An inescapable part of kiln use is kiln maintenance. If your kiln’s elements are still functioning well but have come loose or out of their seating in spots, try this method for getting them back in place. 

Misfirings and firing times trending longer are typical signs your kiln’s elements may be due for replacement. But what about elements that look to be in rough shape? Looks can be deceiving, and an element that is hanging out of its channel, potentially misshapen or stretched out, may give a perfectly healthy resistance reading. Kiln elements that have migrated out of their channels are unsightly, but more importantly present liabilities for successful firings. Sagging elements create obstacles to work around when loading and unloading, and can easily get caught on kiln shelves being lowered in or removed, increasing the likelihood of breaking an element or ware. When elements extend beyond the face of the kiln’s brick, they become a potential victim of glaze drips, which can lead to premature failure. And elements jutting out into the kiln chamber ultimately reduce loading space. Even though small, a protruding element can make the difference between that one additional piece fitting into a firing or not. If an element is in good health but has sagged out of its channel, repair is much quicker, easier, and more cost-effective than replacement. The process is straightforward and can be completed with a few tools found in most clay studios. 

Safety First 

As with any kiln maintenance project, safety should be your guiding principle. Make sure the area surrounding the kiln is free of tripping and slipping hazards. Because this process requires an active flame, make sure you have good ventilation, ensure there are no flammable objects in/on/around the kiln, and keep a fire extinguisher close by. Pull back long hair and wear tight-fitting sleeves and safety glasses. Before doing anything to the kiln, turn off the breaker/disconnect, or unplug the kiln. 

1 Heat the whole stretch of sagged element, plus 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cm) on either side. 2 Re-heat an inch or so of the sag at a time and work it back into the channel with needle-nose pliers. Work gradually, alternating from one side to the other.

Diagnostics 

Whether you’re re-seating a single sagging element or dealing with a kiln that looks like a gallery of Dalí clocks, it’s good practice to check the overall health of your elements while you’re at it. This will help you understand whether reseating your elements will be a temporary measure before an element swap, or a tune-up that can provide a long-lasting fix. Prior to getting started, use a multimeter to test the resistance of the elements to gauge their overall condition. A reading of +/- 10% or greater from the baseline resistance values of new elements is a good general gauge for when it’s time for replacement, but refer to your kiln’s specs or contact a technician on the manufacturer’s customer support team for information about your specific kiln. 

Gather Your Tools 

In addition to the fire extinguisher and multimeter, the tool list for this repair is short and comprised of items typically found in a clay studio. If your studio is missing any of these tools, this repair is a great excuse to add them to your collection: 

  • Shop vacuum with HEPA filter and fine particle bag 
  • Blow torch 
  • Needle-nose pliers 

Unless you have a kiln that features ceramic element holders (like L&L/HotKilns) you’ll also need some element pins to hold the elements in place once they’ve been re-seated into the channels. 

Prepare the Kiln 

To remove dust and debris, vacuum over the element channels anywhere the elements have sagged out. Next, use needle-nose pliers to remove any element pins that are stuck in the empty channels. Save the pins, as you’ll reuse them once the elements have been reseated. 

3 Finish at the center of the sag, pushing the last of the protruding element back into the channel. 4 After it’s been fully re-seated, heat the whole stretch of element you worked on one last time, then pin it in place once it has cooled.

Re-Seating the Elements 

  1. Start by heating the whole stretch of the element that has sagged out plus 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cm) on either side of the sag. Move the blowtorch back and forth along the element until the whole section has gotten hot enough to glow red. The whole stretch does not need to be red hot at the same time, you just want to make sure the area you’ll be working on has been thoroughly heated before you begin manipulating the element. 
  2. Alternating back and forth from one end of the sag to the other, heat the element back up to glowing hot and use needle-nose pliers to reshape and reposition the element back into the channel. Work gradually. Once the element has cooled enough that it is no longer glowing, move to the other end of the sag. Work back and forth, making progress toward the center of the sag until the element is fully reseated in the channel. 
  3. Check to make sure the element has not become pinched in any spots. If it has, heat the element back up and use the pliers to stretch out the coil as needed. 
  4. After you’re finished adjusting the element, repeat step 1, heating the whole stretch you worked on to a glowing red hot. 
  5. Once the element has cooled, set a few element pins to help keep the element from migrating back out of the channel in future firings. 

the author Chris Vaughn is a potter from Essex Junction, Vermont. He has been working in clay since 2007. You can find his work on Instagram @chris_throws_pots

Topics: Ceramic Kilns