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“I had no idea what I was in for, but it's been an amazing experience.”

Car Kiln
Building My Dream Kiln

Planning stage

For several years, I had dreamed of building a downdraft, gas-fired car kiln. However, life kept getting in the way.
In the summer of 1996 it was finally time to go for it. So, I started researching, thinking about, and planning my dream kiln! I had no idea what I was in for, but it was an amazing experience.


I went to the library and read books about kiln building, and bought a couple books for my personal reference. I looked at car kilns of several different designs and talked to many potter friends, in real life, and online, about car kilns. I finally decided to go with using a design a local potter had built last year and is having great success with. I looked at his kiln and measured and adjusted to make my kiln a bit smaller. I talked with him at length about the procedure he went through building his kiln, the steps he used. I drew sketches of the parts of the frame that I thought would need clarification when we built mine. I measured and re-measured every dimension I could think of that I might need while at home building. This planning and thinking stage took longer than I anticipated but I was rewarded by the ease of execution when I finally got to the building stage.
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Mishy Cutting Steel Beginning the kiln--the frame
It took me awhile to find someone to agree to weld the frame together for me. I was willing to hire someone, but not sure where to look for a reliable welder. A friend of a friend decided that he would supply his expertise and do the welding for me, if I directed, because he knew nothing about kilns. I invited him over to see the kiln that my potter friend had built, to give him an idea of the scope of the job. Then, after detailed discussion of the frame construction, I searched out and found a supplier for the steel tubing and angle iron I needed. What an interesting sight to see giant wet-saws cutting 20 foot pieces of 3 inch tube in half like they were butter. After getting the steel, I rented a "chop saw" and a generator powered welder and my welder friend came out for the day. He taught me how to use the chop saw properly and then grind the sharp edges off the cut steel with a hand grinder.
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Mishy hugging the kiln frame Frame of Kiln
Then I would put the frame pieces together and tell him where to weld. Another friend of mine volunteered to be a third hand the two days we spent welding, and her help was invaluable. I started the frame by building three cross-layers, the bottom, the layer that holds the brick and the top, and then we attached uprights to put it together.
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“Cyndi volunteered to be a third hand the two days we spent welding, and her help was invaluable.”
Kiln Frame
The cart was then built, upside-down, and set up on unattached tracks to attach the door frame and test it out.
The next thing I focused on was the burner system. This welding job was pretty special, it needed to be sealed totally for the gas line. I called my gas company (propane) and they directed me to someone who could fabricate what I wanted to build.
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Burner
I took the parts out, laid it out for the guy and two days later he had built it and air tested it for me. I bought the actual burners themselves by mail from a source in Los Angeles. Then, the propane guy came out, scoped out the job and came back and connected the venturis to the system. Burner
At this point I also ordered sheets of galvanized steel for the outer surface of the kiln. It serves both functionally-holding the thermal insulation and bricks in and visually, being much more attractive to look at than the outer layer of the kilnwall, which is rigid thermal insulation. When that was ready, I hired a welder from the want ads, to come and fix a few minor adjustments and put the galvanized steel into the frame. Unfortunately, the film was defective from this point 'til after the kiln walls and chimney are bricked.
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Frame with burners
Back Wall of the Kiln Bricking
The first thing I did, to start filling in this blank frame I had constructed, was to line the sides and bottom layers with thermal insulation. This kiln design has six burners coming up from the bottom along both sides. I had to cut the port holes for the burners in the insulation. It was then I realized that I had miscalculated and made the burner assembly 5.5" too wide, necessitating a crosspipe being shortened. Lining the kiln was easy, as the insulation material is much like layered cardboard and very easy to cut to fit. The only drawback about working with the insulation is the itchy dust. When the insulation layer was all in, we started on the walls. The side walls went fairly quickly and smoothly but the back wall, with the flue, chimney and damper to think about went a bit more roughly. I was unhappy with the back wall after the first try. After discussing my design with an online friend, in particular the meeting of the cart and the kiln at the back wall, I decided to take the back wall down and rebuild it, changing the cart/kiln seal and fixing the crookedness that bothered me. The second incarnation of the back wall was much better. My flue design is Nils Lou's venturi design from The Art of Firing, with a horizontal damper up above the flue.
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Backseal on Kiln
Next I had to build my arch. This was a challenge. I wrangled Gary to help me build an arch form out of plywood, cutting arcs of wood and running strips lengthwise. I used Fred Olsen's book to determine how many bricks I should need. I decided to cut the sideskews for the arch, as I had forgotten to order them with my other brick. Arch of the Kiln
“Rusty Wiltjer's suggestion to load the cart with hardbrick on top to hold the softbrick in place...was brilliant!”
I was confused, at first, as to how to determine the skew brick shape, but after some discussion of the process with friends I bought a mitering square and laid the archbrick out marking the skew angle on paper, which I used as a guide to set the mitering square used to mark each skew brick.
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The Kiln's Cart

The Cart
The cart was a bigger job. I consulted in detail with my friend Rusty Wiltjer on this part, and his suggestion to load the cart with hardbrick on top to hold the softbrick in place while you "sand it down" to fit was brilliant! It worked like a charm, with a layer of hardbrick between the thermal insulation and softbrick to give the softbrick a sturdier base. I had to have Richard, the welder, redo parts on the cart when I realized what I needed finally. I think I bricked the cart a total of three times before it worked smoothly. It took some correcting of the top layer of bricks on the cart, so it would fit as it rolled into the existing kiln properly without catching and pulling bricks off on its way in or out. Once I had it so it fit, I ran the cart in and out several times to smooth and sand the seal. Richard showed up in the midst of all this and finished the door pulls, latches and some other final pieces.
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Rich and Kiln Mishy's ready to FIRE!
Now I was ready to FIRE, I thought. I realized after I loaded up the first bisque load that I hadn't put the pyrometer in. I used cones and although it fired quite unevenly (06 flat on top barely down on bottom), I was pleased with the speed of firing and how easily I seemed to get a feel for the burner adjustments. I pretty much left the damper alone for the first few firings. I decided to test my cone 6 oxidation glazes to see what they would do in a gas kiln. I got some wonderful results in the first two firings, even though I overfired them to cone 8 on the top with cone 6 at the bottom. Meanwhile, I discussed the kiln with my buddies online and they gave me some ideas for some "tweaking" to do on it. I decided to make a couple changes, eventually, but will be firing it, meanwhile.

I will continue to document this process with photos, and eventually finish up this ongoing page with some beautiful glazed loads!

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Dedication to the
Goddess of the Kiln


Oh great and mighty goddess of fire
we dedicate to you this day a new kiln
Lovingly built by the humble hands of your servants

We pray that in your continued firing
you will only flame our creations with
creative scorch marks and never make them crack,
That you melt our glazes lovingly and evenly,
without runs or drips, unless they look really cool

We ask that you grant us the will and patience
To allow our work to dry before entrusting them to your care
To not view your work until you have cooled your fiery rages
To properly wash all shelves, just in case

In return, We the worshipers of your great and mighty gasses,
Promise to always wipe the bottoms of our creations and
to never let you overcook,
To keep your burners in good repair, for we would not want you
to ever go hungry or blow up.

Brandy Dickerson 1997

Some other kiln pages to check out:

Raku-Art


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