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March/April 2005 PotteryMaking Illustrated 1

ne of the most difficult and
important factors to consider
when planning to build a kiln is the
kilns "scale." The potential size of a
kiln is thoroughly discussed, debated
and pondered whenever a potter
decides to build a kiln. Kurt Wild and
I have tried to address some of the
questions about scale that arise when
designing and building kilns.
Without question, the most
important question to ask when
considering the scale of a kiln is how
many pots can you make in a specific
amount of time? Just how heavy is
your production? Be honest with
yourself. Make sure that the kiln that
you build fits your production
schedule and accommodates the size
of the pots that you make.
Building a large kiln, and
then agonizing over how to fill it with
enough work in order to fire it on a
reasonable schedule, is a waste of your
time and energy. Many potters are
exposed to large kilns in school or the
gas kiln at the local art center. These
are high-production kilns, used by
many people, making hundreds of
pots per month. In many cases,
potters use these huge kilns as a model
of what they should build.
Since the plans are flexible, the
"Minnesota Flat-Top Kiln" design by
Nils Lou can be sized to fit almost any
space or studio. We have built them as
small as 10 cubic feet and as large as 60
cubic feet with a car system. A kiln of
about 25 cubic feet is ideal for a home
potter that has limited space.
Keeping in mind that the flu
size does not need to change and the
burner system is constant in a large or
small kiln, you can build a kiln to suit
your situation. These kilns can be
built to use natural or propane gas. A
small gas kiln can use a limited
amount of fuel and be as safe as
electric firingjust a simple shed roof
is all that is needed for cover in most
situations. I have built several of these
kilns in garages. Just keep in mind that
a good amount of space is needed
around any fuel kiln.
As always, you need to
observe some caution when building a
kiln! Please check with your local
building/zoning department and the
fire department for area regulations
before moving ahead with this project.
It would also be prudent to contact
your insurance carrier about your
coverage. It is better to be prepared
before you start, rather than making
changes after you are finished.
These plans are meant to be a
basic guide to building the kiln. You
can take these plans and modify them
to fit the space and size of the area
that you are planning to use. It is very
simple math to change or modify
these kilns. Since these plans are for
the kiln we built for Kurt, we have
provided a materials list, and Kurt
offers notes and suggestions gathered
during the building process.
Following the basic ideas of
Nils Lou but being a bit creative will
allow you to have a kiln that is "the
perfect fit." We also suggest that you
obtain a copy of "The Art of Firing"
by Nils Lou. This book contains a
wealth of information on building and
firing kilns, especially the Minnesota
The Building Process
The Foundation
The site for building the kiln
should be a flat, clear area with a
compacted gravel base or a concrete
slab. The base for the kiln and stack
are constructed using a combination
of 8-inch and 12-inch concrete block.
This kiln has a layer of 8-inch block
positioned so the holes in the block
run horizontally to allow air to pass
under the kiln. A layer of 12inch
block with the holes in a vertical
position is placed on the smaller
block, overlapping the seams. Another
layer of 8-inch block is placed on top
of the 12-inch block in the same
pattern as the bottom layer. (See
Drawing 1)
Once the concrete block is in
place and level, place the expanded
metal or cement board on top as the
base for the kiln floor.
The Floor
The floor of the kiln and the
stack consists of 3 layers of brick:
First, a layer of hardbrick; second, a
layer of softbrick (K 23); and third,
another layer of hardbrick. The two
layers of hardbrick can be laid in the
same pattern, but the pattern of the
Building a Small Flat-top Kiln
By Mel Jacobson and Kurt Wild
Make your dreams of having a fuel-fired kiln come true with these flexible plans
middle layer of softbrick should be
changed so the joints are staggered
between layers. You should pay close
attention to maintaining a level, flat
surface with each layer of brick. This
attention to detail will help ease the
construction of the rest of the kiln.
(See Drawing 2)
The Walls
The first course of the wall
is a soldier course. The bricks are
placed on edge so the layer is 41/2
inches high. You should start with
the back wall (See Drawing 3) to
position the flue (41/2 x 7 inches) and
the burner ports (41/2 x 41/2 inches).
You will notice that the flue opening
is just slightly off center on the
drawing to allow for use of a full
brick on one side. This will not affect
the kilns operation. Continue with
the soldier course and allow for the
door opening. These plans show the
door on the front wall of the kiln
(See Drawing 4) but in Kurts kiln the
door was placed in the sidewall.
Either option will work. Some
insulation bricks will need to be
trimmed to size using a hacksaw or a
regular handsaw.
