Saturday, May 17, 2008

Tutorial - Intro To Enameling

It may be a cliché, but enameling is one of those techniques that takes a minute to learn, but a lifetime to master. If you've ever wanted to try enameling, don't be intimidated, it's very easy to get started. Enameling is great because you can get very satisfying results right away, but with practically endless enameling techniques to try, you will never get bored! This tutorial will teach you the basic first steps of enameling- how to fire a coat of enamel onto a flat metal piece.

Enameling is the art of fusing glass to metal. The basic procedure for enameling is to apply the enamel to clean metal, and heat the piece either in a kiln or with a torch to a temperature of 1500 degrees or so, until the glass enamel melts and fuses to the metal. Enamels come in powdered and liquid forms, but powder is more commonly used because it is easier to apply and comes in a wider range of colors. Enamel can be fused to gold, fine silver, copper, and steel. You can enamel on sterling silver too if you depletion gild or "bring up the fine silver" first, but that would be a whole different tutorial. I would recommend starting with copper, because it is very inexpensive compared to gold and silver, and it is very easy to work with.

Safety: The main safety issue when working with enamels is the heat. Make sure you are firing away from flammable materials, on a heat proof surface. Don’t leave your kiln unattended when it is hot. If you are using a larger kiln, you will want heat proof gloves to protect your hands. Wear tinted safety glasses to protect your eyes from the light of the torch or kiln. If you are sensitive to dust, you may want to wear a dust mask when sifting enamel.

Materials:
-Copper sheet, 18 or 20 gauge and jeweler's saw or disc cutter to cut out shapes
OR
-Precut copper shapes from an enamel or jewelry supply company
-80 mesh enamels- you can get enamels from various places, but I like Thompson Enamel
-Holding agent- this is an organic gum solution that acts as a sort of glue to hold the enamel powder on the metal
-Sifter- you can buy these in various sizes from enamel supply companies or make your own by cutting the bottom out of a plastic cup and gluing in a piece of fine screen
-Jeweler's file
-Tweezers
-Ball Clay or Scalex (optional) - This is a clay slip like substance used to coat the un-enameled side of a piece during firing.
-Pickle Pot and Copper Tongs- to clean metal
OR
-Pumice powder, scouring powder, or commercial metal cleaner to clean metal.


For Kiln Firing:
-Kiln- there are two basic types of kilns. The cheaper kind (which I have) is called a beehive or hotplate kiln. It's basically a heating element set inside a round chamber with a domed lid. This kiln is great for doing small pieces, but it does have its limitations. The other kind of kiln is like a little oven with a door that opens in the front. These can accommodate larger pieces, and you can get them with fancy features like temperature controls and shutoff cycles.
-Metal Spatula or fork- for moving pieces in and out of the kiln
-Firing Supports- Trivets and/or wire screens. The firing support should hold the enamel while firing and allow you to transport the enamel piece in and out of the kiln with your spatula. The trivet is made with three or more angled metal arms that hold the enamel by its edges. Some trivets have built in legs so you can slide your spatula under them to move them. Some trivets don't have legs and need to be placed on a wire mesh firing screen with the corners bent down. You can also improvise a piece of steel with bent down corners to set your trivets on (see the firing photos below)

For Torch Firing:
-Torch- Any kind of torch used for jewelry making will work. I use a super basic propane torch from the hardware store. It's inexpensive and convenient, but doesn't get hot enough to fire pieces larger than 1" in diameter. Acetylene and propane/oxygen torches get hotter, and can fire larger pieces.
-Firing supports- Trivets. For torch firing you need something you can get your torch under to fire the enamel from below. A tall enough trivet will work or you can get a tripod with a mesh screen on top and set your trivet on that.

Preparing the metal:
-Cut the shape you want out of copper sheet, or use a precut shape.
-If you want to dome or otherwise form the metal, do it now.
-Clean the metal- I find the best way to do this is to heat the metal to a dull red with a torch to burn off all the dirt and oil, and then pickle it. Otherwise, you can scrub your metal with pumice powder or household scouring powder, or use a commercial copper cleaner. Once your metal is clean don’t touch it! The oils from your fingers will prevent the enamel from adhering properly. Use tweezers to pick up the metal.

Sifting the first coat:
-You will want to enamel both sides of your metal. The enamel on the back of the piece is called the counter enamel. If both sides of the piece will be visible when finished, choose an appropriate color. If the back will not be seen, you can use mixed odds and ends of enamel.
-When firing the first coat of enamel, the other side will be blackened by the heat of firing. There are two ways to deal with this. You can use ball clay or scalex to coat one side of the metal before applying enamel to the other side. This is a sort of clay like product that protects the metal during firing. You just paint it on and after firing it flakes off the metal. Otherwise, you can just enamel one side and then pickle the piece to remove the oxidation from the bare metal. I prefer this method, because it seems to work better and it’s less messy.
-Holding your metal in a pair of tweezers, either spray or paint on a thin layer of holding agent. You want just enough to hold the enamel powder onto the metal, not a big puddle.
-When sifting the enamel, you can set the metal piece on a piece of glossy magazine paper to catch the extra enamel. If you are making a larger piece, it helps to put a something under the metal to lift if up off the paper and make it easier to pick up. A soda bottle cap works nicely. Otherwise, you can hold the piece in a pair of cross-lock tweezers directly over the jar of enamel while you sift. I like to do this when making small pieces.
-Put some enamel in your sifter, and gently tap the sifter with your finger to springle enamel onto the metal. You want to apply a thick enough layer of enamel to cover all the metal, but not too thick. It might take a few tries to get it just right, so do some experimenting.
-Once the enamel is applied, let the holding agent dry completely before firing. If you try to fire a piece before it is completely dry, the liquid will boil away causing enamel to pop off of the piece. If you are kiln firing, you can set the piece on its firing support on top of the kiln lid to dry. If you are torch firing, you can set the piece on its firing support and very carefully heat it from below to dry it.





Kiln firing:
-Use your spatula to transfer the piece on its firing support into the kiln. Firing times vary depending on the enamel color, the thickness of application, and the size of the piece, so you can’t really time the firing. Take a peek every so often to see how the piece is progressing. First the enamel will start to melt into an orange peel texture, then it will fuse fully and smooth out.
-Once the enamel is fully fused, use the spatula to remove the piece from the kiln. Let it cool on its firing support


Torch firing:
-With the enamel piece on its firing support, heat the piece from below with your torch. The enamel will blacken where the torch hits it. You will be able to see the progression of the enamel melting and fusing to the metal. Even if you are using a kiln, I would recommend torch firing a piece to get a better understanding of what happens during the firing process.

Sifting additional coats:
-File the edges of the metal to remove any oxidation or stray enamel. You will need to do this after each coat you fire.
-Clean the un-enameled side of the metal thoroughly.
-Sift a coat of enamel onto the un-enameled side.
-Dry and fire as before.
-Continue to apply coats of enamel until you are satisfied with the appearance of your piece. Chances are your first coat won’t look so great. It may be uneven or bumpy. As you apply more enamel, you will get more even colors and a smoother surface. Three coats of enamel will usually give pretty good results. Try layering different colors of enamel. Experimentation is key when learning how to enamel, so get yourself a bunch of little pieces of copper and go to town.

175 comments:

Nicole Solo said...

Thank you for writing this great guide! I've tried torch enameling but didn't know what I was doing - now maybe I'll actually have some success knowing all the steps that I missed!

Copperheart said...

good luck!

Dotty said...

Fascinating! Truly!

sherry said...

I think you did a great job explaining the basics. I love enameling.

kathi parker said...

Books I've read never mentioned using the torch on the BOTTOM of the piece. When I fired mine from the top the glass rolled into a little ball. Thanks for being so explicit.
kathiparker

Copperheart said...

yes, I've never gotten good results applying the torch directly to the enamel but heating from below seems to work nicely, as long as you don't mind the back getting a little blackened

Vannabeth said...

