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:

  • Craigslist
  • 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.

The Cord

Look at the cord’s condition. If it is in bad shape, you may need to hire an electrician to replace it.

The Bricks

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.

Kiln Furniture

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!

Mandatory Extras

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!