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Getting to Know Your Kiln

Keep a diary on what you learn about your kilns.


Getting to Know Your Kiln

Recent Q&A: When a new element bulges out of the groove

Last Week’s Glass Craft & Bead Expo in Las Vegas


At the Glass Craft and Bead Expo last weekend, I met Joyce Whidden, an enamelist who has been firing a Paragon E-series kiln since 1957. She knows by watching the color of light around the kiln door when it is time to load her enameling. And she can sense just when to remove it for perfect results.

Because Joyce does not use a digital controller or pyrometer, she has had to depend on the power of observation to fire her kiln. When the light around the door begins to turn yellow, she knows that the kiln is too hot for enameling. Joyce mastered her kiln long ago through the power of observation.

Kilns are a little scary to the beginner. Firing a kiln can at first feel awkward or even confusing. But the more you interact with your kiln, as Joyce has done, the sooner you will master it. Even though your kiln may be a digital automatic, take the time to get to know it. The more you observe the kiln, the sooner you will master it.

1) Keep a firing logbook that shows total hours of firing time, type of load, and firing results. In addition, think of the logbook as a diary. Write down anything that you learn about your kiln each time you fire it. Write down questions, too. Writing questions gives you something tangible to think about and often results in finding answers when you least expect it.

2) Spend time with the kiln while it fires. In your firing logbook, write down anything interesting that you observe.

3) Any time you hire a technician to work on your kiln, consider it a mini-seminar. Watch and even take notes. Most technicians are glad to answer questions.

4) Read your kiln’s instruction manuals--not necessarily cover to cover, because some information is for reference, such as the section on changing elements. Read and even underline the operation sections. Few people understand how much time goes into producing a manual. Sometimes a single paragraph can save you many hours of trial-and-error learning.


Q. I just replaced an element. It is bulging slightly out of the soft brick. Should this be stapled in place before using the kiln, or after the element has burned in?

A. The "round" top-loading 7-, 8-, 10-, and 12-sided kilns usually do not need element pins. A new element that bulges out of the groove should be pushed back in before you fire it. Since it hasn't been fired yet, you do not need to heat the element before moving it:

1) If the element is bulging out of a straight section of groove, compress the coils just a little with needle nose pliers.

2) If the element is bulging out of a corner, expand the coils with automotive snap-ring pliers.

Bulging elements that have been fired must be heated until they turn red before you can move them back into a groove.


The annual Glass Craft and Bead Expo is held in the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nearby in the same building are the blinking lights and electronic music of hundreds of slot machines that play at all hours.

The exhibitors’ area where I stayed was almost as colorful as the brightly lit slot machines. Light reflected from glass jewelry that covered rows of tables.

I stayed at the Paragon booth where I enjoyed meeting many of you. Thank you for taking the time to stop by to say hello. I enjoy the energy that surrounds people who are excited about creating. One visitor said, “I love making marbles. I don’t want to do anything else!” Another visitor was a doctor who wanted to become a full-time glass artist.

I acquired an exquisite, glistening dichroic bowl from Judy Killian of Alaska. Thank you for the treasure, Judy.

On Sunday afternoon, Kay Walters won the drawing for a digital Caldera kiln. I phoned her and left a message; she called back with her address. Then she called awhile later to tell me again how happy she was, that she had danced and had told all her friends. For me that was one of the high points of my trip.

At the show I met glass artist Kay Bain Weiner and her husband, Herb. They have formed the non-profit KBW Educational Foundation to help educate glass artists. They provide scholarships, supplies, and books to high schools and colleges. To help them, please call 760-603-8646.

I returned home on Monday. When I opened the front door, my cats Jack and Cius raised their heads from a nap and looked at me curiously. Bubbin, the tailless cat, stretched from around the corner. It felt so good to be welcomed home.

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 2008, by Paragon Industries, L.P.

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