Here you go again Copperheart! First the etching and now the enameling! Thanks so much:)
PS: I love the custom silver pendant that you made for me! Maybe someday, I'll get a chance to make something with it:)

Copperheart said...

Thanks Vannabeth! I'm hoping to do some more tutorials soon, when I have a little spare time. I'm so glad you like your pendant!

Laura Brito said...

You are the first and only person that I have found to post a tutorial that is so clear! You are my hero! hehe. Anyway, I invite you to my own blog http://www.laurabrito.com/enamelling
Not that I do work as nice as yours....

Copperheart said...

Thanks so much!
I love your blog by the way!

Copperheart said...

P.S.
I hope you don't mind, Laura but I added your blog to my list.
I think people would love to see your adventures in enameling!

Noel said...

This is a very helpful tutorial, but I need to know how to remove the trivet with copper piece from the kiln after it is fired. Do you use a spatula and how do you keep it everything from falling over? Thanks

Copperheart said...

yes, you just use the spatula. You just have to be careful moving pieces so they don't tip over. I've dropped pieces coming out of the kiln before so just make sure there aren't any combustible materials around your kiln!

Noel said...

This tutorial is so helpful, thanks. I have the beehive kiln and would like to know how you use it. Do you put something on the heating element before you put the trivet on it? How long does it seem to take to enamel an earring size piece? Thanks

Copperheart said...

you can get discs that protect the heating element when you are firing your enamels. It's not necessary but it's a good idea to keep drips of enamel off of the kiln floor. As for firing time, I really couldn't give an estimate. Each color of enamel has a different firing time, and there's a pretty wide range. The firing time varies a lot based on the size of the piece too, so a small earring could take significantly less time to fire than a large earring. The best thing to do is to just check on the piece frequently while firing.

Jen said...

Thanks for the helpful tutorial! I am dying to try enamelling, but wasn't sure what I might need. Nice job.

Copperheart said...

Thanks Jen, Good luck!

Lynne Glazzard said...

good description and I love the pictures

Lynne Glazzard said...

That

Metalsgirl said...

Wow! Such great info! I just bought a sample kit of enamels and just started playing with them with virtually no clue what I was doing. What you've said here is sooo helpful.

I have a couple of questions:

can you drill through a piece after enamelling or should you do it before?

why do you need to enamel both sides if the back isn't going to show?

Do you need to let the piece cool naturally or can you quench it after torch firing?

advice on getting a kind of speckled affect?

Thanks so much!!!!

Metalsgirl said...

I bought a sample kit of enamels and it came with flux. What do you use flux for with torch firing?

Copperheart said...

Hi Metalsgirl! I'm glad you liked my tutorial and I'm happy to answer your questions.
1. Drill holes before enameling, then just make sure the hole doesn't fill up with enamel when you sift. If you try to drill through fired enamel it will crack and chip.
2. The enamel on the back is to counteract the pressure of the enamel on the front. If you only enamel one side, the metal will warp and the enamel will crack. You can get away with only enameling one side if the metal is very thick, say 14ga.
3. Let the enamel cool as slowly as possible. Sudden changes in temperature will make the enamel crack.
4. For speckles, try firing a layer of one color, then a layer of another color and over-firing. The over-firing will make the colors from the bottom layer break through. Just keep heating it with your torch and see what happens.
5. Enamel flux is different from flux used in soldering. It's basically just a clear colorless enamel. It's used as a base coat, especially under transparent enamels. Just fire the flux like you would any other enamel and keep heating it until you see a kind of metallic gold color.

Hope that helps!

Metalsgirl said...

thank you sooooo much for all of your help! I really appreciate it...oh, one other quick question - if I wanted to solder a jump ring onto a piece could I do that after enamelling?

I work mainly with resin www.metalsgirl.blogspot.com and people always ask me if my work is enamel - so I thought it was high time I learned about enamel! :)

Copperheart said...

No problem Metalsgirl! I love to share ;)
You can't really solder on a piece that has been enameled. If you want to solder a jumpring on before enameling, you need to use a kind of super-hard solder called I.T. solder. You can get it from enamel suppliers.

Copperheart said...

Oh, and if you want a really good book on enameling I recommend The Art of Enameling by Linda Darty. It has basic beginning info, traditional techniques and newer techniques.

cwisty-cwoo said...

Hi,

You have such a helpful blog :)

I noticed in this post that you use a beehive kiln. I'm wondering if copper can be heat-colored in that kiln. I'm not crazy about using a mini torch, and I heard that it will only work on things quarter-sized or smaller anyway. Some of my pieces of copper are as big as 2 inches.

I saw a photo on flickr of some of your etched copper beads, and these particular ones have a chocolate brown color--I love the shade. It's the exact shade I'm going for (besides trying the spectrum of colors you can get with heat-coloring).

I'd like to oxidize the back of my copper pendants so the color won't rub off on people's skin.

Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated! :)

Copperheart said...

Hi cwisty!
I think you could probably use a beehive kiln to heat color your copper. I've never tried it myself (I use liver of sulfur on my copper pieces) It would probably take a little experimenting. I think maybe I will try it tomorrow and I'll post the results.

Metalsgirl said...

cwisty, I haven't used a kin for anything but casting...but I do heat patina copper quite a bit...I would think you could get the rich, dark browns in the kiln, but I don't know about the reds - you usually have to quench the copper when it's red hot to get the really great reds...and another cool technique is to paint the copper with flux and heat it up to red hot and quench it - you get great bright oranes and reds. But again, i would think you might need a torch for that. Oh, another cool patina for copper - clean your copper really well with pummice and while it is still wet sprinkle salt on it. then pour a little amonia into a small bowl, put the bowl of amonia and your copper (don't put the coper in the amonia, just off to the side) into a piece of tupperware or something you can seal up. leave it for an hour or so. When you pull it out and rinse the salt off and dry the copper you should have some really pretty blue speckles all over your copper. Have fun!

Copperheart said...

awesome pointers metalsgirl!

Copperheart said...

well I tried heat coloring with my kiln, and I didn't have much luck. I think it was because the kiln doesn't give you the same control over the heating of the metal. I still think it might be possible, if you put the piece up on a trivet and watched it very closely. Overall though, it would probably be easier to buy an inexpensive propane torch.

cwisty-cwoo said...

Thank you for your help Metals girl and Copperheart. I'm not a metalsmith; I make beaded jewelry but have been making some copper pendants. I've tried Silver-Black but not Liver of Sulfur for darkening the metal. Thanks for the info. on the beehive kiln. The ammonia patina idea is great!

Your photos look sooooo good Copperheart. I tried using a light box once, but my photos were too dark; maybe I wasn't doing it right. Your homemade light box sounds neat. :) :) :)

Copperheart said...

Thanks cwisty- I'm always happy to help! I would definitely recommend liver of sulfur. It's cheap and easy to use, but very stinky!

Roberta said...

I love your blog! I am just starting to enamel. I took a class on cloisonne and loved it. My teacher said that those small kilns don't work but you obviously get it to work!

I am thinking of getting one as I can't really afford, nor do I have room for a large kiln.

How do you vent your beehive? Anything else you can tell me about it will help in my decision making process.

Your work is lovely by the way!

Roberta

Copperheart said...

Those big kilns are expensive! Someday I'll get myself a bigger one. The only real problem I have with my little beehive kiln is that I can't really fire anything bigger than 2" in diameter. Right now I only use my kiln for a few hours at a time once a week or so, so I don't worry too much about ventilation. It heats up and cools down pretty fast, so I just put it away when I'm not using it. I also like that it plugs right in to a regular electrical outlet. It's very convenient.

c said...

Hi

Great tutorial. I've been looking for something like this for days!

Can I use brass in place of copper? Also, is there a way to make the colors matte...maybe by using a matte sealer on top, some type of powder, etc? Thanks

Ceah

c said...

Sorry...two more questions. Can you sand the enamel so more metal can show through? And how do you enamel very small areas of a metal piece, like a small portion of a ring, etc.?

thanks again

Ceah

Copperheart said...

