Friday, December 6, 2013

Kiln Review - Tabletop Furnace Company

Recently I bought a new little kiln and wanted to do a review of it for you guys.  I was in the market for a lighter, travel-friendly kiln that I could take on the road with me.  I had been carting around my 50 lb. Evenheat kiln and it was not being back-friendly!  In searching the internet for alternatives, I came across a company called Tabletop Furnace Company.  I am always a bit wary of companies that I have never heard of but in reading the description of the kiln, I was intrigued.  The website boasts a kiln weight of 11 lbs and a firing speed of 8 minutes to 2200 degrees!  Wow!  Could this be true?!  So I made a couple of phone calls to Ken of TFC and talked it over.  I just had to try this baby out!  So I ordered it in Stoplight Red (it is available in 10 different colors).  You have to keep in mind when ordering something like this that it is actually being made just for you.  Before I ordered I had checked his feedback on EBay and although he did have negatives, they were all in regard to shipping time.   He doesn't have boxes and boxes of them sitting around ready to go.  That is not uncommon in the kiln world, so you need to exercise patience!  It took about a month for it to be built and to arrive.  It came in a small, lightweight box and I was in love immediately!  The inside chamber (you can see all the measurements on the website link), is rather small.  If you do large works, this will not be the kiln for you.  But if you tend to work small (as I do), I can fit about 3 pendants onto the shelf. (I have placed one pendant inside for scale).  As you can see, I need to order another shelf and I could easily fit about 6 pendants inside (depending on the size, of course).
I spent several weeks testing the kiln at various speeds, ramping up and down and seeing how it worked.  I will say this:  the instruction page regarding the electronic controller is terrible.  It is factory-written, in a very scientific way, making it difficult to understand how to set the times to what I needed it to do.  I had to call Ken multiple times to try to understand it.  Ken does tell me he is in the process of writing a manual that will be easier to understand.   Finally, I had to look at the firing schedule that the instructions had had me set up for the burn-out fire (a first firing to break the kiln in).  Using those parameters, I was finally able to set it to a firing schedule that could work for me.  I then did several test fires at differing ramp speeds (this means how quickly the kiln is going to the temps that you need, in case you aren't familiar) and finally found the perfect firing schedule for me.  It cools down extremely fast, too.  I love that the controller shows the inside temp so I can tell when it is ok to crack it and speed up the cooling.  I can do a complete underglaze fire in about 30 minutes, cool down for about 15 minutes and have it open within an hour!   Below:  notes, test tiles, more notes, more notes and the dreaded controller instructions!  LOL
So now that I have it firing correctly here is my overall analysis:  this is a wonderful little addition to my kiln family.  I will be carrying it with me when I work at the cabin and when I travel.  If you are considering this kiln as a "first kiln" though, I don't think it would be the best choice because of the size.  I am using it in conjunction with 2 larger kilns because even though I work small, I do large kiln loads, sometimes as many as 30 pieces at a time.  Here in my studio, I am using it to do my underglazing.  I can fire 2-3 pieces while I am working on others, thus keeping the process going.  That being said, if you are a metal clay artist, enamel artist or working extremely small, it would be a great kiln for you.  I also love that it plugs right into any wall socket, no special wiring needed.  Do keep in mind that the top firing temp is 2200, so if you are working in high fire, it is not capable of the temps.  So, thank you, Ken for building me a spectacular baby kiln.  Good job and I wish you much success!

One final thing:  everyone has asked about my shoes and socks!  LOL  The shoes are Baretraps from last winter, the socks are several years old and I don't remember where I got them!