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How to Make a DIY Kiln to Create Perfect Pottery at Home

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by David Miller  • Updated: February 27th, 2023  •  14 min read    Pottery Guides » Pottery Kilns

Is it possible to create pottery without a kiln?

The answer is yes; you can produce pottery at home without a kiln. You can fire pottery by making your very own homemade kiln.

This article will go through how to make a homemade kiln and some other DIY pottery kiln alternatives.

So If you’re interested in learning how to make a DIY kiln for pottery at home, read on!

We’ve compiled some different ways that would be perfect for anyone looking to try out this hobby – even if you don’t have much space outside of your house.

Why Fire Pottery Without a Kiln?

You may be wondering why you should fire clay without a kiln:

When it comes to outdoor firing, though, you’ll need something that can withstand at least 1000 degrees F. It’s not possible to do this indoors.

Usually, only earthenware and porcelain (and some stoneware) can be fired without a kiln. It’ll require an understanding of temperature and knowing what affects it – -more on that in a bit. If you’re not ready for this step, consider working with clay that’s not as tricky first.

If building your own kiln seems too much trouble, you should consider buying a kiln for home use. However, plenty of alternatives is available if you wish to fire without using a traditional kiln and make your own kiln for pottery.

How to Make a Pit Fire

One of the best outdoor kilns is a Pit fire kiln; however, setting up a pit fire is often quite a challenge. So let’s take a look at how you can pit fire clay safely outside:

  1. First, dig a shallow hole and then gather a pile of kindling wood together, which is ideal material. You can create a small pit with steel, stone, or brick around it and make sure the area is free from other flammable material so the fire doesn’t spread.
  2. Place the clay on top of the kindling wood, and stack it so that if the wood burns and the pots fall, they don’t turn to ash. You can also use stones or bricks to keep it stable during the process.
  3. After that, you may cheat by putting scraps of roofing or tin in there, as well as an exhaust opening so the air can flow around.
  4. Cover it with a thick layer of grass or animal dung, which will keep the heat in. The moisture in the dung will prevent it from burning away, and it will also insulate it, allowing it to burn as well after being fired.
  5. If you want to achieve the proper temperature, there are a few things that may go wrong. For starters, the oven could get too hot and burn anything you put inside it.
    If this happens, your fire pit will be unusable for several days. The bottom openings will provide enough area for the fire to enter, allowing combustion to occur. The top must be large enough to allow for rapid airflow that enters at the bottom to heat the items inside.

Now you’re ready to fire your clay!

The Pit Firing Process

To pit fire clay, all you have to do is start it and watch it. However, it would be best if you never left your fire pit unsupervised.

  1. Start by using wads of paper to ignite the kindling.
  2. If you are concerned about breakage, you may partially cover the vent with tin or pottery shards to restrict the burn and slow down the heating process while it is burning. If you tend to shatter your ware, this is ideal since it allows some fuel in stages until it gets to the right temperature.
  3. You can then add more fuel, continuing to burn everything until it’s red hot.
  4. You’ll need to make sure you have enough kindling going and then leave it for about 12 hours.
  5. Let it cool gradually, and when it’s burnt, cover it with dirt or wood ashes to choke off the air for a smokier and darker result. It’s also a great method to create black pottery.
  6. Allow it to cool until it is below 500 degrees Fahrenheit, but don’t be tempted to touch it until it’s room temperature!

If something goes wrong, remember that it is normal and and try again. Mistakes lead to new ideas, options, and learning!

Fire Pit Safety Tips

Fire safety is crucial, so before we go on, it’s probably a good idea to discuss precautions and why you should always follow some guidelines. Here are a few things to keep in mind when working with this kind of pottery or any other:

  • Always keep in mind where you’re firing and how you’re doing it.
  • When firing, remember to consider the local safety and fire regulations.
  • Do not use these methods when there is a danger that the fire may spread from the area.
  • Always keep a supply of water on hand in case something goes wrong.
  • Keep an eye on the wind. If you notice that it can catch other things alight, don’t fire that day.
  • Never leave fire pits unattended.
  • Never leave children unattended around fire pits.
  • Advise others not to tamper with the fire pit since the temperature will reach far higher than usual cooking fires.
  • Always check to see whether anything is still hot before removing your items.