The best way to make enamel matte is to use a glass etching cream. You can get it at any craft store. Just paint it on and let it sit for a few minutes, then wash it off. Sanding enamel doesn't really work but you can grind it with special alundum grinding stones from an enamel supplier. You have to grind in a circular motion and hold the piece under water. As for enameling a small portion of a piece- it can be kind of tricky to do that and get nice edges. The best way would probably be to etch a place for the enamel to go and then wet-pack the enamel in. This is called champleve. Otherwise you can try to just apply enamel to one area by wet packing or selectively applying holding agent, but then you have to clean the rest of the metal by soaking the piece in weak nitric acid.

Joanne.green said...

Echoing the others, Thank you for writing this very clear guide for beginning enameler.
For the past several months I have been slowly collecting tools to work with metal (particularly copper). At 70. I have little disposable income and have to make it stretch.
My aunt learned and taught enameling back in the 50's. But has not used her supplies since then. Recently she gave me her stash. Lots of pre-cut copper in various shapes and sizes, lots of envelopes of enamels in a variety of colors, a variety of tiny glass beads and strict instructions to learn how to use them before I tried to create anything.
Since classes are too far and too difficult for me to get to, I have been learning thru books, articles and online tutorials such as yours.
My questions have to do with the tools needed.
1. Can I make my own trivets?
2. Can I make my own tripod?
3. What can I safely substitute for various tools and supplies?

I have a good butane torch, a large heavy baking tray for work surface, a soldering brick, helping hands, vermiculite, and various tools from my jewelry making.

Thanks in advance.

Copperheart said...

Hi Joanne,
I'm glad you found the tutorial helpful. You can make your own trivets by cutting and bending steel sheet, and I'm sure you could make a serviceable tripod out of some heavy steel wire. Trivets are inexpensive, however, so it might be just as cheap to buy one or two. As for the tripod, I don't actually use one for torch firing. I just aim the torch at the bottom of the enamel and it works fine. I don't know if you have a kiln or if you are planning on torch firing, but if you are torch firing you will need a fairly large torch. The little butane ones don't really get hot enough for enameling. An inexpensive hardware store propane torch works fine. As for your last question, you can make your own sifters by cutting out the bottom of a small plastic container and glueing in wire mesh. I have also heard that you can use hairspray for a holding agent when sifting enamel, but I have never tried it myself. You can easily get away with not using the ball clay if you clean the metal in pickle after the first firing. I hope that helps!

emcochran said...

Thank you SO SO much for posting this. I've had a heck of a time finding information on the internet. I love your blog!

Molli said...

Hi! I just started enameling and bought the ultralite. Question - do you leave the mica sheet in the kiln or do you put it in when firing? Thanks for sharing all your tips about enameling!

Copperheart said...

Hi Molli!
Just use the mica sheet when firing. You can place your pieces on the mica and use it to transfer them in and out of the kiln. The mica breaks down eventually with prolonged exposure to heat.

Melissa said...

Hi, Great Tutorial! When firing with a torch and trivet, do you need to have anything underneath like a fire brick?

Copperheart said...

Having something underneath to protect your tabletop is a good idea. Remember, the trivet is going to get hot too. A firebrick works or even just a large ceramic tile works well. Sorry for the super long response time!

libby said...

I am so happy to find this information! When I was around 11 or 12 years old, (this was back in the mid-50's) I bought a copper enameling kit in a small craft store, which came with a tiny kiln and tubes of powdered glass and pieces of glass (small bits, and threads). I made little jewelry pieces, mostly pins. I'd solder a pin with a clasp on the back. I'd only enamel one side, and put the pin-clasp on the back.
Anyway, it is exciting to find that this craft is still out there!!
Now, can you tell me where I can buy the kiln and the supplies? I'd love to get my granddaughter started in this, but price is an obstacle.
Any advice you can give me would be appreciated.
Thanks
Libby

Copperheart said...

Hi Libby,
I suspect that enameling supplies have gotten more expensive since it went out of fashion as a craft for kids. I would recommend Thompson Enamel for the basic supplies. If you want to get a hotplate kiln, it's going to be about 150-170. You might be able to find a good deal if you shop around. I believe Dick Blick art supplies carries one and so does Rio Grande

Laura Brito said...

Libby, you might want to try torch enameling since a small torch is so much more inexpensive than a kiln, of course you are limited somehwat, but it would be cheaper and you can do some really neat things with a torch.

graceg said...

Hi there copper heart...congrats on the new baby coming your way.
I'm very new at enameling and have a 101 question. When you have enameled the 1st side of the copper piece (say 2" x 3") and are enameling the second side...how do you keep the first side from sticking to the steel screen? I'm removing it from the kiln-hot,so I let it cool on the screen? Or am I just doing it all wrong?

Copperheart said...

Hi Grace,
you need to have either a trivet or a piece of mica sheet for your enamel to rest on in addition to the wire screen. The wire screen makes it easier to transport enamels in and out of the kiln but any enamel that comes directly into contact with it will fuse to it. If you use mica sheet, just cut a piece and lay it on your screen. The enamel doesn't stick to it but it will partially melt and not be completely smooth on the back. If you are using a trivet it holds the enamel piece by the very edges so it won't stick. Check out the photos in the post and you will see the little three-pointed metal pieces the enamels are resting on. Those are the trivets. Set the enamel in the trivet and then set the trivet on the screen. Hope that helps!

graceg said...

OHHHHH....Thanks so very much. Is there a supplier for such a thing?
I've never heard of it before.Not that I've heard of much in the enamel world.
You are a wonderful find in this cyber world. A lucky baby to come to someone so generous of spirit ..and info.
Happy New Year

Copperheart said...

No problem!
You can get anything you need for enameling (including trivets) from Thompson Enamel, which is my favorite supplier, or from Rio Grande and possibly a couple other jewelry supply companies. There are lots of specialty items that are only used for enameling so a specialized enameling supplier is a great resource.

graceg said...

thanks again!!

Silver Canyons said...

Hi and thanks for such a great post!
I do want to mention that it is IMPERATIVE that you where a dust mask, ESPECIALLY if you are sifted enamels. The mask should be N95- N100 rated.If you are wet-packing, the only time that mask can come off is once you have water placed over the dry enamel.
Enamel is powered glass and is hazardous to breathe and get into your lungs (both leaded and non leaded version)!
Sorry if this seems like I am preaching..but if your going to use enamels, please do it safely! :):)

Copperheart said...

To paraphrase my old metals professor: "If you're smart you'll be wearing a mask when you do this"

Pamela Pollock said...

hello and thank you! i thought i saw somewhere in your block about using an enamel pen (white) that would cover over black fired enamel. was it in your blog that i saw this? i can't find it again. i would like to use that in my enameling. if you could point me in the right direction to find it that would be great! thanks for all of your generosity! may you be blessed in all that you do.

kind regards, pamela

Copperheart said...

Yes you can get enamel marking pens in a variety of colors including opaque white from Thompson Enamel.

Minnie Bhupathi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Copperheart said...

Thank you Minnie!

ranestorm said...

phenomenal tutorial! i've been researching enameling quite a bit and find your tut to be top notch.

i can't wait to give it a try. thank you!

room_108 said...

ck40Would I be able to make 4x4 enameled copper tiles for a backsplash? I am stuck on how I would adhere the tiles to the wall.

Copperheart said...

You could certainly make 4 by 4 tiles if you had a kiln big enough. I think something that size would be hard to torch fire. As far as how to attach them to the wall, that's a little outside my expertise, but wouldn't you use the same stuff you would use for ceramic tiles?

Laura Brito said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Laura Brito said...

You would use grout to install it into a splash back area, it might be tricky, but you will just have to wing it. I don't think torch firing a 4x4 piece of copper is feasible, but I have seem some amazing things that people were told they can't do, done.....so you won't lose anything if you try.

gpearce8 said...

