Thursday, March 16, 2017

Kiln update/Warning to potters

     Generally I try to focus my energies on positive experiences, which is why I posted, at length, about the excitement I felt about my new L&L kiln last year.  What ensued afterward was ugly and disheartening and I planned to write about it, but was so stressed at the time to be having issues in my busiest season, that I put it off.  But then, because I did not, and because I fell out of communication with my sister, she ordered the same horrible L&L kiln for her school and experienced the same difficulties.  SO... lest someone else be taken in by the slick ceramic element holders that made me swoon:


Kiln Sitter w/cone
     Before I purchased this kiln, I had a manual Skutt kiln, with an old fashioned kilnsitter that turned itself off by melting a cone.  I had to babysit it a lot.  First I had 3 1/2 hours on low with all the plugs out and the lid propped open, then I turned it up for an hour on medium, and then closed the lid and plugged all the holes but one and switched the kiln on to high.  Since I was always cramming to fulfill orders/deadlines, this often occurred in the middle of the night.
     I wanted a computer to take over.  The photographs of the L&L element holders in Ceramics Monthly were seductive.  Over the years, I replaced the elements in the old Skutt and my aunt's Olympic kilns multiple times, and every time little chunks of the fragile kiln brick chipped off.  I even had to replace the bricks themselves a few times (a hair-raising gamble that puts even more bricks in harms way!).  So the ceramic holders looked like a perfect solution.  And they made the controls so simple (they said) that even an elementary school teacher could run them (their words, not mine.. and not true anyway).
      So I ordered it, online, happy with a 5-year warranty, and set it up in my studio.  However I soon noticed that it was not firing to temperature.  The glaze was not vitrifying, the witness cones (one below expected cone temp, one at, and one above) I put in there to test it, were not bending.   When I contacted the company, I was given phone access to a technician in Oregon.  One of his first comments, when he learned it was my first computerized kiln, was, “like [his] car mechanic always says, ‘It’s the nut behind the wheel that’s the problem.'"  He walked me through some steps, but because the control panel was so "simplified", I could not simply extend the hold time, or adjust what temperature it considered cone 04 or 5 to be.  It would only display, momentarily, the temperature it was currently at.  So I stood next to the kiln and watched it turn itself off BEFORE it reached proper cone temperature.

Unmelted cones in LnL kiln
    The way that cone gauges work is they melt at a range of temps.  For example, bisque firing is generally cone 04, or a 1945-1971o range.  Cone 5 (glaze) is 2167-2205o range.  But the L&L kiln consistently turned itself off at below temp: 1921o for cone 04 and 2123o for cone 5 and with the recommended VentSure system sucking the heat out, there was no way any part of the kiln reached bisque or glaze temperature.
    So I called L&L again.  They sent me a new control card.  Simple though it was, I was unimpressed that, with their highly advertised 5-year warranty, I had to install it myself and no mechanic was sent out to check my situation out, especially when the first message it flashed was "ERR P" which meant "bad control card".  This time, they had me remove the entire control panel and ship it to them.
   I had already sold my old kiln to a friend so I was effectively without a kiln during my busiest season.  When I called L&L to put an express rush on the control panel shipment,  I was told by the office manager, Denise, that I should "take [my] greenware to a friend’s kiln to fire it" while they shipped parts back and forth.  Clearly inexperienced with the product she sells! Greenware is already like egg shell, likely to crack with the lightest tap, and my pots are decorated with slip that can also be rubbed off with the friction of bubble wrap.  So that was NOT AN OPTION!!  Luckily, she did express the shipment.  But that was not the last of my problems....

LnL on left, Beautiful Skutt on right 

     In the end, I spent way too much time and money troubleshooting, test firing, calling a technician, being a technician and being talked down toAfter they delivered and I installed the upgraded control panel, Dynatrol, which had twice the value of the original, was more dynamically controllable and could supposedly take the kiln up to cone 10- I was THROUGH!  So I sold it, at a loss, to another potter in Novato and did what I should have done in the first place: bought a Skutt kiln at my local ceramics store, Creative Ceramics, where they are knowledgeable and helpful and if anything goes wrong, they will help me make it work again.  A lesson I can apply to almost every purchase.

I've said my piece.  On to better things... 
(BTW, in the photo, terrible temporary cord placement until LnL moved out.. don't do that!  It's not like that now)

  In short, here's the Calendar of Events as they occurred to me. A season of woe:
Noticed that kiln was underfiring  
Ran tests to identify problem: Kiln turns itself off before it reaches the temperature appropriate to the cone selection- 04 & 5
Contacted LnL kiln about issue

LnL Kiln sent new control card
Arrived 5/25
I installed new control card
Got “ERR P” message (bad card)
Returned entire control box
“fixed” control box arrived 6/9
Test bisque firing
Test glaze firing
Called technician. Offset thermocouple
Contacted LnL and they sent new thermocouple
I installed new thermocouple
Did not solve problem
Returned entire control box
arrived 8/8. Upgraded to Dynatrol (fires to "cone 10".  GOT RID OF KILN!

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