Sunday, 9 June 2013

Packing Kilns and Thunderstorms

Kiln, shelves, mask, tongs, gloves and packed pots.

I wonder how advisable it is to pack an electric kiln during a thunderstorm? This was my exact thought on Friday around 7am during a very atmospheric summer thunderstorm that lasted most of the morning.

Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled around in the distance or crackled close overhead. And I was out in my studio under a flimsy wooden roof, packing a bisque kiln. This requires leaning deeply over into it headfirst to place pots on the lower shelves. An electric kiln remember, encircled by elements made of coiled metal wires and encased within a metal jacket. Like a huge circular toaster…

I finished packing the kiln and closed the lid. Wearing a more sensible hat, I decided to leave firing the kiln until much later in the day when all threat of thunderstorms was over. So now perhaps I should add another safety check to my list when packing kilns.

Bisque fired pots ready for glazing.

Here’s my kiln-packing safety checklist:

  1. Make sure the kiln is switched off. Obvious perhaps, and in fact my kiln has a safety feature which cuts off the electricity supply when the kiln lid lock is opened.
  2. Clear all the space around the kiln. So I don’t trip over anything.
  3. Wear a mask. My kiln has a lot of ceramic fibre around the top rim, which is an irritant, and harmful if breathed in. (Yes, thank you manufacturer for warning me!!) It’s horrible stuff so I wear a P3 mask, an old long sleeved shirt and even gloves so it can’t irritate my skin. I also drape an old tea-towel on the kiln edge when I lean over it to minimize brushing any fibres up into the air.
  4. Mind your backs. Here’s the dilemma: trying to carefully lower a heavy shelf down into a deep kiln with only a narrow gap for fingers and without breaking fragile pots beneath or damaging the sticky-out thermocouple at the side. Oh yes and without any possibility of bending the knees! The answer – do yoga.
  5. Remember the pots. Pots that are ready for bisque firing are brittle like chocolate eggs and sometimes the mind starts to obsess about placing that last extra pot into a tight awkward space. It’s easy to take a chip out of pots this way or make a crack. I use my tongs (which I bought a long time ago!) to place small tricky items lower down in the kiln or between gaps.
  6. Don’t load a kiln during a thunderstorm.

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