Buying a Used Kiln – What to Look for & What to Avoid
Buying a used kiln isn’t for everyone. Unless you find that rare unicorn, you wont likely know the history of the kiln or even if it fires properly. With that said, kilns are simple machines and buying a used one when you are getting started is a must for many learning potters and starving artists.
Why Buy Used?
The cost of a small new kiln ranges from $1000 to $2000 dollars! If you are patient and wait for a good used kiln to come up, you can often score a decent used kiln for a fraction of that cost.
Where to Find Them
The best places to look for used kilns are:
- Facebook Marketplace
- College Equipment Auctions
- Ceramic Store Classified Ads
What to Look For
First, let me make it clear that there is no guaranteed way to test in the “wild” if a used kiln is going to be 100% up to par. The only way to know for sure is to run test firings. However, here are some items that you should look for when on the hunt.
The Heating Elements
Don’t buy a kiln without plugging it in to see if it will heat up. Before turning it on, tear a few small scraps of paper up and wedge them in each ring of the kiln making sure they are touching the elements. Turn the sucker on. After a few minutes the elements should start heating and those scraps of paper should start to smoke (and eventually catch fire). If not, you might want to take a closer look at the elements. If there are rings that aren’t firing up and you don’t know how to change them, wait till you find something else.
Look at the cord’s condition. If it is in bad shape, you may need to hire an electrician to replace it.
The soft brick that makes up the kiln body doesn’t have to be perfect, but it needs to be in pretty good shape. Large chunks missing should be avoided, along with any major damage to the interior from glaze running, etc.
Consider the cost of kiln shelves and posts. Usually, used kilns will come with these. If the one you are looking at doesn’t have them, factor this cost into the price. Shelves and posts don’t often come up alone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy a crap kiln just for these essentials!
BEWARE of the “mandatory” extras that people try to offload with kilns. If it is a “must take all” situation, you might want to steer clear… You will see this a lot with ceramic molds. Unless you really dig slip-casting/using molds, you probably don’t have the room to store 500 fifty pound molds in your studio!
Now that you have your kiln, learn what else you need to finish setting up a Basic Pottery Studio at Home!
4 thoughts on “Buying a Used Kiln – What to Look for & What to Avoid”
Hi there, thanks for making this post!
A while back I bought a used kiln on Craigslist. I was SO excited to use it, but then a friend commented that it’s not safe to use because I don’t know if the kiln bricks contain lead or cadmium from the previous owner’s firings. I doubt that it’s a big deal, but it’s not something I had even thought to ask the seller about. I’m thinking it’s probably fine to do firings using food-safe glazes, but I’m open to suggestions if you have any insights 🙂 Thank you!!
While this is a valid point, know that this isn’t that common these days, but if the kiln is older and you did not have a chance to talk to the original owner about this possibility, there are some things you can do to ease any fears.
Generally, if the kiln was made in the last two decades or so, you are probably fine as by the 90’s, it became widely accepted that no amount of lead was considered safe (even if it is possible to make a lead glaze that does not leach, there were too many variables that could create faults in the glaze, which had been the main argument for it’s continued use through this point).
First, you can get a at home test kit like this one from 3M: https://amzn.to/3tla3Cz This would be a good first step, and this one seems like one of the most reliable on the market. If it tests negative, you more than likely do not have an issue. However it is important to note that these tests do not have 100% accuracy and false positives are common. Still, this is a good option as a preliminary assessment, and you can even use it to test kiln shelves and kiln brick directly!
Ultimately, if you want to know for certain if lead or any other red flag contaminant/material are detectable by using your pots, you should send in a sample to a professional testing facility such as this one: http://www.bsclab.com/Pottery_Testing.html
I have an email out to them now asking for their current costs for their service. I will update here once I find out! Since I plan on making my own glazes, this was on my to-do list anyway!
I hope this helps!
I would like to ? start but I feel xpensive but I love pottery
Thanks for the comment Nikki! Yes, it is quite the expensive hobby if you let it!
Comments are closed.