There are lots of Kilns on the Market suitable for firing Precious Metal Clay. Here is a rundown on three of the most popular ~ the Kitiki Mini-Kiln, the Paragon SC-Series, and the Ultra-Lite kiln.
The Kitiki Mini-kiln is a good choice where kiln loads are likely to be small, or where space is an issue. It can be used for general low-budget small-scale work such as Art Clay, PMC, dichroic glass, enamelling, and jewellery.
If you are looking to buy a kiln for the first time, the Kitiki Mini-Kiln is a good choice for home, school, craft workshop, jewellery studio, or class. Besides being compact and easy to move, it uses a regular mains socket (no need for expensive re-wiring), it stays cool on the outside, it's controllable, it heats and cools quickly, and it's inexpensive to run.
The Mini-Kiln has a Controller, not a Programmer, so there will be some limitations in available firing schedules. e.g. If the target temperature is low, and if the heating rate is set to full, the actual temperature will overshoot before the thermocouple and programmer can regulate it. If the target temperature is high, the overshoot will usually be negligible. While these variations don't affect Art Clay and PMC, they might affect glass, particularly dichroic glass.
The Mini-Kiln has a smaller firing chamber than larger kilns such as the SC2, so you can't stack it full of shelves with loads of pieces of jewellery: just four or five average things on the floor of the firing chamber, on a ceramic-fibre cloth or shelf. (i.e. Not big enough for large Bronze clay containers)
The Mini-Kiln heats to a lower top temperature – the top temperature of the Mini-Kiln is 1000°C, while the top temperature for the SC-2 is 1095°C. (This should not be an issue for PMC, Art Clay, dichroic glass or enamelling).
The Mini-Kiln door opens 90° so, unless the kiln has cooled completely, you should use long tongs in order not to burn your hand taking pieces out. The SC-2 door opens 180°.
Having said that it does have it's benefits too! It's more portable than an SC2 and cheaper too approx prices are currently £300-£350. :)
The Paragon SC series kilns The Paragon SC2 is a good first-kiln, popular with silver clay artists, particularly those also making jewellery with beads, dichroics, enamels, glass, and silver.
It's ideal for a studio running jewellery courses: it's compact and easy to move, it can use a regular mains socket, it stays cool on the outside, it's fully programmable, it heats and cools quickly, and it's inexpensive to run.
The Paragon SC series kilns come in two versions, as the SC-2 and the 50mm taller SC-3. Each version is made in the following four types: Basic, W with viewing window (shown), B with bead-annealing door, and BW with both door and window.
Firing CharacteristicsAll small, fast-heating, ceramic-fibre kilns, such as those in the SC series, with heating elements in both sides and the back, have firing characteristics you need to be aware of:
The actual temperature can overshoot before the thermocouple and programmer can regulate it: particularly if the heating rate is set to full. Set to a high temperature, the overshoot will usually be negligible.
Work placed at the back of the kiln will be slightly hotter than work at the front. Work near the sides of the kiln will be slightly hotter than work in the middle. If you're using several shelves, work on the top shelf will be slightly cooler.
The glass window in the SC2W, SC2BW, SC3W, and SC3BW, will modify the front-to-back temperature difference slightly. Also, at continual high temperatures, the window glass might discolour: but it's easy and cheap to replace. (You can also use the fibre plug when not enamelling etc to avoid this)
Apart from its internal size, the only minor limitation is that, although 1095°C is hot enough for low-fire ceramics, it's not hot enough for normal ceramics, porcelain, pottery, and stoneware: they need a 1260°C or 1290°C kiln.
My UK version SC-2 kiln has a sheathed thermocouple which helps prevent the possible corrosion, and eventual failure, of the bi-metallic tip: usually caused by pollutants produced whilst heating some types of glass.
The electronic display prompts for heating rate, target temperature, and hold time, making it easy to set up and re-use accurate drying, heating, holding, and cooling sequences.
Approx cost: £500-£600 (dependant on specification)
The UltraLite Kiln, is perfect for drying and firing your PMC, for enamelling, glass fusing, making jewellery, and keum-boo work. Please note that the Ultra Lite is not programmable - it's an 845°C, 250W, low-cost, compact, round kiln, with a lift-off lid
The UltraLite Kiln heats and cools quickly, but costs very little to run. It's ideal for small-scale work in your home, school, craft workshop, or jewellery studio, or at an arts centre running jewellery courses.
The UltraLite Kiln weighs just 1kg, so is easy to take to craft fairs, demonstrations, and exhibitions. If you already have a kiln, you can use an Ultra Lite for drying metal clays, firing single pieces, or quick tests. If you run courses, use several so that more experienced students can optimise their time, rather than wait for the slowest to catch up.
The UltraLite is a small, fast-heating, ceramic-fibre kiln, with one embedded heating element in the bottom. Max temp is about 845°C. Putting the lid off-centre will effectively vent the kiln and reduce the temperature but, unless you use a pyrometer, you won't know what that temperature is.
It's ideal for firing Art Clay and PMC using the firing disc insert, and for keum-boo work using the red brass tops. At 845°C you can't over-fire silver clays as silver doesn't melt until about 962°C. You can work with dichroic glasses, enamels, and fused glass, but will need to experiment.
Keep a firing log: the material you used, the arrangement of pieces on the shelf, the firing cycle, and the end result. The log is useful if you're learning about colour, materials, temperature, and firing time, and a skilled artist will use the firing characteristics to advantage for different effects.
The only minor limitation is that, although 845°C is hot enough for silver metal-clays, it's not hot enough for gold metal-clays, ceramics, porcelain, pottery, and stoneware: they need a 1260°C or 1290°C kiln.
Approx cost: £180-£210 (dependant on specification, e.g. keum-boo plate & lid)
There are lots and lots of kilns out there, these are just a few of them (I have the SC2 with a viewing window) ~ if you have a different model and have found it fabulous and great value then please let us know about it in the comments box! :)