How to Kill a Kiln

This evening marked the time of the week in which I get together with some friends (sometimes strangers) and play hand drums. If we can put together an decent collection of people, we’ll call it a drum circle. It was getting cold out tonight, so we took the noise inside the Main Street Market where we often meet. Only an hour into our fun, we were put to silence by a high-pitched stream of air being emitted from somewhere in the market. After listening for a moment, we decided that we should go and check it out. About that time, the fire alarms went off in full effect and our pulses quickened a step. As I got near the back of the building I realized with some horror what it was. There’s a 2000° F kiln in the back and it fires pottery all night long. Now that I was nearer, the sound had shaped an image in my mind of the kiln bursting with electrical arcs onto the surrounding hallway. I could also smell and taste and acrid smoke…and humidity? Yeah. The air had been transformed into a wet sauna and the floor had a good puddle forming. The strange spitting and hissing noises were actually resulting from an overhead sprinkler pouring onto the hot kiln. Water was being vaporized as fast as it was coming down onto the vented oven system. Adrenaline now pumping, I shot for the electrical panels to shut the thing off before it became and electrical nightmare. There’s a club, The Boiler Room, in the basement. Shortly after I began shutting off power to the whole building, they noticed something was up. I started by popping off the joined circuits across all the panels I could find. It didn’t shut the kiln off, so I hit a massive 400 amp circuit that said “1st Floor.” That didn’t do it either, which made me wonder exactly what I had shut off. I ran downstairs again and found another set of panels nearer to the kiln than I actually wanted to be. I turned off all the joined circuits in that panel too, which finally shut the kiln down. It would still require hours before it would be cool enough to safely open or move. A brief time after this the fire department showed up and was able to turn off the sprinklers before more damage could occur. The water was everywhere by now. It had seeped down into the club downstairs. Fortunately, it looked like it was contained mostly on the bar floor and not on the carpeted areas.

Aside from the obvious frustrations of this type of mess, there is also a back story on this event. Not one that I’ll get into a great deal, but understand that a tennent owns that kiln and may or may not take full liability for its use. On the other hand, someone else in authority must have approved the use and location of the kiln in the first place. It wasn’t in an incredibly safe place, though the most notable error in judgments were the lack of a proper ventilation hood (firing glazes and pottery can emit toxic gases) and the fact that it was placed directly beneath a sprinkler head and thermostat for the fire system. At 180°, the thermostat popped and as much water as could be dumped gushed down upon a 2000° furnace. Kilns aren’t especially dangerous by themselves – considering their imense heat – but coupled with a narrow hallway, wood floors, and cold water, you’ve got the potential for a serious problem.

It may not seem like it, but The Mainstreet Market avoided a bigger disaster tonight because the building was occupied by all the right people to act as fast as humanly possible on the event. Everybody did their job and I think they’ll recooperate. I can’t say as much for the kiln. I’m betting we’ve seen the last of it within the confines of the building. Hopefully the Fire Marshall will go easy on the owners.


  1. OMG! I had heard about the lack of any sort of vent and thought the location was pretty weird, our kiln is surrounded by concrete and cinder block and the vents suck the heat out as much as the fumes (which ARE toxic.) That is so completely and utterly bizarre and stupid.

  2. I’m glad that you were so quick-thinking and that you all weren’t asphixiated by fumes. Even I know a kiln must be well and properly vented. Even a 3-sided garage isn’t good enough.
    Relievedly and love,

  3. See? DRUMMING IS DANGEROUS! I’m glad that you were so quick-thinking and that you all weren’t asphixiated by fumes. Even I know a kiln must be well and properly vented. Even a 3-sided garage isn’t good enough.
    Relievedly and love,

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *