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Washing enamels and used kiln

Hi all!

I just started taking an enameling class at a local community center
and have some questions for any of you enamelists out there…

  1. Does anyone have any experience in washing transparent enamels?
    Any advice on the washing and drying would be appreciated.

  2. Does anyone have any suggestions on where to purchase a used kiln?
    The ones at the community center that I have been using are pretty
    large- not the small studio set-up versions. I really like the
    results I’m getting from a quick fire at a hot temp. I’m enameling
    jewelry pieces- cast fine and sterling silver.

Thanks!
Amery

    Does anyone have any experience in washing transparent enamels?
Any advice on the washing and drying would be appreciated. 

When I wash my transparent enamels I estimate how much I will need
for the project, usually this is just a small amount. Then I put
that amount into a small glass jar, added distilled water, stir until
the water was cloudy, pour off the cloudy water and repeat this
process until the water is clear when the enamel is stirred. To dry
the enamel I put it in a small tin foil “trough” and let it dry under
a heat lamp. Don’t leave it laying about in an open trough, after it
is dry, where dust or other stuff can land in it. I also wash my
black opaque enamel. I sometimes like to do solid black pieces with
just the cloisonne as the design. I think the black looks better when
it is washed.

Jennifer
Highland Goldsmiths

Amery,

Enamels regardless of whether they are transparent or opaque need to
be washed until the water you are washing them in appears clear. You
are looking for the “dirt” to separate from the enamels by washing
them. Washing should be done in distilled water as it is the cleanest
water around. It usually takes me between 4 -6 washings per color.
If you are using opalescent enamels you do not want to wash them that
much - more like 3 or 4 cleanings. Why:? because the film you are
washing off is what allows them to be opalescent. Flux must be
absolutely clean and I wash it multiple times while I am creating a
piece in a several hour time period. It is better to be safe than
sorry. It is next to impossible to remove the grit and
discolorations formed if your enamel is “dirty”.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any other questions
regarding enamels or tools.

Jennifer Friedman
enamelist, jewelry artisan, ceremonial silver, instructor
Ventura, CA

Hi Amery.

Why are you planning to wash your enamels? The only time you need to
"wash" your transparent enamels is if you are doing wet packing and
need to remove the fines. You don’t need to wash any enamels that
will be dry dusted onto your metal. Also, you should save the
"fines" as they have many uses. Don’t throw any of them away.

An alternative to washing is to sift them through fine mesh sifters.
You can get a lot of detailed on the procedure for
removing fines from the Glass on Metal website, and from many of the
available books on enameling.

When I am wet packing, I only remove the fines from the small amount
of enamel that I will be using for my specific project. I keep the
moist, free of fines, enamel in small jars with lids ready to use.
After wet packing, and before putting my piece in the kiln, I dry it
thoroughly under a heat lamp.

Alma

Amery, there are 2 ways to clean the fines (extremely fine ground
glass particles) from transparent enamels. One is a dry method where
you use a stack of graduated screens, say 80 mesh, then 100 mesh and
maybe 200 mesh. Put a bit of enamel in the top 80 mesh screen and
gently agitate the stack. It is best if you have a container as the
last thing on the stack and something to act as a lid over the top of
the stack. The accumulated enamel at the bottom is now mainly 200
mesh or finer grains of enamel.

Washing enamel to remove the fines: Put an amount of transparent
enamel in a container. A clear glass container is ideal. Add some
water (tap water okay at the start of the process) and swirl or stir
the enamel. Set the container onto a flat surface and wait a bit for
the heavier grains to fall to the bottom of the container. Pour off
(into another container) the cloudy water, leaving the heavier grains
in the jar. Do this again and again until the water over the top is
very clear. In the last one or two washings, you might want to switch
to using distilled or purified water. Some tap water has more
contaminants (metals, etc.) in it than others. The clouds of fines
can either be kept separately (so you have fines of that particular
color) or you can pour it into a mixed batch for your supply of
counter enamel (for the back sides of copper pieces). I pour into a
Pyrex dish and then allow the water to evaporate.

You want to wet clean your enamels just before you are going to use
them in a wet packing process. You will want to keep a small amount
of water on the wet enamel and keep it in a lidded container. Some
enamels degrade if left under water too long. Re-wash before using
the next day.

Drying your wet but clean enamels for longer storage is a bit
difficult. If you place the wet enamel in a small dish (glass or
ceramic) and place that under a lamp (60W incandescent will work) the
water will evaporate in the warmth. But, the enamel is likely to
attract dust or other airborne contaminants. So, you might have to
provide a closed environment in which to dry. I just don’t wet clean
too much more than I can use at any one time.

Opinion differs as to the grain size that is best for wet packing
cloisonnE9 work or plique a jour work. Some feel that finer grains
are better others feel that larger grains are better. Experience
will usually tell you which works best for you. When the enamel
grains are at around 325 mesh or finer, they are often used as
painting enamel, as in Grisaille or Limoge painting. In Britain, it
is common to use a mortar and pestle and grind 80 mesh enamel under
water until it feels like talc or flour to the touch. I’ve done this
and the simpler wash it method. To save time, I will sift a
quantity to a finer mesh before grinding it. After sifting I will
also wash the enamel before use. Sometimes, if I am sifting a
transparent enamel onto metal as the base color, I don’t actually
clean it at all, just using it straight from the jar. And finally,
you can order Thompson lead free enamels ground to a higher mesh
than 80 mesh to start with, but it costs extra to do that.

Just my .02 cents worth from over a decade of enameling.

Eileen Schneegas
Snow Goose Designs
Washington, USA

Oh yes, I washed a lot of enamels. Just swirled the grains in the
bottom of a container, let the main mass settle a bit, and poured
off the cloudy water over and over until it was totally clear. And
then washed it some more with distilled water to wash away any
chemicals and minerals that might be in the tap water. I never
tried to dry it as I was doing cloisonne and was always applying the
grains wet. The enamel is very sensitive and will not be clear and
beautiful if you don’t protect it from contamination. For example
if there is smoke in the air it can get into the wet enamel on your
piece and cloud things up. Also, the ground glass is not good for
you to ingest in any way. If you are using it dry, you should have
a really good filtering mask and never eat in the studio around the
glass. The ground glass doesn’t like food contamination and your
body won’t like the ground glass to get into it.

My best enameling kiln is a tiny little thing which I bought at a
dental supply company. Very precise temperature control. Maybe
there’s a resource for used dental equipment? But you have to be
able to get new elements for any kiln you use so I guess you have to
be careful with used equipment that the parts are still available
somewhere–

It’s magic when it works, don’t you think?

Janet

Thanks everyone for the info on washing enamels…

Your responses have generated a few more questions. The more I ask
and the more I read the more questions I have and I have come to
realize that there is just no one universal law in enameling. So I
appreciate everyone taking the time to share your experiences.

  1. Why can’t I wash a bunch of the enamel at once to use later- is
    it because it doesn’t stay clean?

  2. Someone suggested that I put the enamels in a warm oven on tin
    foil to dry them. Is that bad? Will they pick up too much dust?

  3. I have read that you should sift the enamel before washing with a
    200 mesh sifter. And that the larger grains are the cleaner ones,
    the ones I want to use for wet-packing. But, the smaller ones are
    the opalescents and I can save them to use as such. Am I getting
    this one right? Will the 200 mesh sifter work?

  4. I have purchased some Japanese lead-bearing enamels, the colors
    are way too yummy to pass up. I understand the importance of being
    extremely careful with these. What do people think about venting
    vs. not venting the kiln when using lead-bearing enamels?

Thanks again everyone!
Amery