Once the soldier course is
completed, continue building the
walls. Rows 5 through 16 are laid in
alternating courses (See Drawings 5
and 6). When starting to place the
brick for row 5, you may need to
adjust the brick on the back wall so
that there arent any joints above the
flue or burner port openings. Be sure
to maintain the proper width for the
door opening as you build the walls.
You also need to build in
peepholes for viewing the cone packs
and the inside of the kiln during firing.
Some people have used a brick built into
the wall that projects into the chamber
as a shelf for the cone packs. You do not
need to do this if you place your cone
packs on the shelves with your work.
The Roof
The roof consists of
insulating firebrick stacked on end in
multiple rows and clamped together.
The first step is to cut out a 3/4-inch
plywood deck that is just slightly
smaller than the inside dimensions of
the kiln chamber. Be sure to include
the opening left in the wall for the
door. This piece is mounted in the
kiln using 2x4 braces placed at a
slight diagonal to allow for easy
removal when you are finished
building the roof. Be sure to use
plenty of braces around the perimeter
and in the middle of the form. The
top of the plywood should be slightly
higher than the kiln walls to allow
for the thickness of the ceramic fiber
placed on top of the wall as a gasket.
Tip: Place a chalk line on
top of the plywood to mark the
center of the kiln from front to back.
This line will help keep the roof
square while placing the brick on top
of the plywood.
When placing the brick in
position, dip the top 2/3 of each
brick in a very thin slip made up of
equal parts fireclay, common sand
and water. This slip should be thick
enough to lightly cover the bricks
surface, not just stain it. Not coating
the whole brick will prevent clay
particles from falling into the kiln
during the firing. The clay slip on the
other part of the brick will help hold
it in position when clamped together
in the next step.
Set each brick in position
with the clean end against the
plywood. Work from the centerline
out to each edge starting at the front
of the kiln. Butt the bricks as securely
as possible, small gaps will disappear
when the bricks are clamped together.
You do not need to dip the bricks that
rest on the wall into the clay slurry.
Place the three hard firebricks on each
corner as shown (See drawing 7).
Tip: Although you can
perform most of the construction
process as an individual, it is a wise
decision to enlist help from others for
several of these steps, especially when
building the roof.
You are now ready to place
the corner braces and tie rods in
place. Make the four corner braces
by welding pieces of 21/2 x 21/2 x1/4-
inch steel angle together and drilling
holes in the appropriate locations.
(See inset on drawing 7) Position the
braces, add the tie rods, nuts and
washers, and snug them up evenly.
Place hard firebrick splits between
the brick and the tie rods on each
side of the roof (See drawing 7)
before tightening the nuts on the tie
rods. This will keep the bricks from
bowing out or the tie rods from
bowing in during the tightening
Once you have applied a
slight tension to the roof structure,
remove the middle inside support.
Replace this support with a shorter
one and a hydraulic jack. Raise the
center of the roof about 3/4 inch to
cause a slight domed effect. Continue
tightening the tie rods in an equal
manner working from front to back
and side to side in several steps. A
torque wrench is recommended and
you should tighten to about 40 ft/lbs
of torque. The roof is now a slightly
domed, solid slab. Once you fire the
kiln, you will want to re-tighten the
nuts to 40 ft/lbs to allow for any
stretching of the metal tie rods or
shrinking of the brick.
Tip: It is a recommended
practice to check the tension of
the tie rods after several firings
throughout the kilns life.
Corner Braces
You can now add the
bracing for the corners of the kiln
structure. This consists of a 2x2x1/4
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inch thick angle iron that is
approximately 76 inches in length on
each corner joined by tie rod or
cable. A unique feature on Kurts kiln
is the use of 1/8 inch steel cable and
eyebolts to join the corners together.
The eyebolts are placed in holes
drilled through the angle iron. The
holes are drilled so that the top holes
are 2 inches above the roof and the
bottom holes are 4 inches below the
hard brick floor. One end of the
cable is looped through the eyebolt
and fastened with a cable clamp. The
other end is passed through the
opposite eyebolt, pulled tight and
fastened with a cable clamp. When
all 8 cables are in position, slowly
and alternately tighten the nuts on
the eyebolts to create an even tension
on all the cables.
The Flue Box and Chimney Stack
The flue box is designed to
create a double Venturi effect on the
gases coming from the kiln chamber.
This system of restricting, then
expanding, then restricting and
expanding again is used to create a
strong draft of the flue gases and
turbulence within the kiln chamber.
The flue box uses a
combination of hard brick laid flat
and soldiered to make the 1-inch slot
for the damper (see drawing 8). The
damper is made from a 1-inch thick
piece of Kaowool "M" board. The
top of the flue box is the second area
of restriction before entering the
chimney stack. This opening is the
same size as the opening from the
back wall of the kiln into the flue
The chimney stack is
composed of 10 inch inside diameter
galvanized pipe and Kaowool sleeves
approximately 93/4 inch in diameter.
