Some time ago l was introduced to a front loading electric kiln. l thought, “WOW that has got to be the coolest thing. Easy to load with ware and it looks really fun. l looked online for a model that l would want to start with and the only one that came up time and time again was the Paragon Dragon. Even though its electric l thought, “This would be a great kiln to start with.”
l was already going to Aardvark Clay and Supplies in Santa Ana to get everything for my exploration into ceramics, they had a “Used Kilns For Sale” board on there for customers to sell to other customers. l would review this board every time l came in and never saw a front loading kiln. One day l asked my friendly Aardvark staff if they sold Paragon Kilns. They said unfortunately we do not. All of a sudden this sweet lady comes over and says, “We’re trying to sell our Paragon Kiln. It’s a Dragon 24.” l almost leapt out of my skin. She told me to get her husbands number and setup the deal. In a week or two me and two friends drove a moving truck to San Diego where this couple lived. Their garage was converted into a pottery studio and l thought, “How cool”.
Then l saw her. My baby.
This kiln barely fit on the lift gate of the truck. The wheelbase was inches away from the edge. We secured it to the inner wall closest to the cab and ratcheted it down. Then a slow ride back to San Pedro.
When we got it home It rolled to the back corner of the garage for a 3 year long process of rebuilding.
Being a complete Noob, l thought, “Well how hard can it be to rebuild this thing?”. We had all the original furniture and the bricks seemed ok except for some cracks and places where it went pink from dull yellow. The couple suggested that l take the Paragon Kiln course at the factory in Mesquite Texas. I thought a flight to Texas and a free kiln rebuilding class would totally work since l got the kiln for under $900 including the moving truck and two friends meals for the day. (Thank you Dennis and Ralph.)
The kiln class offered by Paragon was amazing. l met Todd Lokash president of Paragon Kilns, Arnold Howard the instructor of the kiln repair course (now retired), and now retired Sheila (retired) who was the sales and video guru.
Arnold had a really thorough curriculum including basic electricity, how each component in the kiln works, how to test kiln parts, element and brick care, but most of all… when to replace bricks. l was not prepared for the fire sale that happens during the course. You can buy all the seconds or returns providing your own shipping. They also give away some kilns and kiln supplies. I wish I had the credit cards available that I have now. 3 Years ago they were looking to offload some huge plasma cutting machines. These were bigger than 10’x10′. We also got a demonstration of their sheet metal laser cutter. It made precision cuts on all types of metal. They gave us 2″x2″ Texas emblems with Paragon written across it. l still have it.
Coming back from class armed with the printed 3 ring binder of knowledge, the journey began.
To keep costs down, l had to think about shipping because “Mesquite, TX” to “San Pedro, CA” is not a cheap delivery. Heavier items require flat bed trucks. While Paragon was able to rebuild the kiln walls and ship them, my problem is that l would not be able to reassemble them the way they did in the factory. The factory is the size of a football field. l was working in a 15’X10′ garage. I did however purchase all of the kiln relays and S Type thermocouples from Paragon. If l could have purchased everything from them l would have. The next element change will be coming from them. The proper elements for this kiln is APM wire type. The specifications are listed in the Wiring Diagrams section of the https://www.pargonweb.com website.
The first step of the rebuilding part was to label and catalog everything with pictures. Pardon my picture explosion below:
The kiln bricks were replaced with PTI Thermal’s 2600 kiln bricks. Back then they were between $65.00 a box and $80.00 since l didn’t buy them all together. The reason for this choice was to allow the bricks to not be over-fired during the normal firing maximum at 2345°F for a cone 10 firing.
Between the kiln stainless steel housing and frame there is a 1″ layer of ceramic fiberboard that is also rated for 2600°F. It is fit to the walls and held in place by the ceramic fire bricks that are built inside of them.
In the factory they were built in small walls which were routed and planed and fitted together with precision by highly skilled workers. The bricks are being held together with a minimal amount of refractory cement. They dry in the factory and are fitted together into the finished kiln shell before electrical is installed.
In my garage this process took months because of space available to dry , the amount of bricks purchased, and the amount of space to store them when not in process. I made the executive decision to build the walls in the kiln with cement to stabilize the brick shell. I created one row of high fire bricks at a time once per month to allow the cement to dry fully. I also created a frame for the inside to make sure that the internal dimensions of the kiln remained the same.
Because of cost and the timeline of project I had to find an alternate element source. The correctly identified elements from Paragon cost upwards of $3K. I’m completely willing to pay this but, not today. Euclid’s pottery Store provided elements to specifications, created by Paragon, were about $400 total with shipping. I will be counting firings that I can do with these elements. Elements are easy to change and if we need to upgrade to APM then I will. For now we’re using Kanthal® A1 wire. The maximum temperature is 2550°F so again we’re in the cone 10 range. Kanthal® APM can reach 2660°F. So by not being so close to the maximum heat value the element hopefully takes longer to oxidize and lasts for more firings. We will see….
Because l was building the walls into the kiln, l had to pre-route out the channels on the bricks prior to assembly. l made several mistakes (learning opportunities) and had some left-over bricks with which l could then work on other projects with. The door was built as a wall then cut to size. l carved the inset for the kiln where the door meets the kiln and then routed out the channels in the door before it was attached to the kiln again. The door has the bar for the pillow blocks.
The pillow blocks were not the same size as the original equipment. l got these from an online supplier. They had a different base too so the more holes had to be drilled on the interior side of the kiln door. l used the original outside holes to line up the door as expected. Since the door was inset there was a gap between the door and the face off the interior surface. l made another executive decision to use ceramic fiber cloth to make up the difference. During the initial firing in the kiln l didn’t feel much heat escape from that join. l felt more heat escape from the walls than from the ceramic fiber.
Lastly l tried to upgrade the controller to a Bartlett Genesis 2.0. For some reason the controller would not recognize the thermocouple. l decided to go back to the Sentry 2.0 from Orton and use the new Bartlett controller on my Olympic Kiln that already used the 1.0 version of the Genesis.
There were a couple of false starts when doing the initial firing. The relays needed to be changed and the Sentry 2.0 configuration for “S” Type thermocouple had to be set. After that the first Cone 04 firing was a success. It took 8 hours at standard speed.
l can not tell you how relieved and amazed that the kiln is now ready for use. Today is the first day since the kiln has cooled since its first firing. We’re ready to load it for a bisque firing. You’ll see the results for sale on this site shortly.
Thanks for your time, attention and support.
Dog Haus Pottery
We are not affiliated with the businesses or people mentioned in this blog post with the exception of being in a class or as a customer. We’re not paid by them to mention them but, we thought it would be helpful to our peer community to be able to get these supplies where we got them.
We would also like to thank ALL of the workers at Aardvark Clay and Supplies in Santa Ana, California. They have provided invaluable support and advice on our clay journey.
Kanthal® is a registered trademark of Kanthal and Sandvik Group. Dog Haus Pottery is not affiliated with Kanthal or Sandvik other than as a retail customer using their products and are using the name as a reference for other potters who want to know the specifics about this kiln rebuild.