Great blog. I am starting to experiment with enameling on copper and I am having difficulty getting past the "orange peel" stage, even after two coats. Am I not letting the enamel dry long enough or could it be a torch/flame issue? I use a Lenk butane torch (large) - lpt-500. Thank you!

Copperheart said...

It sounds to me like your torch is either not hot enough, or the flame is too small to heat the metal effectively. I would try a basic hardware store propane torch. That's what I use for torch firing and soldering and it works very well, plus it is very inexpensive. Good luck!

lynn said...

Hello, can you use a small butane torch to enamel copper discs? Will it get hot enough?

If this is not possible,what cold-coloring methods will look nice on copper discs. Can you do pigment powders at the art store? Or hobby enamel paints and sealer?

Copperheart said...

I think the flame on a butane torch would be too small to evenly heat the copper unless it was very small. I've never tried it, so I'm just guessing but it might work on a piece 1/2" in diameter or smaller.
As for cold coloring techniques, I'm afraid I don't really know a lot about them, so I can't be of any help there.

Laura Brito said...

A Butane Torch can melt enamel, it is hotter than a traditional propane/oxygen torch! Most people do not know this. But the flame can be too small, you could do small items though, and you can make enamel headpins with it, 1/2" 1/2" squares and other small items.

Copperheart said...

That is great information Laura, thank you!

Sharon P said...

Thank you for the really detailed enameling tutorials. I took an enameling class from Richard Salley and he taught us to quench the enameled piece in water! I haven't had any cracking glass on small items but larger, yes, so I'm following your directions.

Also, are safety glasses for the chance of sparks and flying metal, or for heat protection? Also, can the eyes be damaged by looking at molten copper? So many questions, so little time!

Copperheart said...

Hi Sharon,
Yeah, I wouldn't quench an enamel in water. That seems really weird to me!
Anyway, as for the glasses, you're going to want a pair of tinted safety glasses to protect your eyes from flying bits and from the light of the kiln/torch and glowing metal, which can damage your eyes with repeated exposure. I've never had anything pop up and fly at me while enameling, but you never know. For instance, if you had a piece that you didn't dry enough before firing the water under the enamel could bubble up and cause the enamel to pop off. Thompson Enamel sells tinted safety glasses that work nicely. They have a greenish tint to them.

ts_trinkets said...

I have just received my kiln and some sample enamel. I can't wait to get started on enameling!
Thank you so much for this tutorial. I bought several books (probably overkill) but your straightforward instructions here really takes the intimidation out of starting.
Thank YOU!

Copperheart said...

thanks, ts, and good luck! Please feel free to ask if you have any questions as you get started.

Giacomo said...

Very useful this tutorials , it helps people to understand why the real enamels are so valuable . Keep up the good work !
Giacomo
http://media.goettgen.de/users/Giacomo

maggie said...

Can I make my own firing screen to place the trivet in the kiln? I have everything but the screen and fork. If so, what kind of metal would the screen need to be made with? Can is use something like a BBQ fork to get it out?

Copperheart said...

You can definitely make your own firing screen with some stainless steel mesh. I've used regular steel in the past but the problem with it is that it oxidizes in the kiln and then the oxidation flakes off which gets messy. As for the firing fork, anything fireproof with a long enough handle will work fine. I actually use a small stainless steel spatula because I have a very small kiln and I don't need the distance of a long firing fork to keep from burning myself.

maggie said...

Thank you. That's kind of what I was thinking, but I have new kiln (also very small) and though I'm anxious to use it, I'm also terrified. It came with a small trivet and spatula but the woman I bought it from was telling me I would need to use leather gloves if I used the spatula so I wouldn't burn myself.

Copperheart said...

My thoughts on leather gloves are that they are necessary if you have a large kiln that gives off a lot of heat, but if you have a small kiln they might just make you clumsy handling the small spatula or fork you would use for a small kiln. Just give it a try and if the heat is very uncomfortable you can always go get some gloves. The only burns I have gotten from my kiln are from when I accidentally touch the side or lid of the kiln.

junique4u said...

I've been researching enamel and have been afraid to actually try it. Your posts are very helpful and clear. I do have a question. I use a Speedfire Cone for PMC, can I use this for enemaling?

Copperheart said...

I'm not sure about the speedfire cone, as I've never used one myself. If it can hold a temperature of around 1500 degrees Fahrenheit it could work. You also have to be able to remove the piece (or the heat) quickly after the enamel fuses so it doesn't overfire. If the speedfire cone meets those requirements give it a try and let us know how it turns out!

junique4u said...

Thanks Copperheart. I'll check back in when I get going with the enamel.

mrs beadsley said...

wow - your blog is fabulous and so informative. i want to thank you for sharing all this information - i just started doing torch firing of enamel (on copper pennies, actually)and all your enameling posts have been so helpful!

SpiritGirl said...

Wonderful, informative article! And you're still getting responses to it, that's great!
I have a basic question about enameling on copper. After cleaning the copper, I'm applying a clear Thompson transparent enamel to the metal. It states to fire until all copper oxides are dissolved. But they don't! I'm wondering if the heat on my beehive kiln isn't getting hot enough. The copper is 1.25 inch. I can never get the enamel to fire clear - it only fires as an ugly brown.
Do I need a hotter kiln? Or am I not cleaning the copper properly? Any help you can give is greatly appreciated! Thanks!

Copperheart said...

Hi SpiritGirl, it sounds likely to me that the piece isn't getting hot enough. Usually the clear flux enamels need a hotter and longer firing because you're firing them beyond the point where they fuse. For clear on copper you want to fire it until it looks like a metallic gold color in the kiln. If you under fire it it will turn out brown, if you over fire it it will come out greenish or black. When fired properly it will be a sort of peachy color when it cools. It won't come out exactly like you might expect a clear colorless coating to come out. It does alter the color a bit. If you are firing on a trivet or firing screen, try laying the piece on a piece of mica sheet directly on the kiln floor to get the most heat possible.

Adri said...

I found your blog after reading a tutorial from Beading Daily on how to create enamel beadsusing a torch and copper tubing. Your site was great in making me feel confident about tackling a new skill but the tutorial demonstrates using a mandrel to fire the enamel tubes on and I am having difficulty finding a suitable mandrel I know glass beads use a firing rod but wouldn't I have to buy rods specific to the ID of the copper tube i use? I searched several sites & didn't find what I was looking for. 2nd question the tut mentioned using 80 mesh enamel as the glue but many other sites just mention using the bonding agent in making enamel beads can you replace the 80 mesh enamel with the bonding agent instead?

Copperheart said...

Hi Adri,
The holding agent is the "glue" that holds the 80-mesh enamel onto the metal for firing. Maybe the other tutorial was talking about using the enamel as the "glue" to hold a third material such as foil or glass pieces? I'm not sure since I haven't seen that particular tutorial.
As for the Mandrel, I don't see why it would be necessary to have it match the ID of the tubing. With glass bead making you need the mandrel to support the glass while it is soft, but your copper tubing will remain rigid while firing enamel onto it, so any steel wire or rod should be fine. Try coating it with ball clay or scalex to keep the enamel on the bead from sticking to the mandrel.
Hope that helps. Good luck!

TorturedClay said...

I have to tell you that I amazed at how you presented this process so very well. all that I knew about enameling before reading here, was that I wanted to do it, and that it had something to do with glass. I tried several other resources before landing here, but came away from them with more questions and confusion than I entered with.
OK, so, and but...
I do have a question on a particular application. I hope it is not unacceptable ask your help with a specific challenge. if it is, please let me know. so, the question now....
I am doing a dancer in copper and she needs ribbons. the ribbons are made from 12 awg copper wire hammed to ~.5cm wide. they will be 85cm long, and fashioned into a spiral with a diameter of around 35. since it is a ribbon, there were be some twisting. what I mean to say is, the same side of the ribbon will not always be pointing skyward. I want to enamel one side darker than the other side. one side may be lavender, while the other would be a deep violet.
I do not have access to a kiln. I do have a bernzomatic propane torch. the torch is just a regular, simple one purchased from the plumbing department of homedepot.
as I mentioned at the start, I have never attempted any enameling before. however I am eager, easy to teach, and fearless. I know that I have not really asked a question here, but I am not really sure what question I need to ask of you. you have my needs and my assets, and I am hoping you can offer some tips and suggestions. after reading your tutorial, I am confident you will be able to get me on my way to success.
Ricky

Copperheart said...