Knowing some safety precautions while firing can make for a more pleasurable experience and prevent the worst. Whether you make pottery with or without a kiln, you need some specific safety and protective equipment.

How to Make a DIY Brick Kiln

Bricks are another option for creating a DIY pottery kiln in your garden. There are several various methods to make a brick box kiln design for pottery.

Some brick kilns are sometimes compared to pit firing. It is because brick kilns function on the same principles as pit firing.

Setting up a brick kiln is fairly easy, so let’s look at how to build your brick kiln outside:

  1. After you’ve found a safe location to construct your kiln, set down a few bricks on the ground for the kiln floor and foundation.
  2. Decide ahead of time how big you want the kiln to be. The size of the pieces you want to fire will influence this. If you have a variety of pots, a 3-foot square kiln is a manageable size.
  3. After you’ve created the foundation, you can begin building up the brick walls. Your kiln will be square if you make the kiln walls around 3 feet tall.
  4. You can use a metal grid to create shelves in the kiln by sandwiching it halfway up. Place the grid across the brick walls to create your shelf. Then add another layer of bricks on top of the grid.
  5. The top layer of bricks must have some gaps to allow for ventilation, so the smoke and fumes can be released. In addition, a vent hole will allow a draft, which will supply oxygen to the kiln and keep it burning. Taking a few bricks out of one side at the top will help create ventilation.

Using a Simple DIY Brick Kiln

You can load your kiln after you’ve finished the foundation and walls. Brick kilns use a variety of combustible materials to burn in, just like pit firing. A layer of sawdust and wood chips is often used as a starter.

  1. Cover the base of your fire pit with a layer of pottery, then add more sawdust and wood chips.
  2. You can then repeat this process by layering another piece of pottery on top. A metal grid shelf will allow you to stack a few layers of pottery in the brick kiln.
  3. You can use paper or dried leaves as kindling on the top of the mound once filled.
  4. As the fire burns, you may add larger pieces of wood as you would with a conventional fire.
  5. When the fire is established, cover the top with a metal sheet. It’s a good idea to put some more bricks on it to keep it down.

A simple brick kiln, like this one, might burn for approximately 12 hours. The sawdust and wood will eventually burn out on their own. You can now begin to unload the kiln after it has cooled down.

The DIY Kiln Trash Can Method

Another popular DIY backyard kiln firing method is smoke firing in an oil drum, dustbin or barrel kiln, similar to pit firing. It also offers extra safety benefits such as:

The main disadvantage of this method is that there are more chances to make mistakes, but if you follow the instructions and are confident in your abilities, you should be fine.

How to use a Trash Can Kiln

Begin with the following steps:

  1. For this, you’ll need either a metal incinerator or a steel trash can/dustbin with lid. Make sure you know how much air you can get into it before buying one.
  2. You’ll also need a lot of sawdust, leaves, and tiny twigs. Don’t underestimate how much you’ll need (10-15 kilograms)
  3. Rubbing your clay model with a spoon before putting it in will burnish it and make it smooth and shiny.
  4. After that, wait for them to dry out before firing them because there’s a greater risk of breakage if there is a lot of moisture in there. If unsure, place your hand near the bottom to see if it is warm. If not, it means there is still water inside.
  5. Lay the pottery and sawdust in alternating layers, ensuring that none of it is concentrated in one spot.
  6. Light the fire at the top. When the flames die down, cover it with the lid.
  7. Allow this to burn for at least 12 hours, then remove the handle.
  8. It may take longer since the pottery must be cold enough to handle before you can handle it.

Remember that the dustbin gets hot, and there is always a risk that the items may shatter or explode, so don’t leave it unattended or allow children to be near it. By following these steps above, you can create some unique pottery.

Firing Pottery in a BBQ Grill

If you wish to make pottery but don’t want to spend the money on an electric kiln, you may easily turn your old and trusted BBQ grill into a pit. It is simple and handy, and perhaps your outdated and dependable BBQ grill can find a new purpose.

