Making Kiln Stilts

I have a decent selection of store bought stilts for the occasional need to glaze a project completely. Most of the stilts are for something at least 3″ across so that the object balances evenly on the stilt, but one of my students wanted to make marbles- smaller than an inch across sized marbles. While I thought her plan of designing and carving these tiny sculptures was a great idea, I also explained that if she wanted to use glaze on the entire surface, I had no way of supporting them in the kiln on my existing stilts. She took a second to think about it and then asked if she could make her own stilts with the nichrome wire that I use in my work often- and she did. We bisque fired her tiny stilts and marbles and when she glazed them, each one was propped on its own individually made stilt and placed in the kiln. They worked brilliantly and since then I’ve started making all of my own stilts.

Jenni Ward ceramic sculpture | the dirt | making kiln stilts

I roll out a slab of clay on my slab roller and use cookie cutters to cut out as many shapes as I can fit on the slab. Then I use nichrome wire and cut it into short lengths, trying to be as consistent as possible with the size and also trying to cut the wire on a sharp angle so that the pointiest part is what will touch the glaze and I stick them evenly spaced into the clay shapes. I use a medium gauge nichrome wire for this, if it is to thin, they tend to sag in the firing while supporting your piece or wear out quickly, too thick and they leave a heavier mark in the glaze for you to grind out afterwards. If you have left over element pins, these work great too for holding sturdier pieces. Each piece is dried and bisque fired and then you are good to go. My stilts get a lot of kiln time and eventually wear out but then I just crank out a new batch and I’m set to go again.

I love that the ingenuity of my students, not only made me look at my existing supplies in a new way but they also don’t let the studio limitations limit their work. #mystudentsrock

share this:
Facebooktwitterpinterestmail

36 thoughts on “Making Kiln Stilts

  1. Hi Jenni, I make porcelain ornaments and want to glaze them as well. I can’t seem to find the right equipment to use to fire them. What is the longest nichrome rods that you can buy and where? All I seem to find is 5-6″. I want to be able to put at least up to 5 ornaments on a rod, depending on size. Also I do not have stoneware clay so will porcelain clay work? And will porcelain fire solid without blowing up in the kiln? It should since stoneware doesn’t blow up. What I am wanting to try is this. I am wanting to make a post of about 1/2 -1″ thick and run a nichrome rod between the two posts to hold my ornaments. Or even use a taller rod and a stilt base for individual ornaments. What are your thoughts?
    Sharon

    1. Hi Sharon,
      The longest and heaviest gauge nichrome rods I found are 12″ long and they are sold online at National Artcraft. Depending on how heavy your ornaments are, you may be able to fit a number of them across the rod, but I find that if they are too heavy, the rod will slump in the firing so it is a good idea to have a post at either end and in the middle. I believe that porcelain will work, but I strongly encourage testing before you commit to a whole firing of work. Any clay that is fired solid has the chance of exploding in the kiln, if you are making thicker work, you should make sure that your pieces are completely dry and do a very slow bisque firing to try to avoid explosions. Hope that helps.
      -j

  2. ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT!!

  3. Hello not sure if you’ll see this but I’ll post just in case. I work with clay at a pottery center where they don’t use stilts. I was told i could make hem out of the clay itself. I like the idea of using the metal stilt because the impact on the glazed piece will be minimum and less chance of adhering as it could to ceramic stilts. My question: can this wire withstand firing to cone 10? That what they normally fire to. If not, is there another metal I could use?

    1. Hi Daisey
      I fire mine to cone 6 using a clay with a firing range of 6-10, although the wire is rated to cone 10. It should work fine for you, but I would highly suggest testing before you use them on something you really love. Hope that helps!

  4. You r rolling a slab an inch thick ?

  5. If I understood your instructions, you said u insert the wire half way or 1/2 inch into the clay. So, u r rolling a slab that is an inch thick? That’s thick.

    1. Hi Linda,
      Thanks for your questions and sorry for the confusion. I typically roll out 3/8″ thick slabs of clay and the wires are about a 1/2″ long. I push the wire halfway in, so that it is poking out of the clay about a 1/4″ to 3/8″. Hope that helps and let me know if you have more questions.

      thx,

      j

  6. An additional tip I found useful:
    I was refiring some tiny pieces that were glazed both sides. Because they were glaze shiny, they kept slipping off the stilt wire. A remedy is to spread elmers glue on the side that touches the pin tips. Patience for the glue to dry alittle and a steady hand getting them into the kiln is the trick. Also, if you have a lot of little pieces,place them on a shelf and then carefully put the shelf in the kiln.

