You might ask yourself why you should bother taking the time to build your own kiln at home. It does take a lot of work and planning to get the best kiln, in the best place in your yard. However, a homemade kiln does let you play around with lots of pottery projects and fire them in your own time. It gives you the space to finish larger items than you would be able to make in tabletop kilns. You can read more about the pros and cons of tabletop kilns in my guide on the best kilns for home use.
How to make a kiln for pottery
There are three options if you want t build your own structure in the yard where you can fire glazed pottery with ease. They are:
- building a kiln with fire bricks
- building a kiln with mud and clay
- building a barrel kiln.
Each material has its pros and cons. The barrels are great as a pre-made structure for loading combustible materials and adding a shelf for the pottery. It should be easy enough to contain the fire at a suitable heat. The same is true for the fire bricks as these retain the heat better than other bricks. Clay structures are great fun to build in a yard and help us connect with traditional methods from centuries ago.
Whichever material you use, you need to be sure that you can hold the fire with ease at the bottom, with space for loading more wood or straw as needed. At the same time, you need to have enough ventilation and a place for the smoke to escape. Otherwise, it could get too hot and the air quality could damage your pieces. Remember to leave a gap in the bricks, carve a hole in the clay, or just drill into the barrel. You can also get some temperature regulators to keep an eye on the exact temperature.
Finally, you need a sturdy shelf in the kiln for the pottery. It should be high enough away from the fire not to get damaged – as this is kiln firing not pit firing. It also needs to be strong enough to support the weight of larger pieces and easy to access.
Don’t be afraid to get creative or to call in some help for the best structure.
You may find some designs or tutorials online for how to make a kiln at home and feel that they are close to what you want, but aren’t quite right. Your approach here will depend on how confident you are in your building skills or who your know. You could take someone’s basic concept and adapt it, using a different shape, a different placement of the shelves, or some other modification. Or, you could show the design to someone with greater building experience and owe them a big favor. This might be worth it if it means a better quality kiln in the end. Bringing in outside help may also be a good idea from a health and safety perspective. Watching a tutorial online on how to build a kiln for pottery is fine, but it could easily go wrong if you get over-confident.
Are there any other alternatives?
If you still feel that this is too much like hard work or just impractical for your situation, you might want to consider an alternative way of firing your clay. Continuing with that idea of using a barrel, you could turn one of these into more of a pit fire and not worry so much about modifications. You can fill your barrel with combustible materials and use a slow burn for different effects on the surface of the pot. You can also make similar pits in the ground or in sandboxes.
Building your own kiln at home could be a great investment.
Whichever style of kiln you go for, you should find that it is a great way of enhancing your capabilities as a potter. A well-made kiln with the right capacity, heat retention, and ventilation should allow you to fire your pots and get the best results on glaze and other effects. There may still be a process of trial and error to get things right, but this is part of the fun.