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Torch vs. Kiln firing of enamel

I am thinking of learning to work with enamel, but I don’t have a
kiln. Anyone care to give opinions on torch vs. kiln firing? I do
have a butane torch.

Karen Minturn Brown

Karen -

Although torch firing enamel isn’t difficult, you do need more heat
than a small butane torch will allow in most instances unless you
are working really tiny. I suggest you look into getting a small tank
of MAAP gas (found at most US hardware supply stores) and start with
that. Remember that your results won’t be the same as fine cloisonne
enamelwork, but it can be a wonderful way to introduce yourself to
enamel and some very talented enamelists work exclusively with torch
fired techniques.


Karen- it depends on what you want. If you just want to experiment
and play around a bit before making a big investment, try torch
enameling. You can see the different stages of the glass melt more
easily and learn the to recognize the different stages of firing.
It’s fast and fun but I think a little limited.

If you fall in love with enameling and decide to get serious about
enameling invest in a good kiln. The heat is more even and
controlled. I haven’t found torch enameling very successful for
counter enameling.

Counter enameling is important for stability and to keep pieces from
warping or distorting. It can also be very beautiful. I like for the
backs of my pieces to be as pretty or prettier than the front. In a
kiln you can fire larger pieces and do many more layers. I like
playing around with different colors and layers of transparent
enamels to achieve a very different look than just one color. It also
adds a depth that is so very lovely.

To see some very fine enameling look at Faberge’s or James Miller’s

I love to enamel and wish I had more time to play with it. I could
easily spend decades doing it but I’m running out of time.

I often wish I had ten lifetimes to master so many things.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.

Jo Haemer

This subject prompts me to come back to the “philosophical” issue in
the jewelry mantra of beauty, rarity and durability.

I collect kitchen “goldware” from antique and second hand shops as a
minor hobby. Yes it is pretty (= beauty) but no more pretty than
other glazes which are not gold and cannot be differentiated with the
naked eye. Is it durable? No - it is less durable. Even the slightest
scouring removes gold atoms. Is it rare? Yes gold at 3 ppb in Earth
crust is rare but Te is only 1 ppb so what if you were to use a Te
alloy in the glaze (or one of the less costly PGEs)? For that matter,
enamelling experts here may be able to suggest many other "gold-like"
glazes and enamels which surpass gold in beauty, rarity and
durability. And the market would yawn?


I had the same problem when I found my interest in enameling, no
kiln. But I am set up for metalworking and have an oxy/acetylene
torch (I use a Smith Little Torch rather than a full-sized torch
body). After reading Linda Darty’s book, “The Art of Enameling”, I
was inspired to try torch firing. I love it, and understand that
there aren’t any enamelingtechniques which cannot be done with a

In the end, it is probably more cost-effective too, as kilns can use
an awful lot of electricity.

While there may be a very few things which are more convenient to
manage with a kiln setup, I have come to believe I have more control
over the process by being able to see everything happen right in
front ofme. Besides, watching the powdered enamel fuse right before
my eyes is neat-o!

If your goal is to do larger pieces, then you might want to
eventually invest in a kiln, but torch firing is a great way to
learn howit all works.

Have fun, and check out too!


Karen, a butane torch will not get hot enough to do enameling. I
have never used a kiln, but have been experimenting with torch
enameling for a few months and have found Barbara Lewis’s book
Painting With Fire to be very helpful. She also has a website that’s
chock full of good advice, pics of other people’s work and a forum.
Personally, I have been using a MAPP torch from Home Depot, a
Bernzomatic. I’ve been happy so far using the torch head it came
with, but Barbara recommends the Hot Head torch head that sells for
about $40. I may move up to that soon. It’s used by lamp workers and
gives a very hot, concentrated flame. You can get the enamels very
reasonably. Again, Barbara recommends Thomson’s and that’s what I’ve
used. They’ve got a great selection of colors and I’ve had lots of
fun playing with them. I’ve primarily enameled on copper and brass,
but some people also enamel on silver. There’s lots of info online
and a number of videos on YouTube. It’s really not difficult. It’s a
matter of practice and timing, a bit like learning to solder!

I use a high quality butane torch exclusively for torch firing
enamels. The butane torch does limit the size you can enamel however
for small work around 1 1/2 inch or so it works perfectly. I highly
recommend watching Pauline Warg’s Basic Jewelry Enameling Torch
Fired Tutorial video.

She shows you how to counter enamel using a torch and I have recently
tried the technique and have had amazing results!


Torch enamelling may be fine for small non perfect items, but ti
achieve high quality enamelling a kiln is a must. None of my
professional enameller friends here in the UK do torch fired
enamels. How could you achieve this quality of enamelling with a

Peace and good health to all metalsmiths James Miller FIPG

I was wondering why trinket kilns have not been mentioned. I have one
and I did a limited amount of work with one, but it worked quite fine
for me.

There is one for $178.00 @ ,
shipping included.

I would get a Pyrex bowl to use for a lid so I could see what was
happening while I was firing the piece.

