Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Ceramic vs. Glass Kilns

The purposes of these two types of kiln differ, so insulation properties differ too. Ceramic kilns have high density brick insulation to retain the heat and slowly cool the contents from the top temperature to avoid breakage. Glass kilns have light weight insulation – whether brick or fibre - to cool quickly from the top temperature to avoid devitrification.


Controllers are necessary for controlled soaks and cooling on glass kilns. Much simpler controls are sufficient for ceramics firings. So a ceramics kiln needs to have a controller added. This is a significant cost. If buying a ceramics kiln new for glass work, ensure it has a controller that can be used for glass.

A bathtub or coffin type kiln with controller

Heat distribution is different in the two. Glass kilns are shallow to get even heat distribution to the surface of the glass. Ceramic kilns have elements around the sides and frequently in the top, but may not have any in the door, if it is not top loading. This means the heat distribution in a ceramic kiln is not as even as in a glass kiln, which is not a problem for ceramics as so much heat is retained at the target temperature, it equalises as the kiln cools.

Ceramic kilns with elements on sides rather than top

Ceramic kilns up to 450 mm deep tend to be top loading, the ones with greater depth tend to have doors. Glass kilns are shallower and tend to have top – just the lid opens - , clamshell – the lid is the whole chamber which opens giving direct access to the floor of the kiln - or bell type – where the lid also forming the chamber is lifted from the base of the kiln and often the base is on wheels so another base of prepared work can be wheeled into place for firing before the kiln has completely cooled.

Large top hat kiln showing direct access to the kiln floor

Baffles are required in ceramic kilns because the heat is greater nearer the elements on the initial advance in temperature. These baffles avoid premature sealing of the edges of pieces causing large bubbles.

Firing on multiple levels is possible in ceramic once you have built up the experience.

Schedules have to take into account the greater mass of insulation in ceramic kilns.

Kiln with fibre insulation all around

Annealing and cooling tends to require different strategies to encourage the ceramics kiln to cool fast enough in the devitrification range, but can have the power turned off earlier after the annealing soak, because of the slower cooling.

Large front loading ceramic kiln

Ceramic kilns are ideal for casting.

Cost – ceramic kilns tend to cost less than glass ones and second hand ones have been more widely available. That may be changing now with the increasing popularity of glass fusing. 

The electricity costs are marginally higher in ceramic kilns than glass, because the mass of brick to be heated up is greater..

Space - Ceramic kilns tend to take up less floor space because they are deep or tall rather than broad.

Small top loading kiln with combination brick and fibre insulation