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How to Enamel | The Bench

How to Enamel | The Bench

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Whether you’re new to enamelling or you’d just like to brush up on your knowledge, we can help. In our guide on how to enamel, we’ll talk you through the ins and outs of the process to get you started.

How to Enamel

Step 1: Preparing the metal for enamelling

Enamel can be done on a variety of metals, here are some top tips on preparing your metal ready for enamelling.

Enamelling is commonly done on copper, fine silver and 18ct or 22ct gold. Note alloys containing zinc and nickel are unsuitable as the enamel tends to react and not fuse to the surface.

When enamelling, it is always worth remembering that cleanliness is key and each metal type requires different preparation:

  • Copper – prepare your metal by using abrasive papers to remove any oxides. We then recommend you pickle the metal before applying any enamel.
  • Fine silver and gold – clean the metal using a brass brush. Or alternatively use a glass brush under running water with protective gloves on.

Once your metal is cleaned and prepared you can get started with applying the enamel. We have put together some basic step by steps which you can follow here.

Step 2: Counter Enamel

Metal warping due to the high temperature of the kiln can cause cracks in enamel so it is important to apply a layer to the back beforehand, to create equal stress on both the front and back of the piece. You can do this by applying a layer of counter enamel to the piece.

It’s worth noting that thinner and/or larger pieces are more like to warp, as are flat pieces, rather than domed pieces.

As a general rule we suggest: 

  • 1mm or lower should be counter-enamelled
  • 1mm-1.3mm may need to be counter-enamelled, depending on size and shape
  • 1.3mm of thicker does not usually need to be counter-enamelled

Counter enamel can be applied using sifting, wet packing or with liquid enamel.

Sifting Enamel

Step 3: Applying Enamel

Depending on the enamels used, and the desired effect, a variety of methods can be used:

  • Sifting – dry powder can be applied directly onto the metal or over a flux layer
  • Wet process – finely ground powder is mixed in water can be applied to the metal using a paintbrush.
  • Painting Enamel – special painting enamel powder is mixed with painting medium (often pine oil) and painted onto the surface of a flux or coloured layer (usually white) and fired in layers.
  • Liquid enamel – can be painted, sprayed or dipped.
Applying the enamel

Step 3: Firing

Any moisture needs to be dried off before firing, especially oil from painting medium, as the oil will burn. You can do this by leaving wet pieces under a lamp, or on a trivet above the kiln.

Firing times will vary depending on the piece and the temperature of the kiln, usually between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. Don’t forget to check the temperatures of your kiln before you start firing.

When firing the enamel will go through three stages as it melts:

1. Crystalline/granular  

2. Orange peel effect

3. Smooth and fully fired

Getting ready to fire the enamel

Health and Safety Tips for enamelling

It is also being mindful of these health and safety considerations whilst enamelling:

  • Keep the work area free from food or drink to avoid contamination and accidents
  • Enamel is a powder so use in a well ventilated area and use a respirator mask designed for dust
  • Wear heat-protective gloves taking items in and out of the kiln 
  • Wear protective goggles to protect eyes from shards of fired enamel which may ‘ping’ off a piece, and use welders goggles if firing for long periods of time or vocationally
  • Use water when sanding or stoning enamel to prevent inhalation of airborne glass particles
  • Pieces coming out of the kiln are HOT! Allow to cool completely before handling.

Final enamelling tips

  • Cleanliness and keeping colours separate and uncontaminated is key to successful enamelling.
  • Finished enamelled pieces will not withstand being heated again. Think about how you can solder beforehand, cold connections and set pieces into mounts.
  • Finished pieces are fragile – protect them and treat them with care.

Please note the first image in this blog are necklaces by Ruth Ball from her book, Enamelling by Ruth Ball

Want to get started? You will find what you need to get started in Cooksongold’s extensive range of enamelling supplies and, for an extra helping hand, why not browse our selection of enamelling books?

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Author: Cooksongold

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