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Using lead enamels

  • I have a chance to buy a good assortment of enamel powders that are
    lead based enamels. Up until now I have always used non-lead based

My question is do some of you use lead based due to the colors being
good and if so what precautions do you take?

I don’t do a lot of enamels so will not be exposed much but want to
stay safe.

Many thanks for your advice,
Sharron in sunny Mexico

Hi Sharron,

I’ve been using both leaded and unleaded enamels for a few years now
and find that the leaded has a much finer and more vibrant color to
it when talking about transparent enamels. As far as safety
precautions, I wear an N99 particle respirator as well as work under
a fumigated hood. I also do my best to get the enamel in contact
with liquid as quickly as possible to keep the amount of airborne
particulate to a minimal degree.

What leaded enamels do you have access to buying if I may ask?

Dan Wisner

I use leaded enamels as well as unleaded because I love color and can
never have enough. Many of the leaded transparents are particularly
beautiful and unmuddy such as the reds and pinks and I think leaded
ones flow a bit smoother. You can also layer a leaded enamel over an
unleaded"but not the other way around. I’ve made cloisonne pieces
where I’ve used leaded in some cells and unleaded in others, all
depending on what colors I wanted. Regarding safety, I take the same
precautions with both types. Dust mask when working dry, proper
disposal of sifting papers, wet paper towel clean up. There are
plenty of nasty things in unleaded enamels that shouldn’t be inhaled
or left around the studio. No reason to fear ‘lead’ in enamels when
you’re careful. Enjoy your new colors!


Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate (drawing fumes actively out of your
breathing space) when firing. Use a really good respirator/dust mask
when preparing enamels for application. Clean up immediately after
preparing (sifting, washing, etc.) the enamels and again after
applying the enamels to metal.

Linda Kaye-Moses

I have been using lead enamels from Thompson with excellent results,
replenishing with the lead free only when unable to get the lead
bearing ones. They are perfectly safe to use. However, do use a dust
mask—for both the lead bearing and the lead free.

I prefer the lead bearing as most of the colors I use are not
available in the lead free. However, I do use the lead free fluxes
under the lead bearing as they are excellent.

You are fortunate to be able to get the lead bearing ones, so don’t
hesitate to do so. They are safe, and a pleasure to work with. Alma

I use both leaded and unleaded enamels in my work and common sense
seems to work fine. Wear a mask, clean your area thoroughly, don’t
use leaded for food-bearing finished items, just use some thought
and it’s find. Linda Darty uses leaded enamels almost exclusively and
gets tested for lead every year. She’s never had a problem. Unless
you’re super worried, a full respirator set-up really isn’t
necessary for wet pack work. Sifting might be a different story, but
the leaded enamels I use (Japanese) are pretty expensive for use in
sifting. That’s when I’ll use my Thompson lead-free.

Someone else commented that they use Thompson leaded and I was a bit
surprised since Thompson hasn’t made a lead containing enamel since
the 1930’s. But I suppose they might have some old stock.

Sandra Graves (Beadstorm)

As longs as you aren’t hand grinding huge quantities of lump lead
enamels you should be safe. The transparent lead bearing enamels are
very lovely. I haven’t seen too many old school enamelists dying of
lead poisoning.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry
Jo Haemer