These will slide into the metal pipe
providing you with a ceramic fiber
chimney. The chimney stack should
sit on a piece of the ceramic fiber
board or blanket to provide an
airtight seal against the brick of the
flue box.
The chimney on Kurts kiln
is 10 feet in height. The height can
vary to some degree without affecting
the firing of the kiln. If your kiln is
going to be located inside, the
chimney needs to extend through and
beyond the peak of the roof. It will
be supported and secured by the roof
structure. If the kiln is outside, you
will need to support the stack either
by having a shed over the kiln or
using a guy wire system to hold the
chimney in place.
The burners for this kiln can
either be a high velocity propane or
natural gas with forced air. Your
burners should have the required
safety devices such as a
pilot/thermocouple safety shut off
system and be installed to meet safety
codes in your area. The burners are
placed on either side of the chimney
with the flame entering the chamber
against the inside of the wall. Target
bricks can be used to direct the flame
where needed. These bricks can be
moved to fine tune the firing of the
Other Notes
The internal measurements
of Kurts kiln are 311/2 inches wide by
36 inches deep by 341/2 inches high
for a total of 22.6 cubic feet.
The actual setting space, using
2 12x24-inch shelves side by side set
2 inches off the floor, is 10.8 cubic
Facing into the kiln, the shelves are
set so that they are 4 inches from the
left wall and 2 1/2 inches from the
right wall with the flue opening. The
shelves are placed so there is a 6-inch
space on both the back and front side
of the shelves to act as the flameways
for the burners.
Materials list for Kurt Wilds version
of the Minnesota Flat-Top Kiln:
51 Standard 8-inch cement blocks
(71/2 x 71/2 x 151/2 inches)
12 12-inch cement blocks
(71/2 x 111/2 x 151/2 inches)
3 4-inch cement blocks
(71/2 x 31/2 x 151/2 inches)
Expanded metal or cement board as
the first layer over the cement block
and before laying the brick. For the
kiln proper, 1 48x54 inch piece or 2
24x54 inch pieces are required. The
stack base requires 1 18x18-inch
800 K23 insulating firebrick
9x4 1/2x2 1/2 inches (this amount
includes about 20 extra bricks to
cover breakage and or cutting).
220 hard firebrick (straights)
(9 x 41/2 x 21/2 inches)
8 #2 split hard firebrick
(9 x 41/2 x 2 inches)
2 #1 split hard firebrick
(91/2 x41/2 x 11/2 inches)
2 1 1/4-inch split hard firebrick
(9 x 6 x 11/4 inches)
4 thin split hard firebrick
(9 x 41/2 x 1 inches)
1 21/2 x 41/2x12-inch or 121/2-inch
hard firebrick (for over damper slot)
12x24-inch shelves as desired
Shelf supports as desired
1 piece of Kaowool 48x54 inches or
2 pieces 24x54 inches
(optional/desirable added insulation
over top of kiln)
"M" board for damper and base of
metal stack sleeve
March/April 2005 PotteryMaking Illustrated 3
10 12-inch Kaowool sleeves
(81/2 inch ID x12 inch length;
91/2 inch OD), to line galvanized
metal stack
2 5-foot-long sections of heavy
galvanized pipe for stack (to be lined
with the Kaowool sleeves). Using
standard 2-foot lengths of galvanized
pipe is not recommended, as the
Kaowool sleeves do not readily slide
down the pipe. Any heating and
sheet metal shop can fabricate 5-foot
lengths. Be sure to provide the shop
with a Kaowool liner to ensure a
decent fit.
1 72-inch piece of 2x2x1/4-inch
angle iron is required for fabrication
of the 4 roof corner braces.
1/2-inch cold rolled rod is required to
connect the roof corner braces:
4 52-inch long pieces are required for
the sides
4 45-inch-long pieces are required for
the front and back (each rod must be
threaded 3 inches on each end).
16 1/2-inch nuts are required and 16
1/2-inch washers.
4 Corner, upright angle iron braces
(2x2x1/4 inch) 76 inches in length.
1/8-inch steel cable to fasten upright
braces (you may want to have the
cable cut to size at the hardware
store as it is difficult to cut without
proper tools). This kiln required 4
pieces, 56 inches long and 4 pieces,
48 inches long
16 5/16x4-inch eye bolts
16 5/16-inch nuts
16 5/16-inch washers
16 cable clamps
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(See Materials List
for rod length)
Corner Bracket