Hi Ricky,
It sounds like for what you want to accomplish you will really need to use a kiln. There are a couple reasons for this. First of all, when you torch fire enamels the areas where the torch touches the enamel will be blackened from the flame. You can do a three dimensional piece with a torch but you have to consider the affect the flame will have on your enamel colors and work it into your design. I highly recommend practicing on some scrap pieces to see what kinds of effects you can get using a torch.
Second, when heating a piece of metal to be enameled, you need to heat the entire piece evenly. If you apply heat unevenly the metal will expand at different rates in different places causing the enamel to crack. It sounds like the piece you are planning is a little big to heat evenly with a torch.
If you need a kiln but can't afford one big enough, try looking around for beading and jewelry supply shops that teach enameling or PMC classes. Sometimes they let people purchase kiln time to fire pieces they have made.
That said you can always just give it a shot and see what happens. For every rule in metalworking you will find a person who has found a way to get around it.

Autumn Blues Reviews said...

Hi,
I just came upon your blog. All your pieces are beautiful. You are an inspiration to me. I am in the process of beginning to enamel on a full-time basis. I have done some pieces with my torch, however want to start using me Kiln. I originally purchased it for that purpose the window built in. I still need a few supplies and have been putting this off for a year, since I keep busy selling supplies on Etsy, Artfire and also I am a multi-medium artist who likes to work with everything. I wanted to ask you if you use and Alundum Stone and if so what grit? Thompson has the 120, 150, 220 and 240 and I am so confused. Thank you!

Copperheart said...

you only need the alundum stone if you need to grind the surface of the enamel flat. They are used for more traditional techniques like cloisonne where the enamel needs to be ground down flush with the silver wires. They are used similarly for champleve (enamel inlaid into etched metal) or plique-a-jour (enamel inlaid into an openwork frame) If you are sifting and firing a layer of enamel that completely covers the metal, you don't need them as the enamel will come out smooth and shiny.

The Green Petal said...

Hi Copperheart. Thank you so much for your blog. I am working on 12 bridesmaid necklaces for my sister's wedding. I am using 3 different shapes in 6 different colors to complete the project. The shapes are a variety of flat pierced flowers each about 1.75 inches in diameter. The colors are Chamois, Bitter Green, Cream, Marigold Yellow, Tallow Pink, and Orchid. I have finished 6 so far, but I noticed that some colors were more difficult to work with than others (Ex: Cream and Marigold Yellow). I initially tried Victoria Red in the line up, but I scratched that all together after having so many problems with the enamel pealing back or cracking off. I have a Vcella Kiln with a 6x6x6 interior, which I keep around 1500 degrees. After removing the piece, I set it on top to slowly cool. I took your advise about making sure to not apply the enamel to heavy, and that seemed to help things. Do you find that you have more trouble with certain colors? Would it be a good idea for me to try applying flux to both sides before applying the color? What about putting a steel block on the piece when it comes out to prevent it from flexing so much?

These necklaces have the potential to flip, so I am enameling both sides with the same color. I haven't been using my pickle to clean the metal after I apply the first coat because it seems to dull and change certain colors. Instead, I have just been cleaning the opposite side with sandpaper and dish soap. Do you have a better recommendation? My method takes a long time, and seems to put unnecessary stress on the enameled side.

Thank you taking the time to read this!

I don't have much enamel work on my FLICKR site, but I'd love for you to see what I do...

www.FLICKR.com/photos/DesignsByApril

Copperheart said...

I do definitely find that some colors are harder to work with than others. Reds in particular don't seem to adhere as well, so they tend to peel and chip. Some colors over-fire easily and others are difficult to fire to maturity because they take so much heat. I have a few recommendations for you
1. Fire a base coat under your enamel colors. Flux or foundation white are good choices.
2. Try using citric acid pickle to clean the metal- it shouldn't affect the enamel
3. If you're careful you can fire enamel on both sides at once. Hold the piece in crosslock tweezers, sift one side, flip and sift the other side, then fire it on a trivet
Hope that helps!

Autumn Blues Reviews said...

Thank you so much! You just saved me some money in the process. I look forward to all your tutorials and tips.

The Green Petal said...

Thank you very much for the suggestions. I'm trying the flux first technique right now, and so far so good. I would save a lot of time and money on colors if I could do this every time. Thank you! Is citric acid powder fairly easy to find locally, or is it something I need to order?

Copperheart said...

I ordered mine because I was able to get a big 5lb jar pretty cheap that way. You may be able to find it locally at a health food store or someplace that sells canning and pickling supplies

The Green Petal said...

Thanks again for your help. I finally finished my project and wanted to share a few pointers I learned along the way...

1. The citric acid worked great for cleaning the metal between coats. I used a jar of PH down from the grow store. It's 100% organic citric acid powder. It was gentle on the enamel and did not effect the colors, except for in the case of Victoria Red and Pumpkin Orange. Maybe my solution was too strong.

2. If you are enameling a pierced piece that is over an inch in diameter, go with 18GA instead of 20GA. I was using 20GA and my pieces kept warping and cracking. It's more difficult to cut the 18GA, but the finished piece is cleaner and more durable.

3. Applying a perfect coat of enamel is easier said than done.

4. Don't get mad when your reds don't work. They are simply a pain!

Lone Tree Studio said...

Hi there!

I'd like to add my thanks to the many others -- this is a great tutorial (actually, your site is filled with great tutorials :) )

My question relates to cleaning the copper. Up to now, I've always just scrubbed the copper using Penny Brite or some equivalent. I've read about people heating their copper and then pickling, but after the pickling they always talk about scrubbing the copper clean, which is what I'm having to do with the Penny Brite anyway, so I never tried that method (since I'm trying to shorten my least favorite part of the whole process). In your tutorial, you just talk about heating and pickling -- does that mean I can get away with no scrubbing? (Please, oh please say yes). If that's the case, is there a type of pickle you'd recommend? As a complete pickle novice, I admit that the prospect scares me a bit.

Thanks!

Kim

Copperheart said...

Hi Kim,
I just heat and pickle- no scrubbing. My number one tip is to not touch the copper with your fingers at all until you get those first coats down. Take it out of the pickle with a tweezers and keep handling the metal with tweezers until you get the enamel fired.
I use citric acid for pickle. It's less nasty than the sparex pickle and works great if you keep it warm in a crock pot. You can get it at a health food store or buy it in bulk online

Lone Tree Studio said...

Wonderful! I'm going to try that with next enamel batch. The skin on my hands thanks you! (my skin doesn't like Penny Brite much :) )

Kim

Lone Tree Studio said...

Sorry -- just thought of a couple of (complete pickle newbie) follow-up questions.

First, does the copper have to cool completely before putting it into the pickle?

Second, after pickling do I need to rinse the copper in either water or a baking soda bath before applying enamel?

Thanks!

Kim

Copperheart said...

If there is no enamel on the copper yet you can drop it into the pickle hot, but be careful that it doesn't splash back up at you. It might be a better idea to quench in water first and then put the metal in the pickle. If there is already enamel on the copper let it cool down slowly first. You will want to rinse your pieces in water after taking them out of the pickle. You can do a baking soda bath but I haven't found it necessary.

Lone Tree Studio said...

Wonderful -- thanks again!

*off to play with heated metal*

Kim

maggie said...

You are a wealth of information. Hope you can help me. I have been playing around with enameling and am getting increasingly frustrated by trivet marks on my pieces. How can I avoid them? And when I get them, what is the best way to get rid of them? I've used alundum stone to file away but that seems to dull the piece and when I try to fire polish in the kiln, I get the trivet mark again. I've been looking everywhere for some assistance . Would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!!

