What do you do when you have a piece that must be glazed on all sides? You use kiln stilts! These lift the piece to the glaze does not cement the piece to the floor of your kiln. While doing this Instructable, I realized I needed these stilts and were astounded by the high cost. So, in good maker fashion, I made my own. Not a groundbreaking revelation, but as they say, "when in doubt, publish an Instructable."
Step 1: Stuff You Will Need
If you are into ceramics, you probably have all the stuff you need already. Below is a list of required and optional equipment for your stilt making pleasure.
- Clay - Use the highest fire clay you think you will ever need to prevent the clay body melting. Since I only do cone 06 firings, I went with my standard low fire clay body.
- Rolling pin and dowels - If you have a fancy slab roller, feel free to use that as well.
- Cookie cutters - Optional. I like having a standard, easily configurable shapes, but your homemade stilts can be any shape you desire or need.
- Corn starch - Optional. Used as a release agent for the cookie cutters.
- High-temperature wire - Don't be tempted to use run of the mill wire as it will melt at the temperatures required to melt the glaze. I used 17 gauge wire.
- Wire cutters - Tin sips work well.
- Dehydrator - Optional, but speeds up drying time from days to hours.
- Kiln - Or access to a kiln.
- Dremel type rotary grinder with cutting or grinding wheel - Optional, but will make the final product easier to use.
Step 2: Roll Out the Slab and Cut Your Stilt Bases
Not rocket science, but here are the steps I used:
- Use a rolling pin with .25 inch dowels as a guide to roll out the slab of clay.
- Use corn starch to coat the cookie cutter and cut out as many shapes as you desire. The corn starch will help with clay sticking to the cookie cutter. Don't worry about the residue, it will burn off during the bisque stage.
- Lay out your stilt bases and make sure they are flat as possible.
Again, any shape you want can be used. I picked a triangle since it most closely resembled the professionally made ones. I used regular polygon shapes (like the equilateral triangle here). That way, they can be used individually or put in a mosaic to handle larger, heavier pieces. Keep in mind that your shape will shrink when dry and shrink further when bisque fired, so plan accordingly. Don't worry if the bases have thumbprints, cutmarks or other defects since they will not affect the utility. These are not destined for the gallery.
Step 3: Cut the Stilts
Ideally, all your stilts should be the same length, but that is probably not going to happen. Just do the best you can.
- Measure out about .5 inch (1.3 cm) of wire and cut.
- Repeat as many times as needed to get the proper stilt density on the shapes you cut.
Step 4: Add Stilts to Your Clay Shapes
Just poke the wire segments into the soft clay in the pattern you desire. Try to make them even, but don't worry if they do not hold something absolutely flat.
Step 5: Dry Your Stilts
You can wait a few days to make sure they are absolutely dry, but I put them into a dehydrator to cut the time to an hour or so.
Step 6: Bisque Fire Your Stilts
Once your greenware stilts are absolutely dry, bisque fire them to the cone required by your clay type. In my case, to cone 06 (~1787 degrees F ( 975 C)).
Step 7: Sharpen Your Stilts
When cutting the stilts, the 17 gauge wire still had a significant cross section. This would make it more difficult to get the glazed piece off the stilt. Therefore I sharpened the wires with a Dremel. This was the most tedious part of the whole project, but I was done in 15 minutes or so. You do not have to sharpen the wire like a pencil where the point is in the center. Just grind down three sides until you have a sharp point. It is a whole lot easier to do this after the clay has matured than trying to do this with a bare wire.
Step 8: Enjoy Your DIY Kiln Stilts
Once your wires are sharpened, use these like any other kiln stilt. If you used a regular polygon shape, you can mosaic the stilts to handle larger pieces.
Keep in mind that the stilts will wear out eventually. They will be put through incredible thermal stresses throughout their working life but should be robust enough to go through at least 20~30 glaze cycles. A higher fire clay will probably last longer than my low fire clay I used here, but I was going for my meticulous standard of "good enough."