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Paragon was built upon new ideas in kilns. Frances Darby couldn’t find the size kiln she wanted, so J. J., an engineer, made one for her—the first Paragon kiln. In 1983, John Hohenshelt Sr. quit his job at Tonka Toys and bought Paragon. Taking advantage of Paragon’s experience with industrial front-loading kilns, Hohenshelt introduced the KM-14D, a small front-loader, in 1986. The KM-14D is designed for custom knife makers who, until then, sent their knives to heat treaters. “The custom knife maker is a special breed,” says Hohenshelt. “These craftsmen spend many hours making one-of-a-kind knives. They welcomed the opportunity to do their own heat treating and to control every step in making knives.”
“I’ve always viewed Paragon as a market leader,” says Richard Schorr, general manager of Orton Ceramic Foundation. “They are innovative and are always adding new market segments. An example is the contemporary ceramic studios. Paragon developed a whole kiln system for the contemporaries while other manufacturers were still talking about it. I’ve always admired Paragon for taking on special kiln projects.”
Paragon furnaces and kilns are used to make commemorative coins and dental crowns, and to test automobile engines and asphalt, among hundreds of other applications. “Often we don’t know what our furnaces will be used for,” says Hohenshelt. “Some applications are kept secret even from us.” Because Paragon is viewed as a company with remarkable flexibility and skills, it continues to flourish year after year.
The Dragon Potter’s KilnThe Dragon, a digital front-loader for the potter, is one of Paragon’s newest kilns. “We viewed the pottery market as a growing arena, both in terms of size and of significant needs that weren’t being met by currently available kilns,” says Curt Rothman, who joined Paragon in 2000 as director of business development. “As our design team went to work, we kept hearing the same three concepts: ‘front-loading,’ ‘industrial strength’ and ‘value for the dollar.’
“Paragon already has a highly successful and extensive front-loading platform,” adds Rothman. “So the Dragon front-loading kiln was a natural for us.” The Dragon’s interior is 24 in. wide, 24 in. deep and 27 in. tall. The walls, door and top are insulated with 3 in.-thick firebrick and 1 in. of block insulation.
“We have power-packed the Dragon and Dragon XL lines with features that give the professional potter more benefits per dollar than any other kiln available today,” says Rothman. “Even options such the popular ITC coating and S-Type thermocouple are now available.” Many potters believe that the ITC coating, used on the insulating firebricks, reduces the electrical consumption of the kiln. The S-type thermocouple lasts longer at ceramic temperatures than the more common K-type thermocouple.
Sentry 2.0 Micro ProcessorIn February 2001, Paragon introduced the Sentry 2.0, a temperature controller made by Orton Ceramic Foundation exclusively for Paragon. “The Sentry controller is not the first joint project between Orton and Paragon,” says Schorr. “We have worked closely with Paragon on kiln venting. With the help of Paragon’s leadership and initiative, Orton developed a special OEM kiln vent to be shipped with new kilns.” From the early days, Paragon and Orton have enjoyed an amiable relationship. Frances Darby respected Orton for its consistently accurate pyrometric cones, and she emphasized the importance of cones throughout her career.
“Paragon knows how to design kilns for special applications in all kinds of industries,” says Schorr. “Orton, on the other hand, is good at producing control electronics and software. That, together, makes an excellent marriage.”
Paragon and Orton worked closely in designing the Sentry 2.0, a 12-key controller. It can operate with type-K, S or R thermocouples. Cone-Fire mode, which fires automatically to a pyrometric cone, comes with slow, medium and fast firing speeds, standard on most brands of controllers. In addition, the Sentry’s standard speeds can be adjusted to fire up to 40% faster or slower than the factory settings. If potters want a very slow firing, they can adjust slow speed to a crawl without even having to use the Ramp-Hold mode.
During Cone-Fire programming, prompts appear for pre-heat and slow cooling. These features are available in all Cone-Fire firings and operate only if selected. Pre-heat dries the ware at 200°F for the length of time specified. Slow cooling, with an adjustable rate, enhances the microcrystalline structure of certain glazes.
“Slow cooling is the key to improved yield and to implementing more extravagant glazes,” explains Rothman, a ceramic engineer. While slow cooling has been available for years in electronic controllers using the more complex ramp and hold modes, now the benefits of Cone-Fire and flexibility of programmable slow cooling are combined in the Sentry 2.0.