How to Build a Barrel Kiln

Written by gabrielle black
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How to Build a Barrel Kiln
Barrel kilns can be made out of 55 gallon drums. (Andy Sotiriou/Photodisc/Getty Images)

If you choose to create pottery in your own home or studio, you will need access to a kiln to fire or harden the pots. Building permanent kiln structures can be costly and dangerous if you don't have the proper training. Building a barrel kiln is inexpensive and less dangerous, if properly vented. Pottery fired in a barrel kiln has unpredictable finishes with a "molten" appearance because of the way the smoke, chemicals and ash affect the glaze.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • 55-gallon oil drum
  • Drum lid
  • Steel pipe
  • Reciprocating saw
  • 8-foot chimney pipe with elbow joint and connector plate
  • Electric drill
  • Bolts
  • Nuts
  • Wrench
  • Fire bricks
  • Wood
  • Kindling
  • Pottery
  • Red iron oxide soaked rags
  • Copper carbonate soaked rags
  • Straw
  • Lighter

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  1. 1

    Choose a location for the barrel kiln that is clear of fire hazards such as trees and long grass. Place fire bricks on the ground.

  2. 2

    Cut a hole in the side of the 55-gallon drum near the base using the reciprocating saw. The size of the hole should allow the chimney pipe to be inserted and fit tightly.

  3. 3

    Drill holes through the drum and connector plate around the chimney pipe hole. Insert bolts into the drilled holes. Screw on the nuts onto the bolts to fasten the chimney pipe to the drum. Tighten the nuts with a wrench.

  4. 4

    Set the drum on the fire bricks. Adjust the chimney so that it is vertical and secure.

  1. 1

    Place a layer of wood, straw and kindling in the bottom of the kiln. Wrap the pottery with the chemically treated rags.

  2. 2

    Nestle the pottery into the pile of wood, straw and kindling. Insert more wood vertically into the drum. Gently fill the rest of the drum with wood, straw and kindling ending with a large layer of straw.

  3. 3

    Light the straw. Allow the kiln to burn uncovered until the flames die down and there are mostly glowing coals. Lay the steel pipe on top of the drum near one edge. Set the lid on top of the drum. The steel pipe will keep the lid lifted slightly to allow air to flow in the top, down the drum and out the chimney.

  4. 4

    Let the drum burn until it self-extinguishes.

Tips and warnings

  • Pots should be coated with terra sigillata glaze, burnished and allowed to dry before firing them.
  • Rags should be allowed to dry before wrapping the pottery.
  • Do not block the chimney hole when stacking the wood and kindling at the bottom of the kiln.
  • All kilns have the risk of exploding. Build and operate them at your own risk.
  • Check the fire codes in your area before building and operating a barrel kiln.
  • Pots will be hot after firing. Use caution when removing pottery from the drum ashes.

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