I finally made the plunge and bought a brand new test kiln. It's the Cress A8HB with a 3-key electronic controller (Bartlett). I knew I wanted a test kiln for months. I even set aside money for it. I just couldn't decide which one to choose.
Initially I was looking at Paragon's Caldera XL (7.5"x7.5"x9") and Olympic Hotbox HB89 (8"x8"x9") and its Doll Kiln (11.25"x7"x9"). They were all about the same volume and price, both companies offer a decent number of options for test kilns. And they met my two big requirements: cone 10 firings and an electronic controller for controlled cooldowns. I could have settled for a cone 6-8 firing, but I absolutely needed the controller to help me match the temperature profile in my big kiln, in order to safely transfer glaze results from the test kiln to its big brother.
Then I went online and started hunting for reviews. Google is your friend when it comes to anything online, but as I soon found out, kiln reviews are sparse. I did read a good piece of advice about the Olympic kilns though, and learn something about kiln elements in the process. There are different ways to connect the elements to the circuit. Olympic typically crimped them, while Paragon is using bolts and nuts. From the reviews I read, crimping elements is not a fun process and it requires a special crimping tool (which does not come with the kiln). I haven't had to change elements yet, crossing fingers ! Bolts and nuts only require a typical screwdriver. Bye bye Olympic.
While scouring the Big Ceramic Store online catalog for more options, I noticed that Cress offered a test kiln. Cress is a good old brand every potter can trust, let's take a look. Volume ? 8"x8"x9". Cone 10 ? Check. Electronic Controller ? Check. Price ? Similar to the Caldera XL. Hmmmm, so that's the final showdown: upcomer Paragon vs oldtimer Cress.
Typically I go for the underdog, but not this time. Cress sports a Bartlett controller, which is what I have on my big L&L kiln, while Paragon uses the Sentry Xpress. The differences in the software and the preconfigured profiles may be minute, but why take a chance ? So Cress it was.
Yes, it's plugged in. Time to make some glazes !