Copperheart said...

Hi Maggie,
A couple ideas to help with your trivet marks: first keep your layers of enamel thin, and try to avoid over-firing. Make sure your trivet is the right size for your piece. A trivet that is too large will make more contact with the edges of the piece because of the lower angle. Also, you can try filing down the edges of your trivet to minimize the amount of metal that is touching the edge of your enamel. Hope that helps!

makmal07 said...

Hi, I read your tutorial for torch enameling and I see where you state that the enamels turn black where the flame touches them. If you counter enamel then you would have to heat from bellow again this time the bottom would be the front side, wouldn't it turn black as a result and how can you avoid oxidizing the enamels? It's happening to me and I don't know how to keep it from happening. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. Monica

Copperheart said...

Hi Monica,
Here's the process I follow:
1)counter-enamel back & fire upside-down on trivet. The back with the counter-enamel is up and the torch hits the bare metal of the front of the piece
2)Clean the oxidation of the bare copper on the front side of the piece (I pickle with citric acid)
3)Enamel the front and fire right-side up on the trivet. The torch will hit the already-fired counter enamel on the back of the piece and will blacken it somewhat.

I hope that helps. Basically the idea is to counter-enamel first and then heat from the back on all subsequent firings.

makmal07 said...

Thank you very much for your information. I will do that.

makmal07 said...

Hi Copperheart, my husband and I were looking through the internet and I found a few people that do torch enameling and put the flame right to the enamel and it did not oxidize. We were scratching our heads trying to figure out how to do it then my husband noticed that those people do not use any medium such as Klyr Fire. Just straight enamel powders. I tried it and it works. Wonderfully! I thought I let you and anyone else who is interested know.
I want to thank you though for your tutorials and your willingness to share your knowledge. You have a great blog.

Copperheart said...

that's great- I'll have to try it. Thanks for the helpful tip!

marilyn said...

Copperheart-you rock-your tutorial is so helpful-I've taken a really good class, and now have my tools set up (just have to move things around a bit) so once it cools off a bit will get to enamel.

BTW-do you have any suggestions where to get the mask/respirator combo you use?
thanks so much

Copperheart said...

a disposable hardware store dust mask should be all you need for the enamel dust. If you have some ventilation by your kiln you shouldn't need a respirator. Personally I think ventilation is generally a better idea than using a respirator in an unventilated space. I don't use one so I couldn't advise you there.

Samantha Hessling said...

Hi, I was wondering if you think it would be possible to enamel the writing on an engraved dog tag. I understand that I would have to have it engraved extra deep. I don't have access to a kiln but I do have a blowtorch. The colors I would ideally like to use are purple and yellow, I know you had mentioned some colors being harder than others. Thank you for your advice

masonmetal said...

Hi , your tutorials are great. Do you know any thing about making "homemade" holding agent? Is the adhesive always necessary?
thanks, Lorrie

Copperheart said...

Samantha- you can enamel on stainless steel, so in theory this could work but it would be very tricky. I would recommend getting enamels made for stainless steel. They make different enamels for metals with different rates of expansion. You would need your letters to be not only very deep but also fairly wide to have room for the enamel grains. You would need to pack the enamel into the lettering, fire and then grind the surface of the enamel smooth and remove any excess with a grinding stone. Applying a very small amount of enamel to something doesn't usually work that well as the enamel tends to burn out. Frankly, even though you can use enamel for this purpose, I don't think it's the best material choice. It would probably be better to use a colored resin.

Copperheart said...

Lorrie- try hairspray or just plain water. If you're sifting onto a flat or slightly domed surface it should work fine. You don't strictly need binder- the enamel will fire just fine without it. It just helps keep the enamel on the metal long enough to get it into the kiln.

Heather Hennigan said...

I have a set of
FUSE MASTER transparent enamels
Low Fire 1175-1275 Fahrenheit with FUSE MASTER WATER FRIENDLY MEDIUM

that I got a long time ago but never used, when I was doing glass fusing.

I also have an "Enamel Sampler Kit Cool Transparent" from Rio Grande.

Can I use either of these or both to torch enamel on cooper for jewelry?

Many thanks for you help.
Heather

Heather Hennigan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Heather Hennigan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Copperheart said...

Hi Heather,
Enamels made for glass probably won't work on metal as metal and glass have different rates of expansion and different enamels are made to work with each. From your description I'm not sure if the rio grande set is for glass or metal, but I don't thing they sell enamels for glass, so give it a try. That said you can always try the other ones too and see what happens. You'll know it if they don't work. Have fun!

Andy K said...

Thanks for the information on cracking. I have had success teaching enameling to students in the past but this year we have had a high rate of cracking and enamel falling off of pieces. I think it may be the holding agent not drying properly before heating the piece as you mentioned. Thanks again Andy

Luna Star said...

Hi there

this is mostly a question than a comment.
I just started enameling, (I have a beehive kiln)
I spilled some enamel on the kiln plate, it's stuck on, also The Mica that I was using to under my trivet is sticking to the kiln plate,is there a way i can keep it from sticking?
any answers would be appreciated.
and Thank you for your very informative blog! Its helped me out alot.

Copperheart said...

I would recommend trying to gently scrape the spilled enamel off the element, and then touch up the surface with furnace wash (a ceramic coating to protect kiln surfaces) You can also replace the whole element if necessary. Personally I don't use micah under a trivet. I just use it directly under enamel pieces that don't fit on a trivet.

rich23 said...

I am applying a transparent layer on top of a first white layer on copper. The white is bleeding through the second layer as little circles. This does not change with another transparent layer. Is there something I can do to prevent the bleed-through?

Jo said...

Hi, I've recently (as in today!) got my bits to start enamelling, I just wondered if you could fuse copper to copper to bevel the edges of the piece so a design in copper wire could be placed inside.....will this all fuse together or is it better done with fine silver wire and silver plate? Also, who do you use as your supplier as I'm having trouble trying to find the bits I need. Thanks in advance, and great blog!! x

Copperheart said...

Rich- this is a common problem when firing multiple layers. A couple things you can try to fix it: first of all try watching your enamel and taking it out of the kiln the second the transparent is fully fused. This should minimize the breakthrough from the bottom layer. Also make sure your top layer doesn't have a higher fusing temp than your bottom layer. Check out the different whites available from your enamel supplier and look for one with a high fusing temperature that is made for use as a foundation. Hope that helps!

Copperheart said...

Jo-
You can't really fuse copper in an enameling kiln. Fusing fine silver is a possibility but I think it would probably work a lot better for you to try a different method. A couple ideas: If you know how to solder try using eutectic solder to join your pieces- it will withstand the enameling temperature. You could use copper or fine silver metal clay to make pieces with a raised edge to fill in with enamel. It's easy to fire fine silver metal clay in an enameling kiln. You'll need a little more equipment to do copper. Or you could start with a thick sheet of metal and etch away the inside part, or purchase the types of pre-made settings used for resin and enamel those (make sure they're pure metal, not plated)
Good luck!

Dana said...

Thank you for sharing this very detailed and easy to follow tutorial on enameling. This is something I've been wanting to try, just haven't invested in the enameling powders yet, my silver jewelry making seems to take every last penny right now. Anyway, I do have a small kiln, it's a top loading style which if I were to buy one today it would definitely be a front loading one, and I wonder if this will make it more difficult to remove pieces because the temperature is so hot and you actually have to put your hand down in the kiln to reach the pieces. Before I start, I was wondering what temperature to set my kiln at, and as far as the timing, can you give me a ballpark range? Like under 20 minutes but not more than 30? Thanks in advance for your help, and again thank you for sharing this information. You do great work!
Dana

Copperheart said...