    1. Great idea! Thanks for sharing!!

  7. Hi Jenni
    18th Feb 2017
    Your answers are so very clear. Thank you.
    How deep do the pins need to be inserted into the clay.
    I am going to try making some for my flowers.
    My flowers have a very short stem to allow wire to be inserted so they will dtand up in a vase.
    so i am looking at making them about 4inchs from base of stilt. is that to long.
    Your help please.

    1. Hi Marie,
      I typically push the pins into the clay about halfway or about 1/2″. As long as they balance on the stilt pins and don’t touch anything else, you should be fine. You can also make larger stilts or use a few of them to balance one piece if it’s an awkward shaped piece. Hope that helps!

      -j

      1. Thanks very much.
        One more question for you.
        I live in Kinloch, Taupo.
        Where can i purchase 14 Gauge Nichrome wire from.
        Marie

        1. I think that the company I order from will ship internationally but you might be able to find them locally, ask around at your local ceramic supply store. Here’s the link: http://www.nationalartcraft.com/subcategory.asp?gid=10&cid=172&scid=1539

          -j

          1. Thanks very much
            Marie

      2. Hi Jennie
        Do you live in New Zealand because I am having so much trouble tracking down this 14 Gauge wire.
        Marie

        1. Hi Marie,
          Sorry I’m based out of California and I’m not sure what shipping options you have in NZ to get you some nichrome wire, perhaps Amazon??

          -J

    2. Hi Jennie
      Do you live in New Zealand as i am having so much trouble tacking down this 14 gauge wire.
      Marie

      1. Try contacting Kate Fransham at Wellington Potters Supplies in Wellington. http://www.wellingtonpotterssupplies.co.nz
        Cell – 021 078 5350
        email@wellingtonpotterssupplies.co.nz

        It is also possible to cut pieces from used elements from a kiln after heating them with a flame and straightening them. Taupo is beautiful!

        1. Thanks for helping Karen! In my experience the used elements are very brittle after they’ve been fired and don’t work great to use for kiln stilts but if you experiment and find out something different, please share!

      2. You can buy it from Bot Pots in Auckland.

  8. Could I make these using wire nails?

    1. Any other wire or metal will melt in the kiln, you need to use nichrome (also called kanthal) wire to make the stilts. Hope that helps!

  9. Will these stilts fire to cone 10?

  10. What gauge wire do you use? You said medium, but still not really sure what to order.
    Thanks,
    Gina

    1. I use 14 gauge wire for the stilt pins. Hope that helps!

  11. I read you article and did this last week. I am a K-12 Art teacher who loves ceramics and a lack of stilts is always my problem. THANK YOU it was easy and now i have plenty WOW

    1. That’s great Stephanie! So happy to hear!

  12. Great post. Often I have to figure out some way to prop up my pieces too and I find that the standard stilts are never exactly what I need or are too wobbly. I also have a collection of weird and wonderful shapes that I prop things on and have recently been toying with the idea of making my own stilts and adding them to taller stalagmite shapes that I make. This has reminded me to try! I wondered if making them in a cone 10 clay (I only fire to cone 6) would help them last longer? I am going to share your post on our guild’s website, and I hope that is okay. kawarthapottersguild.com. I’ll give you full credit and a link. Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Mary, I hope this helps you with your pieces. I do use a cone 10 clay that is only fired to cone 6 and the stilts seems to wear out at the same rate as the store bought ones, but you might want to test your clay body before going into full production mode of making them. Thanks for sharing my post!

  13. Great idea! Thanks for sharing. Where do you buy nichrome wire?

    1. Thanks Lea,
      You can probably get nichrome wire at your local ceramic supply store, but mine only carries a few smaller gauges of the wire so I order it online. Here’s the link: Nichrome Wire they also offer pre-cut stilt pins if you don’t want to take the time to cut them yourself: Stilt Pins Hope that helps!

  14. what clay body is used?

    1. I use the same clay body that I build with, it’s a cone 10 Orion Stout stoneware (made by Clay Planet) but I only take it to cone 6. I haven’t experimented with other clay bodies, so maybe test a few out with your clay body before you go into production mode of making stilts. Hope that helps!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *