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First steps in torch fire enamels


#1

To the enamelists of the group,

I was planning at some stage in the future to have a go at enameling
but I’ve been asked to make some cufflinks with a company logo and
for that I will need to use enamels. I’ve never done it before and
don’t have a kiln, nor the funds to buy one. I only found out the
other day that you can torch fire enamels so I’m excited about that.
I have ordered some lead-free vitreous enamels and am looking forward
to having a play but I have a few questions:

  1. The enamels come ready ground and I’m assuming that the colours
    can be mixed. Am I right in thinking this?

  2. Using the torch, I’m presuming that I’ll need to flux the piece.
    Do I use flux where the enamel is to go or would I just paint it on
    the bare surfaces of the metal?

  3. As for soldering, when constructing a cufflink which is to be
    enameled, would I solder the parts together before or after doing
    the enameling?

  4. What do people use to finish the enameled surface?

Any advice on the subject would be much appreciated.

Helen
UK


#2

Hi Helen,

There is a terrific article right here on Ganoksin on the subject:

Hope this answers some of your questions and gets you started on the
right track.

Laney


#3

Helen, I’ve worked with enamels a little. Here are my answers to
your questions. I’m sure the more experienced enamelists, especially
those with lots of torch-fire under their belts, will correct any
errors in my response :slight_smile:

The enamels come ready ground and I'm assuming that the colours can
be mixed. Am I right in thinking this? 

No, enamels cannot be mixed like paint. If you mix, say, blue enamel
and yellow enamel, you get a very pointillist version of green, if
you get green at all. Mostly you’ll get a disappointing glop color.
That said, there are enamels ground finely enough to be used as
paint, and those can be mixed to create hues and shades. I’ve only
seen one variety of these, a set of Japanese leaded enamels I bought
from Enamelworks here in Seattle.

Using the torch, I'm presuming that I'll need to flux the piece. Do
I use flux where the enamel is to go or would I just paint it on
the bare surfaces of the metal? 

Enamel actually melds with the metal at the very topmost molecular
level. Anything that gets between the metal and the enamel–dirt,
flux, paint–will interfere with required adhesion, and your enamel
will fall off. The surface of the metal must be absolutely clean and
grease-free before you apply enamel to it.

As for soldering, when constructing a cufflink which is to be
enameled, would I solder the parts together before or after doing
the enameling? 

Any and all processes that require heat must be done before
enameling. Also, you must use a special solder called IT solder which
is formulated to withstand the higher temperatures the piece will
undergo during enameling. IT solder has a higher melt point than hard
solder. I’ve never tried enameling on a soldered piece before, but
I’ve heard tales that even IT solder sometimes fails.

The solution here is to enamel your logo piece and then bezel set it
in the constructed cufflink.

What do people use to finish the enameled surface? 

There are special stones called alundum stones that come in
different grits and are used to grind down the enamel surface until
it is flat. Flat diamond files can also be used. These also come in
varying grits. A couple pieces of critical 1) Do all
your grinding under water; you are grinding glass, and you want all
those tiny glass particles kept out of the air you’re breathing. 2)
Grinding the surface of the enamel dulls it; once you’ve ground the
surface flat, you have to refire to re-establish the gloss.

Make sure you test each of your enamel colors. Torch firing often
produces a different color than expected. I remember a lead-free
"ivory" that torch-fired to a metallic yellow-green. It was a
wonderful color, as long as you didn’t need it to be ivory.

You cannot pickle enamel for very long if at all. Pickle etches into
the surface of the enamel, and then you have to fire it again.

Depending on the amount of enamel you need on the top surface of the
metal, you may need to “counterenamel” the back of the piece. I know
next to nothing about the science involved, but enameling changes the
ability of the metal to flex and expand, reducing the flexibility on
the enameled side. If there is too much enamel on that one side, the
metal will bow and pop! the enamel comes off. Counterenamel is
putting enamel on the back of the piece to balance out the expansion.
Another very good reason for bezel setting the finished enameled
piece.

You don’t say how you are getting the logo created in enamel. If the
logo is anything other than a plain shape with just one color on it,
you’ll have to do either champleve or cloisonne technique, and
neither is what I’d call beginner work.

Before you accept this job, read through a beginner’s book on
enameling. There are several, including one by Dorothy Cockrell in
the UK. There is much more to enameling than meets the eye.


#4

Hi Barbara,

Thanks so much for your reply. You’ve given very good answers to all
my questions.

The solution here is to enamel your logo piece and then bezel set
it in the constructed cufflink. 

That’s an excellent solution - thanks. That hadn’t occurred to me
but would work wonderfully.

You don't say how you are getting the logo created in enamel. If
the logo is anything other than a plain shape with just one color
on it, you'll have to do either champleve or cloisonne technique,
and neither is what I'd call beginner work. 

