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Building My Dream Kiln
Michelle Lowe of Desert Dragon Pottery describes building her 'Dream Kiln' (Part 1)

For several years, I had dreamed of building a downdraft, gas-fired car kiln. However, life kept getting in the way.

When I first started my home pottery studio, I had a small updraft gas kiln. I sold it when we decided to move 1300 miles away from Arizona to Nebraska (another long story). We didn't plan on living in Nebraska for only two years, but circumstances would lead us back to Arizona, and what with moving expenses and getting settled (and having a baby) the gas kiln never materialized while we lived on our farm in Nebraska. Gary was born and raised here in the desert and didn't realize how homesick he would be for the climate. He was really hoping to re-re-locate, back here in the Phoenix area and asked me to consider the major move back (ever move a pottery studio? It's like moving a mountain, and twice in two years!) I thought about it, and although I enjoyed living near my family in Nebraska (my mom, dad and siblings, etc.), I knew that for many reasons it was probably best for our family to come back to this area. Ever one to capitalize on circumstance, I told my sweet hubby that although I am easy, I am not cheap and could this agreement include the promise of my dream kiln, even if it cost upwards of $5000 to build? He quickly agreed.

That was in early 1994; we were back in Phoenix by May of that year. After settling into our new home, (the hobby farm described back on my main page) Gary really wanted to open a second store for our music business, and being the ever-supportive partner that I am, I agreed. That put the kiln-building off awhile, because of cash considerations. The new store opened in June of 1996 and didn't take long to pull its own weight. Later in that summer of 1996, my wonderful, supportive husband and partner told me to 'go for it'. So, I started researching, thinking about, and planning my dream kiln! I had no idea what I was in for, but it's been an amazing experience.

Planning stage
I went to the library and read books about kiln building, and bought a couple books for my personal reference. I looked at car kilns of several different designs and talked to many potter friends, in real life, and online, about car kilns. I finally decided to go with using a design a local potter had built last year and is having great success with. I looked at his kiln and measured and adjusted to make my kiln a bit smaller. I talked with him at length about the procedure he went through building his kiln, the steps he used. I drew sketches of the parts of the frame that I thought would need clarification when we built mine. I measured and re-measured every dimension I could think of that I might need while at home building. This planning and thinking stage took longer than I anticipated but I was rewarded by the ease of execution when I finally got to the building stage.

Beginning the kiln--the frame
It took me awhile to find someone to agree to weld the frame together for me. I was willing to hire someone, but not sure where to look for a reliable welder. A friend of a friend decided that he would supply his expertise and do the welding for me, if I directed, because he knew nothing about kilns. I invited him over to see the kiln that my potter friend had built, to give him an idea of the scope of the job. Then, after detailed discussion of the frame construction, I searched out and found a supplier for the steel tubing and angle iron I needed. What an interesting sight to see giant wet-saws cutting 20 foot pieces of 3 inch tube in half like they were butter. After getting the steel, I rented a "chop saw" and a generator powered welder and my welder friend came out for the day. He taught me how to use the chop saw properly and then grind the sharp edges off the cut steel with a hand grinder.

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