Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tutorial - Wet Packing Enamel

So far all the enameling tutorials I've posted have been based on sifting techniques. Sifting is great if you want an even layer of enamel over an entire surface, but sometimes you need a more controlled application of enamel. This is when you would use wet packing. Wet packing is used for several advanced enameling techniques, including cloisonne and champleve. It's a very simple technique, but it takes a bit of practice to get the hang of it. Before you begin, check out my Intro to Enameling tutorial for basic information about enameling.

Here's what you need:
  1. Enamel powders
  2. Water
  3. Small metal spatula/pick
  4. Plastic palette or spoons (optional)
  5. Kiln or torch for firing
  6. Firing supports, trivets, wire screens, etc
  7. Copper or Fine Silver
  8. Nitric acid and Baking Soda (if using copper)
Getting Started:
  • Prepare your metal for enameling. Here I am using a metal clay setting I made.
  • Wet your enamel powders. Many people use a plastic palette or plastic spoons to hold their wet enamels. I use the lids of my enamel jars. When the enamel dries out it just falls back into the container. Scoop a little enamel into whatever container you are using and add water drop by drop until you get the consistency you want. It takes a little experimentation to figure out how much water to add. I like to make mine a little wetter as I find that the water helps to carry the enamel into the corners and edges of the opening I'm filling. If you want a more controlled application keep the enamel a little drier.

Packing the Enamel:
  • Take your spatula or pick and scoop up a tiny blob of enamel. Place it on your piece in the center of the area you are enameling and use your tool to push the enamel into the area or shape you want. Keep adding enamel until you have covered the desired area and built up a thin, even layer. If you are filling an opening in a metal clay or etched piece, don't try to fill it up to the top all at once. It will take two or three layers.
  • Very carefully check your piece for stray grains of enamel. You will be able to see a single stray grain of enamel on your piece!

Firing the Enamel:
  • Dry your piece thoroughly by gently heating it with the torch or placing it on top of the kiln.
  • Fire in the kiln or with the torch until the enamel is smooth and glossy.
  • Continue to add coats and fire until you have achieved the thickness of enamel you need.
Between Firings:
  • Fine silver will stay clean when firing. Go right on to your next coat if needed.
  • Copper will oxidize in any areas not covered with enamel. This oxidation needs to be cleaned off before your next firing or it can pop off and get into your next coat of enamel. Sparex Pickle can do funky things to enamel, so you will need to clean it in a 5% nitric acid bath instead. Make sure you neutralize with baking soda and clean your piece really well to get rid of all the acid before you continue. (I've never tried it myself, but some of the alternative pickles like vinegar or citric acid would probably also work and not harm the enamel. If you try it let me know!)
That's it! Like I said, it's a very simple technique, but it forms the basis of nearly every advanced enameling technique. Good luck and happy enameling!


Sharon P said...

Thanks for this lovely tutorial. It's good to know I don't have to purchase liquid enamels to achieve the same effect. Did you use a stencil for the floral design?

I have used vinegar and salt as pickle and it works well. Just one cup of white vinegar to one tablespoon of salt.

Copperheart said...

Hi Sharon. Glad you liked the tutorial, and thanks for the tip about the salt and vinegar pickle.

The flower design in the picture is applied by hand, not with a stencil. I hope you don't mind if I don't tell you exactly how I do it. It's my one trade secret I would like to keep.

Sharon P said...

Not at all, we all have our tricks of the trade!

Kim said...

Sharon P, thank you so much for that alternative pickle recipe! I've been staring at my once-fired blackened creations all day, desperately wondering how to get the oxides off. said...

Hi Copperheart: Thanks from me too for your concise intro to enamelling. I expecially liked the info on the electro etching. It looks straightforward.
I have been making silver jewelry for about a dozen years. I have ordered a starter enamel kit and am looking forward to colorful creations.

The directions frequently refer to letting the piece dry before firing. I have been keeping my pickle warm by putting it on a crock pot base. I figure that this would work for drying the copper as well, but it takes up a lot of space on the workbench. I am thinking that, for a more compact drier I might
use a coffee cup heater. I see them all the time for
a buck or two at the thrift store.

Also, it looks to me like a tripod could be fashioned from galvanized iron or metal from an ordinary "tin" can (tin plated steel).

Chuck in Houghton, MI

Donna said...

I really like this, good info. but every time I try the enamel stays gritty, never melts and even looks a little burned. Not enough heat or too much?

Copperheart said...

I'm guessing not enough heat- what kind of kiln or torch are you using? If you are torch firing are you heating from the top or the bottom?

Passant Elrayes said...

Hi Alison thank you very much for these tutorials they r really helpful , i have tried torching the enamel and it melted but when it cools down it won't stick to the brass , i fired it from the bottom first and i waited till the metal was red but it didn't stick , i used the wet packing method . what did i do wrong ???

Copperheart said...

Brass isn't a great metal for enameling. Try copper or fine silver instead.

Passant Elrayes said...

thnx for ur reply but what can i do or there is something else for brass i can use i like brass more !!

Copperheart said...

brass is not compatable with glass enamel. The enamel will not bond to the surface (just like you are experiencing) If you want color on brass try a resin or colored patina instead. If you want an explanation of the science involved you can check out a book on enameling because I don't think I'll do it justice.

Passant Elrayes said...

Thank you , you r really nice and helpful :)