Hi Dana,
Although a top-loading kiln isn't ideal I know a lot of people do make it work. You might want to make a firing screen with a handle and get some kind of a hook to lift if out of the kiln. A pair of heat proof gloves is also a good idea. To avoid over-firing enamels you need to be able to get them out of the hot kiln as soon as the enamel is fused. As far as time goes, it does depend on a number of factors (the color of enamel, the size of the piece, thickness of the metal and enamel layers) but it is usually just a few minutes. Do some test firings with scrap copper and time them to find out a time range for your kiln. A good starting temperature is 1500 degrees farenheit. You can adjust up or down if you have problems with over or under fired enamel. Hope that helps!

Mariel Heart said...

Hi Copperheart,
Excellent tutorial and thank you for sharing your experience. I would love your advice: I'm a silver/goldsmith with no enameling experience. I inherited thousands of enamel baked on copper discs my grandmother made in the 60s. They're really colorful and beautiful. I've been drilling holes into them to make them into bracelets & because of the price point (I'm selling them for $20 each) they are my best sellers. Problem: I saw you mention in a response above about drilling before enameling to prevent chipping. Since that isn't an option for me, I've been drilling with some success without chips using diamond coated burs to get through the enamel and then drilling through the copper, but I still get chips here and there. The amount of drills I go through (they dull so quickly and are so expensive -relatively), the time it takes, and the pain in my hand from continuously drilling make me wish for a better way. Do you have any suggestions? Is it possible to bring the enamel up to a temperature to re-disperse it and fix the chips? They are all different colors, and I read where you wrote the temp is based on color. I can google if there is a chart for such a thing, but would love and appreciate any guidance from you! I'll send you one as thanks if you like.
Thank you, Mariel Heart
www.theheartdepartment.com

Copperheart said...

Mariel- a few thoughts: first of all, you don't mention if you are drilling in water or not. I would try that if you aren't already doing it, use a high speed but very little pressure and lift the bit out of the piece frequently. It sounds like you aren't interested in making any kind of setting for the enamel pieces, but that might also be an option if you could come up with something fairly quick to do like maybe wire wrapping them or using pre-fabricated coin mounts. Otherwise, you should be able to re-fire them to hide the chips. Just heat them back to the melting point of the glass and let it soften a little to hide the chips. Different colors do have different melting points, but it shouldn't matter too much. If the colors used in the original design worked together when the piece was made it should also work fine for re-firing it. Good luck!

Tracie White said...

Hi
I am new to enamelling and wanted to know how you enamel both sides of a pendant,
The first side looks fab then when I try the other side the torch is blackening and melting the first side. Am I doing something wrong?

All help,would be most welcome... Sorry if I'm being a bit thick!!

Tracie

Copperheart said...

Hi Tracie,
You're not doing anything wrong, that's just what happens when you torch-fire. The prolonged contact with the flame blackens the enamel. I would recommend planning for it in your design and using black enamel on the back. If you want to make pendants with colors on both sides you might need to invest in an inexpensive ultralite kiln, which won't blacken the enamel because there is not flame involved.

Glenda said...

If I would put white base on first enamel on copper and use a yellow or orange opaque would I be able to get a more vivid color? Still new and want more yellow and oranges. Thank you.

Copperheart said...

Hi Glenda,
Hard to say without seeing what you are getting, but generally an opaque color should fire to its true color over copper. Sometimes the first layer comes out a little discolored or scorched but adding another layer should cover that. You can certainly try the white base coat and see if that helps, otherwise try more layers of the orange/yellow. Are you kiln firing or torch firing? What colors are you using?

littlecherryhill said...

Alison I am just playing around with a new batch of enamels. At this point in time I am doming the discs I am enamelling, do I need to counter enamel the back still? Or is that only necessary when enamelling a flat piece? Thanks so much!!

Copperheart said...

counter enamel is less necessary on a domed surface, but I would still use it if the metal is 20g or thinner or if the enamel is going to be thick. A thin layer of enamel on thicker metal should be fine. However, if it doesn't interfere with the design, I always put on counter-enamel just to be safe.

Nicola Matthews said...

Hi, amazing tutorial and information.

I wondered if the temperature of the studio can affect torch enamelling? I work in a garden shed which has been fine but the weather turned colder and now I'm having lots of problems. The enamels aren't fusing, it's as if the torch isn't hot enough. Which it may be but the torch is only a month old and I had been very pleased with it till this week. All my tools, metals and enamels are kept in the house when I'm not working with them.

Regards Nicola

Copperheart said...

Hi Nicola,
That's an interesting question. My first reaction is that the outside temperature shouldn't matter. I used to work in my parents' unheated basement and didn't notice a difference on warm or cold days. What kind of torch are you using? Is it possible that it might be running out of fuel? A lot of torches will continue to burn but gradually lose heat as they run low on fuel.

Nicola Matthews said...

Hi

I think you are right, after some experimenting it seems as if the torch runs out of fuel quicker on very cold days. I've found if a top it more frequently on the colder days it's ok.

Thanks for your help

Nicola

Sharyn Hanover said...

Great tutorial.. what do you use to dome certain shapes aside from circles. I have the common dapping block but don't find it useful for other shapes.. I would like to also set my piece in silver when finished. Do you use anything inside to make it higher so it fits the bezel without the bezel falling to much over the surface.. or does doming take care of it. so what tool does the doming of say a heart or triangle?

Thanks

Copperheart said...

Hi Sharyn,
to do other shapes I usually dome them in a round or oval block, then use a small hammer tap the edges down. I usually get a pretty low dome on the shaped pieces but the enamel adds some thickness so it's ok. As for the bezels, I just use a very narrow bezel wire and set the enamels normally. You could use a step bezel wire or put a layer of plastic or something under the enamel to bring it up if you wanted to.

Solo An said...

Hello, I really appreciate your tutorial, im just getting started and experimenting with enamels, however, can you refer me to a reliable supplier of enamels online? And also to smooth the enamel do i just need a normal jewelers file?, thank you

Copperheart said...

I almost always order my enamels from thompson enamel's website http://www.thompsonenamel.com/ they also sell tools, metals, kilns, and other items you need for enameling. As for smoothing the enamel, if you are smoothing the edges you can use a file followed by some sandpaper in increasingly fine grits. If you need to smooth the surface of the enamel you will need to use a grinding stone under water and then re-fire for a shiny finish.

Solo An said...

Thank you so much for the website and infornation

artistic rejuvenations said...

thanks for the tutorial! i'm very excited to try enameling. i've lamp-worked before, but thought enameling would be a great avenue for the creative inner me. xoxo

Talia Jewelry Design said...

hi - thanks for the tutorial. also, does the gauge of the metal matter for enamel to adhere too. for instance, it is easier to cut a 24g piece of copper for a pair of earrings (and lighter too) than 18g. thanks

Copperheart said...

Talia, generally 18 or 20 gauge metal is recommended for enamel pieces, and the thicker the metal is the thicker the enamel layer can be. That's not to say you can't enamel on thinner metal, but you will be more likely to have problems with cracking and chipping. A few things you can do if working with thinner metal are to enamel both sides of the piece, form the metal into a dome or other shape so it isn't just flat, and keep enamel layers as thin as possible.

Aila said...

I use a piece of ceramic plate in the kiln which protect the owen not to destroy it. You can purhase them from enamel shops.

Aila said...

Drill before enamelling and let it cool slowly. If you enamel only one side be sure the enamel surface is thinner than the metal. If not, enamel both sides. Because the enamel cracks out if it is thicker than the metal.

Alison said...

I have bought everything I need (I think) for enamelling copper. I have had a few tries but each time my powder is going into tiny balls and not sticking. I am wondering what I am doing wrong. Any ideas anyone?
I am using a butane torch, ball glass powders.

Copperheart said...

Hi Alison,
If you are using a torch, are you holding the flame on the enamel powder or on the back of the piece? If you aim the torch at the powder enamel, the enamel will melt before the metal gets hot, so the enamel will melt but not bond with the cool metal. I suggest placing the piece on a trivet and aiming the flame of the torch at the back of the metal.

Michele Janos said...

