Enamelling sterling silver and copper


I need some advice on enameling. I bought the starter kit and a kiln
from Rio Grande and a book. I’ve spoken to some people too and seem
to be getting conflicting advice.

some say only 800 silver, some sterling and fine.

I wish to enamel sterling silver and copper.

some say you have to buff the glass down after enameling some not. I
don’t see how if the piece is concave with bends i.e. like a little

Please can someone give me some instructions. I got an enamel holding
agent which is a powder. Apparently it is applied like this

first put lavender oil or wallpaper glue onto your item, then
apply flux. this is burnt at the recommended temperature (either
soft/medium/hard). once this process has been completed the
enamel is applied and burnt in kiln.

Which makes sense but must the metal be stripped of grease first?
Would the stripper I use before rhodium plating work or do I need
another acid?

Apparently soldered bits can fall apart but I think I know a way to
over come that. Any advice would be most welcome.

Leza McLeod

Leza -

I enamel on sterling, fine silver, and copper. Any metal you enamel
on must be clean, although I don’t think you have to strip it first.
The FS and copper, I have only had to scrub it with dish soap and a
non-scratching dish “scrubbie”; make sure the copper doesn’t have
residual tarnish, use 400- or 600-grit wet/dry sandpaper. The
sterling I first depletion guild; when it comes out of the pickle and
is rinsed, it’s plenty clean. Just touch only on the edges.

I haven’t used Rio’s enamels, or a kiln; I use Thompson Enamels, or
lump enamels with my acetylene torch. But it all turns out…apply
enamel powder to clean metal, apply heat to enamel and metal, remove
heat before any disaster occurs, don’t touch anything hot. Success,
with varying levels of finesse.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. Once you start
getting enamel to melt, it’s up to you to control how much heat, how
long, where the enamel is, what color, etc. As many different
subtleties as there are enamelists. Don’t forget to counter-enamel
the back, with same thickness as the front.

Traditional enamels (as for jewelry, usually convex on the face) are
“stoned” with an abrasive medium, then finer and finer, and may or
may not be polished, depending on the maker’s desire. I have made
lovely pieces without the stoning process, just fire-polish. But the
BEST I"ve done included the labor of stoning and polishing.

However, if you are making something like a flower, with petals that
curve & swoop, that won’t be practical, so don’t worry about it.
Sometimes you have to look at the giver of advice and evaluate where
they come from…if someone makes enamel pendants on gold, their
advice will be different than someone who makes sculptural enamels.
If you want to make pendants of gold, listen to that person’s advice.

There’s lot of info on the web. I would recommend starting with the
Enamelist Society,


“Glass on Metal” publication,

But don’t stop there. The more you search, the more you will find.

I hope this helps,
Kelley Dragon

My brain is mush today, so some of the terms escape me!

  • Enamel prefers fine silver (999), but you can do it on sterling as
    long as you bring the pure silver to the surface by repeated

  • Copper is also usuable.

  • For degreasing, you just need to scrub it thoroughly (very

  • Enamel flux is not like the flux used for soldering…instead it’s
    a base layer of (usually transparent) enamel that is fired on in the
    first pass.

  • You don’t really need a holding agent for most basic purposes.

The best way is to cut out a stack of copper squares/rounds and
start experimenting!.

seem to be getting conflicting advice. 

If you buy more books or go to more classes, you’ll get even more
conflicting advice. J

People find a way that works for them and that’s what they teach.

Very few people have taken the time to prove which steps are
necessary and which ones are not.

Even if they did, it might not work for you. You might live in an
area that has more sulfur in the air because of an industrial factory
nearby. Or they might live where the water is pure and you live where
there are minerals in the water, so they don’t have to used distilled

I don’t know whether altitude makes a difference. (I suppose it
might since the air is thinner at higher altitudes - less oxygen to
oxidize with. Maybe glass melts at a lower temperature at high
altitudes?) It could also be that their kiln says it’s working at
1450F and it’s really at 1490F. Or they might be working with mostly
blue enamels and you might be working with reds. Your vendor’s copper
sheet might have different impurities in it than my vendor’s sheet.

There just seem to be a lot of “it depends on.” in this craft.

Experiment and document seems to be the way to proceed.

some only 800 silver, some sterling and fine. 

The less silver in the mix, the more likely the non-silver
components will oxidize. The more oxidation, the more cleanup you may
need to do. Sterling is sturdier than fine silver, so it’s a better
fit for some types of jewelry. Haven’t worked with 800 silver.

I wish to enamel sterling silver and copper. 


some say you have to buff the glass down after enameling some not.
I don't see how if the piece is concave with bends i.e. like a
little flower. 

