRIVACY NOTICE: Under no circumstance do we share or sell your email address.

Copyright 2006, by Paragon Industries, L.P.

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