Sorry I forgot to mention. The logo demands the use of the cloisonne
technique. I’m not worried about making the actual design and
soldering the “wires” to the base - it’s the enameling that will
probably cause more problems.

I’ve not committed to it yet, but I’ve bought some enamels with
which to have a “play”. If it proves too difficult I’ll inform my
brother- in-law that I can’t do it, but I’ll have a go first. Your
idea of doing the enamel piece and bezel setting it is inspired and
solves a lot of my problems - thanks. It means I can solder the
cufflink backs in the normal way, using hard solder and just treat
the enameled panel like a stone - brilliant!

Helen
UK


#5

Hi Helen,

Well, soldering the wires to the base in itself will pose many
problems–enamel really doesn’t like solder, as mentioned in the
recent posts about IT solder and so on. When I was doing cloissonne I
usually fired down a thin layer of clear enamel first and then laid
out the wire work on top of that. A gentle firing will usually soften
the clear enamel enough to catch the bottom of the wires and so you
have your little areas to fill with the ground colors. The wires need
to be evenly sunk in the first layer so the colors can’t melt under
the wires and bleed from one cloisson to another. (This doesn’t
really apply if your colors are opaque but is important if you are
using transparents). You also have to plan for the extra height you
will need to accommodate the first layer and the subsequent layers
being deep enough to establish the colors you want. Again, probably
not a problem if using opaques.

Just some thoughts on your project. And, by the way, whatever
happened to those pearls?

Janet


#6
I'm not worried about making the actual design and soldering the
"wires" to the base - it's the enameling that will probably cause
more problems. 

The wires are not soldered onto the metal. There is a coat of flux
which is actually enamel not what we call flux. No, I don’t know
why. This is what holds the wire in place, not solder.

marilyn


#7

Hi Janet,

Thanks for the advice. Would it not be okay to solder the wires with
the IT or enameling solder? If not then your suggestion is a very
good one. It will be opaques that I’ll use.

I’m itching to get on with the pearls and am a little embarrassed
that I’ve not yet been able to get back to the group as to my
progress (or lack thereof). I’m holding an order hostage awaiting
payment from a customer who asked me to rebuild her bracelet. I went
ahead and became out of pocket in buying the silver to do the job as
payment was promised any day, but then the customer found themselves
in financial dire straights. Their situation is now improved but
I’ve not seen the money yet. When I do I’ll be sourcing the pearlised
paint and getting on with the pearls - oh and letting her have her
new bracelet.

Helen
UK


#8

Helen,

If you can avoid solder altogether you will usually be much better
off. If you are using opaques you could lay down a layer of any
color, fire it, and then lay out your wire design on that. Your next
firing should get your wires stuck into your first layer of enamel,
and then you pack your colors into the cloissons and fire them.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Ah but there are so many things that can
go wrong. I know several of the posts recommended books and videos
to check out before embarking on this project and I repeat that
advice.

Janet


#9

Helen,

There is a 1984 book, Enamels Enameling Enamelists by Glenice Lesley
Matthews that will give you a wealth of easy to follow information
on all kinds of enamelling.

It’s rather hard to get hold of (Amazon have none) but available
from the following: http://www.biblio.com/books/111359178.html

Enamelling is addictive and this small outlay that will repay you
100fold!

For examples of her work, go to
http://www.glenicelesleymatthews.com.au

Jane Walker
Australian Natural Gem Jewellery


#10

Brilliant, thanks Janet.

I won’t go straight into attempting to make the cufflinks or enamel
panels. I’ll do lots of preliminary experimentation first - that’s
the scientist in me probably! I’ve got a few other jobs I need to do
first but I’m looking forward to having a play. I’m 100% sure I will
run into problems and may be back to ask more questions. Hopefully
I’ll report back soon. This project and the pearls are eager to be
got out and tackled. There aren’t enough hours in the day or days in
the week!

Helen
UK


#11

Helen (and others interested in enamels)

Lillian Jones has a tutorial on enameling on silver
http://www.enamellist.com/tutorial.php

that you might enjoy looking at. jeanette


#12

The Lillian Jones tutorial which Jeanette was kind enough to post is
very informative and helpful. However, I have an alternative way of
making the rims around the cloisonne. I prepare my silver disk much
the same as shown in the tutorial, except that I do not fuse a rim
around the silver disk, nor punch a hole in it. As shown in the
tutorial, I dome the fine silver piece, texture it, apply the wires,
fire etc… Then, after it is all fired, and stoned, I set it as one
would set a regular cabachon, in a bezel, on a silver back, with an
attached bail, for hanging it on a chain.

My own feeling is that punching a hole in it, diminishes it, rather
than elevating it to the status it deserves.

Sometimes I keep the setting simple, other times I add stones to the
setting, or other decorative elements.

Alma Rands