A number of heating sources can be used to operate a kiln, but gas and electric are the most popular types. There are various advantages and drawbacks to both, and the potter's level of experience may be the deciding factor when purchasing a kiln.
About Gas Kilns
Gas kilns are heated by either natural gas or propane. The gas is delivered through pipelines and travels to burners that mix the gas with air. Natural gas is often preferred when operating gas kilns, as it is safer for the environment and is easier to manipulate and disperse due to its light weight. Many potters prefer gas kilns because they facilitate reduction firing, which allows more color manipulation and control over heat. Gas kilns require venting and are often installed outdoors.
About Electric Kilns
Electric kilns use coiled wires to produce heat, much like a toaster. Electric kilns are typically easier to operate because no fuel manipulation is required. Only oxidation firing is available; reduction firing techniques are not possible. This does allow for more consistency in coloring, but that is not always a desirable feature for a potter.
The gas kiln may not be the best choice for an inexperienced potter, as heat control can be challenging and the use of gas can be dangerous. If selecting a gas kiln, a potter must install a ventilation system and ensure that there is a proper fuel source set up. If installing an electric kiln, an electrician will need to come to the property and asses its capacity for amperage and voltage. A permit is usually required if the kiln will be operating at over 50 amps.
In 2009, smaller gas kilns run between $1,200 and $2,500. The larger kilns start at about $4,000 and usually don't go higher than $14,000. Smaller electric kilns start right at $1,000 and typically don't go higher than $1,500. Large electrics usually run between $3,000 and $5,000.
Extensive supplies of kilns are available through various online outlets. However, for a first kiln purchase, it is more advisable to contact a local kiln dealer. Visiting a shop permits a buyer to assess he space he will need for his kiln and and may offer an opportunity to try different firing techniques.