Alternative Uses for a Pottery Kiln

By Annie Lee Tatum

Wondering how to capitalize on kiln ownership? While firing pottery is clearly the primary objective of pottery kilns, a number of anecdotal tales of alternative uses exist on the margins of pottery groups and art departments. Modern kilns are very efficient; here are some off-label ways to harness that energy.

Baking and Cooking

Personal-use pottery kilns are typically single-chamber down-draft models, heated from the bottom by electricity or natural gas. Kilns heat clay pieces to very high temperatures; it stands to reason that, by the same logic, they can heat food. While half-serious claims of multitasking--baking bread while firing pottery--may float around online, if you choose to cook in your kiln, it is best to use it as a dedicated oven when doing so. In other words, for the best results in the case of either baked goods or pottery, choose one or the other for any given firing.

If you choose to bake bread or other food in the kiln, preheat it, just as you would with an oven. Taking the depth of your kiln into consideration, think carefully about how you'll remove hot food from inside the kiln--if your kiln has shelves, this may not present a problem; if it does not, you may need to use a pan or tray with handles that can be grabbed with tongs or potholders.

Be sure to clean the kiln afterward, so that no food, crumbs or other debris remain inside. If you heat foods using the lid of a kiln set on a high temperature, use extreme caution.

Sterilization

High heat kills bacterial and microbes; the high-temperature autoclave machine is used worldwide to sanitize items. The pottery kiln can be used as a basic autoclave for metal instruments, food preparation supplies, wood, and other items as long as the dehydration process will not cause damage. If you need to disinfect large numbers of supplies, or must sterilize outsized or unusually-shaped items (for example, pots that are too large to be boiled in another container on a stovetop), the kiln can prove a valuable tool.

Note: this method is recommended for personal use only. Businesses and health care facilities should use professional-grade autoclaves that use pressure as well as heat to kill germs.

Non-Pottery Art Projects

The primary function of a kiln is to use heat to cause certain chemical changes--namely, dehydration--to occur. Potentially useful for food preparation, kilns can also dry out virtually anything fluid-based for future use in art projects. It can also be used to age and weather painted wood, or to make paper appear slightly charred.

When using the kiln for these purposes, experiment carefully with temperatures. It is advisable to know ahead of time which temperature setting you will need to use for a specific project. Be mindful if attempting projects such as enameling; the pottery kiln may not reach high enough temperatures, and a special glass kiln may be required.

About the Author

Annie Lee Tatum has been a freelance writer since 2008. Her poetry and articles have appeared in "Ace Weekly," "Kudzu" and various other publications. Tatum received her Bachelor of Arts from Eastern Kentucky University in 2002 and her Master of Arts from the University of Louisville in 2008. Interests include anthropology and cooking.