I LOVE Paragon! Never in my life did I think I'd own a kiln, but I have TWO now! When I did porcelain dolls, the store where I made them had Paragon kilns, so when I went shopping, that's where I started.
I first bought a Caldera. I knew absolutely nothing about kilns, but it ran on 110 and was programmable. To tell the truth, I've been extremely happy with it. I added a bead collar a few months later.
Then I went to the Metal Clay World Conference and took a workshop hosted by John Hohenshelt, President of Paragon. OK...I get NOTHING from Paragon for writing this! LOLOL! But I liked John. His parents owned/ran the company and he started working there as a kid. It sounded like he worked his way from the bottom to the top, maybe held every job inside the company and now runs it. He KNOWS kilns. He knows everything about Paragon kilns. He did such a great job answering my questions and I just thought I'd share some of what I learned here.
There are 2 types of kilns. Brick and Fiber. In a brick kiln, you can see the elements. They are embedded between the bricks. Bricks take longer to heat and cool. This type of kiln is good for glass. My Caldera is a brick kiln. It does take longer to heat and cool, but I've never lost a piece of glass yet. None have cracked on me either. The programmer is incredibly simple to use and that was one of the other things I was looking for.
I'll do a tutorial on glass soon, but one of the things when you do dichroic glass is that you stack glass in lop-sided pieces 3, 4, or even 5 layers high. When you close the door to other kilns, the glass slides off. With the Caldera, I simply take off the program ring and start with the base, stack my glass, gently restack the program ring and then gently place the lid on top. I have never had a piece of glass slide...and I don't need to use glue (which sometimes does not burn off).
I decided to get a second kiln and I opted for an SC2 (with bead door and window). This is a fiber kiln. The elements are most often buried inside the walls of the kiln and you won't see them when you look inside. Fiber kilns heat and cool a whole lot faster than brick kilns. I was truly amazed at the speed of the SC2. This is perfect for firing metal clay, especially during classes. I can fire a load in less than 45 minutes and that includes my hold time!
I plan to do some enameling, thus I opted for the bead door on both kilns. I can vent the Caldera by slightly sliding the top over. I can vent the SC2 by pulling the plug from the top. Because I fuse metal inside layers of glass, this is an important consideration as well. The SC2 also has the same type programmer as the Caldera...so I didn't have to relearn that curve. And it also runs on 110.
I have no reason to fire over 1700F, so that wasn't an issue for me. John showed us how to loosen the screw on the door of the SC2, so now I can close it and my stacks of glass won't move! Pretty ingenious if you ask me!
Because I have 2 kilns (both portable, both 110) I can offer a bigger variety of classroom projects. I use the SC2 for quick metal clay firings. I still use the Caldera with anything that has glass in it. It's also plenty big enough to stack shelves inside!
Coil placement: The Caldera has coils on all 4 sides, so very even heat distribution inside. The SC2 does not have coils in the door, so only 3 sides produce heat. Stuff in the front does not fire as hot as stuff in the back, but that can work to my advantage, depending on what I'm firing. But I still think it's really important to know the difference.
What would I recommend? It depends on what you are firing! I'd recommend anyting from Paragon. I've been completely happy with their customer service and I do remember that from my doll making days....the shops were always saying what a great company Paragon was. It still is!!! They have a winner in John and I hope they keep him happy so he sticks around!
As it turns out, I "inherited" a Paragon kiln and gave it away. I'm sure I will wish I had not done that, but for the moment, I just don't have space for more than 2 kilns! Other suggestions: Make sure each kiln has it's own dedicated power outlet...don't run anything else on that line. Buy the really large chemical fire extenguisher at Home Depot...about $99...and put it on the wall next to the kiln. Get a smaller tabletop extenguisher just in case you need to grab something fast. Install a carbon monoxide alarm near the floor. Make sure the area where you have your kiln is vented, or can be easily vented when you are firing something that has residue that will burn off.
Does it increase your electric bill? Well, that depends on how often you run it! I probably average 5 - 8 firings a week and we haven't noticed a marked increase in our bill.
Questions? Feel free to post them here! I'll do my best to answer them!
From a gal who once swore she'd never have a kiln in her home!!!