Editor’s note: Guest blogger Lois Manno is a New Mexico-based writer, artist, and illustrator. She’s also a newcomer to kiln-glass who’s agreed share some of her adventures in her new medium here. She blogs about her art and other adventures – including cave exploration – at loismanno.com.
Oh man, I’m in it now. After having such a great time with the two Bullseye workshops I’ve taken, I thought I’d be satisfied attending the Open Studio sessions to work on pieces and get them fired. It was a nice experience, being in the studio at Bullseye Resource Center Santa Fe, doing my thing while surrounded by other artists working on their projects. I left my pieces in one of the kilns and picked them up a couple of days later. The only problem was that I was going to have to wait a couple of weeks for the next Open Studio. Unacceptable. I had become so hooked on the thrill of cracking a just-cooled kiln to see the goodies inside that I couldn’t imagine having to wait so long between firings. The solution? A kiln of my very own.
I had been ogling a display in the Resource Center: a Paragon BenchTop-16 kiln, plus a starter kit that included all the bells and whistles needed to set up a home glass studio, including enough glass for a few beginner projects. Realizing that this was the preferred alternative to neurotically waiting for the next Open Studio day, I went for it. As I slipped my still-smoking credit card back into my wallet, the Bullseye staff sprang into action, pulling together box after box of equipment. What a rush! I felt like Imelda Marcos in a shoe store, like John Goodman at a BBQ, like… well, you get the picture.
One thing that wasn’t included was a stand for the kiln. Enter the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. If you’ve never visited one of these wonderlands of great used stuff, I recommend you find one close to you and visit. It’s amazing to see the variety of the items that end up at the ReStore: furniture, construction materials, tools, doors, windows, and metal cabinets perfect for supporting an electric kiln. I scored a great one for only $35. There was even room in it for storing kiln furniture and slumping molds.
After heading home and unpacking all the various cutters, molds, shelves, glass, stringers, shelf primer, etc., etc., I sat back and realized that I had never fired a kiln. Sure, I’d worked with the Bullseye folks, discussing firing schedules and such, but I hadn’t actually pushed the buttons. Since the Paragon kiln I purchased was one that could run on a normal 15-amp household circuit (no 220 wiring, no expensive electrician visit), it was pretty much plug-and-play.
First I had to take the kiln up to 1520F, to burn off any residual coatings and to heat-season the interior. I spent an hour or so reading and re-reading the very thin instruction manual that came with the kiln as I mustered up the courage to program the Digital Temperature Controller. To say I was a bit intimidated is an understatement. I couldn’t keep out of my head images of the kiln overheating due to my stupidity, melting in a white-hot mass through the floor of the studio a la Chernobyl, and burning the place down. Of course, nothing of the sort occurred, and after very carefully following the steps for programming the firing, I left my fate in the hands of the Kiln Gods.
My studio was still standing the next morning, so I decided to try something that actually involved glass. Upon perusing the TechBook that came with my kiln kit, I decided to try the very first project recommended: to test-fire several strips of 3 mm Tekta clear glass placed on supports and spaced evenly across the kiln shelf. Taking a look at the degree of sag in each piece after firing would tell me a lot about the heat distribution within the kiln, and would confirm that the elements were all working evenly. Plus, I figured this was a good starting place because the worst that could happen is that I’d wreck a few strips of Tekta.
Following the guidelines in TechNotes 1: Knowing Your Kiln, I set up the test strips on the kiln shelf (after priming it, of course) and punched in the firing schedule. It’s amazing how quickly setting up the Temperature Controller became familiar and routine. I’d say by the third firing I had it down. I want my next kiln to have a keypad to enter numbers, and a memory for storing firing programs, because re-entering all the numbers every time the firing parameters change is a bit of a drag, but hey, for the $1170 price tag, this was a smokin’ deal and I’m not complaining. (For the record: no, my kiln does not smoke.)
The Tekta strips were very interesting to look at when the kiln was finally cool enough to open about 12 hours later. There was a little hot spot in the upper left corner, and a cool spot in the dead center of the shelf—which makes perfect sense, considering that this kiln has side elements and no top element. From what I could tell, everything was running perfectly and I was ready to launch into something more substantial.
As I mentioned, the kit came with glass for making a couple of projects. I decided to begin with the Make It: Tint Tone Plate project because it would give me a chance to practice my glass-cutting skills and use the 10-inch slumping mold that was part of the kit. My next blog post will describe the fun I had and the challenges I encountered while working on this deceptively simple project.