It depends. If you like the way it looks, you don’t. If you want to
smooth it up a bit, or make it more shiny or smooth, you do.

Please can someone give me some instructions. I got an enamel
holding agent which is a powder. Apparently it is applied like
this first put lavender oil or wallpaper glue onto your item, then
apply flux. this is burnt at the recommended temperature (either
soft/medium/hard). once this process has been completed the enamel
is applied and burnt in kiln. 

Haven’t heard of using wallpaper glue. Are they recommending it to
prevent oxidation or to hold the flux/enamel on?

Which makes sense but must the metal be stripped of grease first?
Yes. I've read that oil from your skin must also be cleaned off. I
haven't tested "not" doing that, as it makes sense to me. 
Would the stripper I use before rhodium plating work or do I need
another acid? 

I can’t help you on that one. What is the brand name and chemical
makeup of the stripper?

Apparently soldered bits can fall apart but I think I know a way
to over come that. Any advice would be most welcome. 

I found some Extra Hard solder for sale by Otto Frei,


It’s got a rated temperature of 1540F, which is 40F higher than the
temperature I’m supposed to use for my flux on copper. I just got it
in this week and haven’t tried it. I’ve also read that one can put
refractory clay over the solder seams. Apparently it bleeds off some
of the heat. Haven’t tried that yet, as the Extra Hard solder seemed
to be an easier and less messy solution.

Best of luck!

Check out Open Studio - Grains of Glass Enamel Artists They specialize in
enameling. I’ll send you an invite.

Hi Liza,

sterling, Britannia and fine silver also copper are great for
enamelling. The higher the silver content, the softer the finished
article - so fine silver can distort & crack or even throw off the
enamel. Try to use the silver before heating, or avoid firescale
which affects the colours. To strip grease off the metal, use fine
pumice powder and a soft brush (old, clean toothbrush will do, or a
bristle brush) and then don’t touch with your greasy fingers! Or
simply washing up liquid and a brush would do.

Since there are an awful lot of other questions in your post, I
suggest you buy Ruth Ball’s book, which is the one I recommend to
beginners - it is comprehensive, accurate and beautiful -
Enamelling” by Ruth Ball, published by A&C Black Sept 2006,

Happy enamelling

Dear Leza:

Enameling is a whole world, a very exciting one, and one that
combines art and science. I recommend Linda Darty’s book The Art of Enameling which is available from Rio or Amazon among others.

She wrote this book as a textbook, and it is answers just about any
questions you might have. It discusses the process in sequenced
steps, and includes lots of trouble-shooting advice.

Enamel is powdered glass with color added through various oxides.
When you put it on appropriate metals, and fire it in a kiln at
approximately 1350 degrees F to 1550 degrees F, the enamel becomes
liquid and fuses into a sheet of glass.

The metals that are most commonly used are copper, fine silver, and
some alloys of gold. Copper can be used when it is cleaned; a simple
way to do this is to buy copper cleaner at the grocery store, clean
the copper with it under running water. When the water “sheets” over
the copper, it is clean. You can clean fine silver in pickle and
rinse it thoroughly, or you can put the piece in the kiln briefly to
burn away the grease.

Fine silver is a much better metal to use than sterling silver or
other alloys of silver because, since it is pure silver, the various
enamel colors are much more unlikely to react to the metal alloy.
Copper is similar, as long as you remove the firescale. Sterling
silver can be used if you “raise the fine silver” by annealing the
sterling, pickling, and repeating the process 4 or 5 times.

Firing metal at 1500 degrees F means that any solder you use on the
piece must be of a higher melting temperature than your kiln.
Eutectic solder or IT solder work well since they have an
appropriate melting temperature. They are very hard solder, so be
sure of your soldering skills before you use it.

In general, you do not need a holding agent if you are wet packing
enamel onto a flat or nearly flat surface. If you are sifting enamel,
or working on a curved surface, you can spray a mixture of distilled
water and a holding agent like Klyr-fire on to the bare metal, then
sift, then repeat the Klyr-fire and sift lightly a second time.

Flux is not the flux that you use in soldering, which is a liquid
that facilitates the flow of solder in the areas that you want. Flux,
in enameling, is clear enamel - powdered glass. Flux is made for
different purposes, and is often used as the first layer on enamel
fired on a piece. It offers a buffer for some colors that might react
to the metal. Some flux is hard and can be high fired and used as a
very solid first layer of enamel into which cloisonne wires can be

There are various methods of finishing enamels, including flash fire
which is a final firing to bring the enamel to a high gloss. It
would be appropriate for your flowers.

