Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Firing Practices that Affect Kiln Elements

The way that you fire glass and other materials in your kiln affect the longevity of the kiln elements.  Some things you can do and avoid are given here.


Even if you have the best aluminium oxide coating, the fumes that emit from glazes, paints, organics, inclusions and devitrification solutions can still attack the element through cracks in the coating. Downdraft vents are your best defence against potentially harmful fumes. Downdraft vents pull the fumes from the kiln chamber before they have a chance to damage the elements.
If you do not have a downdraft vent your next best option is to prop the lid a couple of inches until the kiln reaches 540°C to allow the fumes out of the chamber. You should also consider leaving at least one peephole out during the entire firing for the fumes that escape above 540°C.
This presents a dilemma, as the recommendation is to keep the kiln closed from 540°C upwards to protect the glass from cold air drafts.   Those who rarely fire above 800°C do not have the same problem as those who regularly fire at 850°C and above for casting, combing, and melts.  The higher the temperature, the greater the effect of fumes on the elements.  At fusing and below temperatures the effect on the elements is not as great.  Thus, low temperature firings can follow the standard practice of closing the kiln above 540°C.  Those going higher, should consider venting the kiln all the way to the top temperature to reduce the wear on the elements.

Maintain an Oxidising Atmosphere

Elements need an oxidising atmosphere to provide a long dependable service.  Subjecting elements to reducing atmospheres will age the elements quickly.  This is be done by introducing organics or oils into the kiln without venting.  Among the things that will attack the aluminium oxide coating of the elements are
  • ·        Carbon - this includes materials made from carbon and plant-based inclusions.   
  • ·        wax burnout – it is best to steam wax out of moulds to eliminate most of the wax before any burnout, as the fumes are largely carbon.
  • ·        halogens (such as chlorine or fluorine) 
  • ·        molten metals (such as zinc, aluminium).  This is a more important reason for avoiding the use of zinc and aluminium in kilnforming than the possibility of health problems.
  • ·        lead bearing paints and glazes – lead is a common component of paints, enamels and glazes.
  • ·        alkaline metals – the main one we come across in kilnforming is magnesium which produces an amethyst colour of varying intensities.  This has a melting point of 650°C and boils at 1090°C, so some fumes can develop during firings and affect the elements.
  • ·        borax compounds – used in enamel glazes and some devitrification sprays. 

If you use these materials in the kiln, you need to ensure that the kiln is well vented while these are in the kiln.

When you do have to use these elements - even when you vent - it is good practice to follow this firing by one without materials corrosive to the coating.  This allows the coating to re-form around the element surfaces after a corrosive firing.
Trying to do reduction firings in your kiln will greatly limit their useful life and is definitely not recommended.

Avoid Contaminants

Contaminants such as silica which is contained in kiln wash and some glazes attack the aluminium oxide coating of the wire.
Powders, paints and kiln wash accidentally touching the elements cause rapid corrosion of the elements if not cleaned off before firing.


Firing close to the elements allows any fumes from materials being used to affect the elements more than allowing some space between the glass and the elements.  This provides another reason to keep the glass away from the edges of the kiln in addition to the possible uneven heating of the glass.

High Temperature Firings

High temperatures with very long soak times will accelerate an increase in element resistance through the differential expansion of the inner wire and the coating. The higher the temperature, the longer the soak, the sooner the element will decrease in life. Usually short soaks work much better for the longevity of the element.  This is not such a big factor for glass kilns as it is for ceramic kilns.

The next part in this series deals with the maintenance of the elements.

Earlier relevant posts

[links nature, aging, maintenance]

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