A BBQ grill is an excellent substitute for a kiln that provides surprisingly similar and satisfying results. Like firing in a trash can, you will need some sawdust for this one at around 10-15 kilograms.

A wire rack is crucial if you want to use a BBQ grill, so place it on top of the bottom grate and leave at least three inches between the location where your clay is and the coals.It would help if you placed the coals in a ring around it.

Cover it with aluminum foil and wait for them to turn hot before placing your work on top of the wire rack. If you want to try pit firing but don’t want to invest any money into building a kiln, this method is for you.

Not only is it easy to make one, but you can also change its size and shape to suit your preferences, so it’s a good choice if you’re beginning. Make sure to use clay types that can endure any thermal shocks, such as Raku clay, paper clay, groggy stoneware, and so on. You don’t want to use mica-based clays.

Using a Charcoal Grill as a DIY Kiln

Let’s take a look at the process step-by-step: 

  1. Remove any remaining burnt coal or ashes from the BBQ charcoal grill before starting.
  2. The next step is to get it going. Using a lighter, light the pile of charcoal.
  3. Once the coal begins to smoke, place your pots on top of the cooking grill.
  4. Allow about 15 minutes for the clay pots to heat thoroughly. When the coal’s outer layer begins to gray, carefully but quickly move the clay pots. Remove the charcoal grate and spread out the coal before placing the ceramic directly over the hot coals.
  5. Cover the grill to preserve the heat while allowing air to pass through. Keep an eye on it; don’t let the hot rims of the cover touch the plastic handle of the BBQ, as it might melt it.
  6. Remove your pots after about 30 minutes.
  7. Now, check if your pots make a ringing sound by tapping them. Scratch the clay with your nails to see whether it has been properly baked and if it deforms or not. If your pot makes a sound and the scratches do not alter it, you can tell that you fired it correctly.

Coal alone can reach a max temperature of about 1100°F, which is sufficient for firing smaller-sized pots. However, when firing pots that are more than 2-3 inches tall, you may increase the firing temperature by surrounding them with pieces of wood shavings to assist in consistent firing throughout the pot.

To increase the heat even more, use a fan to blow air into the grill. However, performing this operation too frequently might reduce the longevity of your BBQ grill. So we covered some different ways of firing pottery without using a traditional kiln, but are there any other methods of firing clay at home?

Can I Fire Pottery in an Oven?

Yes, you can use an oven for some types of clay. It’s possible to fire pottery without a kiln and in the oven at times. You can do this with low-fire earthenware and porcelain (which is bisque, not fully dried). Some stoneware may be fired in an oven as well.

You should never fire clay in an oven without knowing the temperature it reaches (most are not hot enough for this). You can always bake clay in the oven, but actual firing doesn’t happen.

What About a Dehydrator?

A dehydrator may or may not work for firing pottery without a kiln, but it’s something to consider if you don’t have access to anything else–and why not give it a try?

You don’t have to invest in anything you don’t need for this, so if firing without a kiln seems unattainable for now, this is an inexpensive way to at least get started. When it comes to firing clay that’s not bisque or stoneware, though, the dehydrator will not suffice alone.

You’ll also need something that can withstand those temperatures. However, some bisque and some stoneware may be fired in a dehydrator with some heat source (such as an acetylene torch or electrical heating element).

The issue with a dehydrator is that it’s not a kiln, so you can’t replicate the conditions. If you don’t mind doing without the secondary chamber for firing, though, this method will work in a pinch.

Final Word

Well, there you have it. If you’ve been curious about firing clay, but you’ve been unsure of whether or not you want to do it, then you should try one of these methods.

I hope you enjoyed on the different ways to build a kiln for pottery. Check out our other tools and equipment guides for more information on pottery kit.

Building your own is not as difficult as it seems but can be time-consuming and messy. There are many benefits to building your own, though, so don’t let that deter you!

If any of these methods seem daunting or if you have questions feel free to contact us.

Good Luck and Keep Creating!

David Miller is an amateur potter that started as a hobby nearly 7 years ago. His mission is to share tips, tools and ideas he has learnt along the way. When he's not in the office, he can typically be found in his studio, a.k.a. his shed, creating, experimenting, and generally making a mess.
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