Opaque enamels are colors that you cannot see through. Transparent
enamels are colors that you can see through. While you cannot mix
the powdered enamel and get a new color - you’d get polka dotted
enamel - you can fire subsequent layers of enamel and build up
beautiful subtle colors and shading, something like the effect of
water colors.

If you’re interested, I’d recommend Linda Darty’s book, and get in
touch with The Enamelist Society at The Enamelist Society Inc.

We’re offering a conference at Arrowmont craft school in September,
and we can probably also put you in touch with enameling guilds in
your area.

Marcia Rae Design
(Vice President - The Enamelist Society)

When you heat enamel, there are certain chemical reactions that
happen. Enamel is powdered glass, most often with metal oxides added
that produce various colors. When it is applied to an appropriate
metal and heated to between about 1350 degrees F to 1550 degrees F,
it loses its powdered quality, “melts” and fuses into a sheet of

Choosing the temperature level of the kiln to cause this reaction
depends on several factors. First, different glasses have different
co-efficients of expansion, which means they need more or less heat
to get to the fusing state. Generally, enamel manufacturers have
already taken this into account, so enamels fire at the range I
mentioned above. If you look at the Thompson enamel charts, you will
see that the colors suitable for copper, gold and silver are labeled
Medium temperature/Medium expansion enamels, so you know they will
all work within this temperature range.

There is a relationship between the temperature of the kiln (within
these ranges for non-experimental enameling), and how long you fire
the piece. Many people choose to “high fire” which means using a
higher kiln temperature and shorter time for the piece to be in the
kiln. You can use a slightly lower temperature and fire a little
longer. For example, if you fire at 1500 degrees F, you might want to
leave a small piece of jewelry in the kiln for 1 minute, which at
1375 degrees F, you might want to fire for 2 minutes.

This is also not a mystery. Fusing enamel in a kiln is causing
predictable scientific reactions that vary with the specific
qualities of the enamel, the metal, and the heat. Enamel goes through
several noticeable stages while it is in the kiln. First, it looks
like powder. As it heats, it begins to fuse a little, and looks more
like sugar crystals. Then, in an early stage of fusing, it has melted
into one surface which has the rough texture of orange peel. Finally,
it fuses fully into a smooth glassy shiny surface. You can observe
these stages. How much heat and how much time are the variables that
you are working with.

If you think you have minerals in your water, use distilled water to
be sure that you aren’t adding any unwanted elements to the mix. If
you have a de-humidifier, the water that comes out of it is
distilled. Saves a lot of money to pour it into a water jug rather
than down the sink.

I have never heard that the quality of the air or the altitude
affects kiln enameling. What is really going on is the chemical
reaction from putting enamel under high temperatures.

There is a difference in oxidation on metals that surround the place
you want to enamel, and oxidation in the enameling process itself. If
you enamel a copper piece of jewelry, the parts of the piece that do
not have enamel on them will get oxidized, and that is called
firescale. These need to be removed, unless you want to use them as
an element of your piece. Fine silver doesn’t have this problem, but
it is softer. Sterling silver will oxidize. It doesn’t matter if you
heat - anneal - the metal before you put it in the kiln since the
kiln will anneal it anyway when it is fired at full temperature.

Many enamelists “set” their enamels into pieces of jewelry just as
jewelers’ set stones into a ring or brooch. This eliminates oxidized
metal in the setting, and allows you to use stronger/different metal
than fine silver.

If your enamel is chipping off, that is a problem of too thin metal
for the thickness of the enamel layers. Unless you are using very
thick metal, you generally counter-enamel the piece which means
putting a layer of enamel on the back of the piece so that the back
and front of the enameled piece have equivalent pressure pulling on
the metal. Champleve is a technique that allows you to enamel into
troughs or depressions in the metal without counter-enameling.

When you experiment with different colors of enamel, you will learn
which ones are more sensitive to heat. There is a difference from
color to color because they contain different oxides. Generally, reds
and pinks, for example, are more apt to “burn out” and turn ugly
colors if you heat them too high and/or too long.

Enameling is not magic; it is however, a complex art form in which
the scientific/chemical components of the materials as you heat them
play a significant part in your result. Unlike some other art forms
where the materials themselves are stable and non-players in the
eventual result, the chemical changes in enamel must be mastered to
create the results you want.

This isn’t just a pain in the neck; it actually gives you a huge
range of techniques available for your designs. And, you don’t have
to learn them all at once. To start, try the more stable transparent
blues and greens, and after you’ve enameled one layer, apply them a
second time slightly differently. You’ll get some beautiful results.

Linda Darty has laid this all out, step-by-step in her book The Art
of Enameling, and I’d recommend that as the place to start. Ruth Ball
is great also, and there are many other useful books.

Hope this helps,

Marcia Rae Design
(VP- The Enamelist Society)