I have done torch enamelling with both a handheldpropane torch from
the hardware store and more often a bunsen burner running on propane.
I did however, cut half the top of a coffee can off the long way
making in effect a small “kiln” of sorts to catch the flame and bring
the heat up a bit faster. But you can definitely melt glass grains
with a small handheld propane bottle. I made pieces up to 3 inches
across with that method. I made so many enamel pieces like this.
steady for about 2 years. cheap and easy. I also had a few enamelling
kilns I built but for a one or two off, this method usually worked


i dissagree to torch firing being only any use for small or imperfect
items, i think torchfiring has been much maligned and has way more
scope and potential than you might think. i looked at your examples
and these are more suited to a kiln but i think there are more
methods developing now BECAUSE of torch firing. i also think any
method that makes enamelling easier to access brings power to the
art, i do not think it devalues or degrades the quality.

Hello James,

I have never had a problem doing high end cloisonne with torch
firing. A lot of people are still skeptical of the quality of
enameling with a torch. I have used one exclusively since 1990. It
is just a matter of time and experience using a torch for firing
vitreous enamel before people come around to seeing the benefits of
firing enamels with a torch. I have heard the argument many times
that color and quality is not possible with a torch but I never had
a problem except for when I was first learning and experimenting
with the process. Being skeptical of a new idea has always been the
way things first start out. Nothing is written in stone. Your just
cheating yourself if you think that way.


Torch enamelling may be fine for small non perfect items, but to
achieve high quality enamelling a kiln is a must. 

Simply not true.

How could you achieve this quality of enamelling with a torch? 

I suggest you take a class from Marcus Synnot, who can show you how.

Marcus is a retired Australian farmer who became a very talented

He’s self taught. He couldn’t afford a kiln when he started
enameling so he used a torch. Since he didn’t have the “benefit” of
experienced folks telling him he couldn’t do it, he taught himself to
do plique-a-jour with a torch.

I think that’s a lesson in life for us all! Lots of things in life
are possible if we work at it both hard and smart.

I’ve held these pieces in my hand, they are exquisite. The colors
are pure and wonderfully translucent:

He’s also a very good instructor.

That said, much of the torch-fired work I’ve seen has "washed out"

I don’t know if that’s the artist’s chosen color palette, gunk from
the torch (propane-oxygen is MUCH better for this than acetylene),
or if it’s an artifact of careless or untrained torch work. As you
can see from Marcus Synnot’s work, washed out or cloudy colours are
not a necessary outcome.

I met this gentleman, Joseph Spencer, at the Enamelist Society
conference a few years back. He’s very knowledgeable about
torch-fired enameling and teaches classes.

Haven’t taken a class from him, but I did purchase his “Pro Bead
Making Workstation with Lamp” kit from his online store. It comes
with instructions. The kit is VERY well laid out. I learned a lot
about how to organize my workspace for efficiency and comfort just
from this kit!

He also teaches a multi-torch system. I suspect that might enable
making larger pieces, but that’s supposition on my part. Too much to
learn, not enough time to learn it!

but I don't have a kiln. Anyone care to give opinions on torch vs.
kiln firing? I do have a butane torch. 

Not sure if butane will work. Acetylene does, and I think propane.
The great thing about kiln firing is you can do a lot at once. But
torch firing can be fun too.

What about a baby kiln, one of those open face things with a lid,
where you can fire a few earrings at a time? Those are quite


Hello Elaine,

Butane torches, as they are sold in hardware stores, will work for
firing very small or delicate enamels. As far as using trinket or
beehive type kilns, they are used by a number of fine enamelists.
One such person is Marianne Hunter whose work is incredibly
beautifull and complex. If I was doing back to back production
enamels, large pieces, or vessels then I could see investing in a
kiln but jewelry size production enamels can and are done with a
torch by many people. Personally, I think use of torches for firing
enamels goes back to when torches were first used over a hundred
years ago…they are just never mentioned in any books or
publications of that period. I always felt that the tiny enamels and
plique au jour that was done in the back rooms of Faberge, Laligue,
and other designers were most likely done with a torch because of
their small size and could be held in the hand with tongs or pliers.
I would think that the firing temps were critical and the human eye
was needed in determining when a piece had matured.


I am an enamelist from perth I have been working with Marcus Synnot
for a year and we both use a torch it’s got so much scope and

but to achieve high quality enamelling a kiln is a must. 

Ah, the value of getting outside your house. Some links were posted
of some OK work done with a torch. Nothing much to say about it
except it’s nice.

I think when James talks about quality he’s thinking more along
these lines: Note the plique a
jour is different colors on either side.

Or this, about half way down the page:

I’m not an enameling expert, but fine is fine and not is not.
Actually arguing with James - a bona fide Master Goldsmith - about
quality is just sorta silly, you know?.. John D.

David… I use an acetylene torch primarily for the torch firing of
vitreous enamels. The only time I have problems is when my tips need
cleaning or the tank pressure is getting very low.

Chris Hierholzer

Thank you to those who have weighed in on this subject for me. Since
I have a butane torch, I think I will get a safe workspace set up,
get the enamels (and other stuff needed) and try with the butane
torch. If I am successful, fine, if not I can get either another
type of torch or a kiln. We’ll see how that goes!

Karen Minturn Brown