I just tried counter enameling and then pickling the piece to clean off the fire scale. In prior attempts I only scrubbed the fire scale off with a brush. After drying the piece I attempted to enamel the other side. When I put the torch to the piece the counter enamel popped off the piece. I thought it was a fluke so I tried it on another piece and got the same results. What am I doing wrong?

Copperheart said...

Michele- did you have this problem when you were just brushing off firescale rather than using pickle? A couple thoughts. First of all make sure your metal is really clean before applying the counter-enamel. I like to heat the metal with a torch and then pickle it before starting, and then I make sure I never never touch it with my fingers. Also make sure the piece is completely cool after firing the counter enamel, before you put it in the pickle. The sudden cooling of putting a hot piece into the pickle can damage the enamel.

2 Sisters Handcrafted said...

I'm thrilled to have found your blog! Thanks so much for your information and great tutorials as I'm just getting started. I would like to be able to make bangles from flat wire and round wire. Do I need to solder first or can I use the enamel to fuse the ends together on pieces where I'm ok with an overlap? Thanks for your time!!

Jess Kane said...

I am a ceramic artist just getting started with enameling. I am wondering about the "holding agent" - is it just dilute gum arabic, or CMC gum? this is what I would use in a glaze for better adherence. Also, I am looking in to using copper nuggets- not sheet copper. but only enameling parts of the nugget. This is where I would put the gum? I guess I am a bit confused with regards to the "front" and "back" when thinking in the round. Thank you!

shikha singh said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Crispin Heidel-Habluetzel said...

I was hoping to enamel onto some brass pieces, it looks like it might be possible, but I didn't know if pickling would work to make it a good medium or not. I will be using my dad's kiln and he and his wife both use it a lot for copper work. They said they didn't want the brass in there because just using some copper with a funny mix of who knows what made things fire kind of off for the next dozen uses. Will it work with torch or is there a safe method for sharing a kiln between metals?

Copperheart said...

2 Sisters- I wouldn't try to use enamel to join pieces of metal that are going to be subjected to any kind of wear. You will want to solder first using eutectic solder, which will withstand the temperatures in the kiln and is compatible with enamel. Good luck!

Copperheart said...

Jess- gum arabic will work fine as a holding agent. Put the gum on the copper where you want the enamel to go. You might still need to enamel one side at a time because the holding agent may not be strong enough to hold the grains of enamel on the underside of the piece. Keep in mind that if you are only partially enameling a piece of copper the un-enameled areas will oxidize, so you may need to clean the piece in an acid bath (I use citric acid) between and after firings.

Copperheart said...

Crispin- I don't know a lot about enameling on brass because it is not typically considered as suitable for enameling as copper, silver, and gold, due to the zinc content. I have heard of people enameling on brass though so I suppose its worth a try! Honestly I'm not sure about the brass contaminating the kiln and what you could do to prevent that beyond cleaning out the kiln between firings. Maybe the Zinc is the culprit? I would say try it with a torch and see what happens.

Sharyn Hanover said...

Can't understand why you would answer everyone else's questions and none of mine..

Copperheart said...

Check again Sheryn- I replied just after your previous comment.

Jenny said...

I would like to take a class in Los Angeles/Orange County area. The type of work I would like to do is with fine silver (very detailed items. I have experience with PMC/ACS and general metal smith experience. Any suggestions for the OC or LA area? Thank you in advance.

Copperheart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Copperheart said...

Sorry Jenny I don't know much about the area. Anybody out there know where one might be able to take enameling classes in the LA area?

Susan Brown said...

I bought a trinket kiln and need to ask you should I use or can I use kiln wash in it for enameling?

B. Sokolowski said...

Wow, thanks for such an informative blog! And, thanks for sharing your knowledge. I think you should write a book on enameling techniques, your Etsy pieces are wonderful.
I am just getting into enameling. I do wire work,metal clay, metal fabrication, and etching and looking forward to adding enameling to my designs. The information you have here is wonderful and also I've learned a lot just from reading the questions and comments.
I'm going to be using a Blazer large flame butane torch. Do you have any experience with it? I see some others use a torch with MAPP gas, but can't find out what kind of torch it is. Any ideas on the torch firing?
thanks
Barbara

Copperheart said...

Hi Susan,
I don't think you really need kiln wash. I've never used it in my trinket kiln.

Copperheart said...

Hi Barbara,
I actually use a butane torch for my occasional torch firing. I have one that's a bit bigger than the average kitchen torch and has a bigger flame. I find it works fine for smaller pieces, maybe around 1.5" in diameter or smaller. If you want to do larger pieces or a whole lot of torch firing it might be worth your while to get a bigger torch. Even a propane plumber's torch works fine.

Aila said...

I love that scalex. I have ever known about it but I read Linda Darty Kays book Art of Enameeling and tried it on bronze. Earlier it was so much eorkin way to clean clear metal face after enamelling. Now it was like a game. I ordered it from USA far away Finland. Now I am happy with my enamel work. There is so much to learn. I wonder if I could send a picture what I have been enamelled. Nut it might be imposdible here. Vidit www.facebook.com/jewelrysmithailasalminen.

Andy Currey said...

Hi, I read this with interest, as I have an unusual enamelling project on the go. I wish to enamel a blue rampant lion (like the Scottish emblem) on to a brass sword pommel. These are quite thick (1/2 inch roughly), so I wonder...can you enamel on to brass? Can you enamel on to a thick piece of metal (because of the firing from the bottom) and could you do something so fine as a rampant lion motif in a circular area only 1-1.5 inches in diameter? Any thoughts or ideas would be much appreciated. Many thanks.

Savor said...

Hi Barbara,

I'm new to your website thank you for the great tutorial!! I came across while looking for assistance on torch firing.

Here's the issue: All my copper pennies (dated before 1982)and copper tubing have been failures. I got an assortment of powders from metalclay and they simply aren't working.

I use a butane and propane torch (bought b/c of previous failures). I use a vingar/salt pickle to clean copper and nothing seems to work.

My enamels come out black, cracked and not fully fused to metal. I've tried Brenda Lewis' method as, well. Any thoughts as to what I'm doing wrong?

BTW, I am a photographer who got this notion...I wanted to enamel so I thought starting small with pennies and copper tubing was the way to go.

Thanks for any help you can give. I will enamel!!!! :)

Savor said...

CopperHeart...I didn't mean to call you Barbara lol! I had just read the last post you wrote and it was in my head. Silly me.

Copperheart said...

Andy-
This is a tricky one. I can't say that I have ever tried anything comparable but I have a few ideas for you. First of all it is possible to enamel on brass although I haven't tried it myself. Brass is not quite as compatible with enamel as copper, silver, and gold are but it is possible. Maybe get some scrap brass and do some experiments first. The thickness of the metal might be a problem in that it will be harder to get the metal up to the right temperature. If you have access to a kiln that would be preferable to a torch. Otherwise you will need to have quite a hot torch. You might want to grind your enamel down into a finer powder with a mortar and pestle, mix it with a little water or binder, and then very carefully wet pack it onto the design motif. Good luck!

Copperheart said...

Savor-
I think I know what the problem is. There are a couple ways to approach torch firing. If you apply your enamel to a cold piece of metal and apply the torch to the powdered enamel, the torch will kind of burn the enamel. You can only really apply the torch to bare metal or an already fired layer of enamel if you are starting cold. This is why you see in the photo that I am only heating the piece from the bottom. I apply enamel to one side and heat on the bare metal side, then clean the metal and apply enamel to the bare metal, and heat again from the previously fired side. Using this method one side will be blackened but because the enamel is already fused it won't burn off. I do this for pieces that will be in a setting so you won't see the back.
Alternately, if you apply the enamel to hot metal, you won't have this problem and you can heat the whole piece in the flame. So for instance when you are doing copper tubing, put the tubing on some kind of a rod or mandrel, heat the piece to glowing in the torch, and then roll it in some enamel powder, then continue to heat until the enamel fuses.
So basically avoid applying a torch to powdered enamel on cold metal. Hope that helps!