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Washing enamels

Any enamelists out there? I just tried washing some clear 80 mesh
enamel to improve the clarity, and I ended up sending about half of
it down the drain. Can someone describe the proper washing process
to me? Thank you!

Pam East
www.pinzart.com
Enamel Bead Making Made Easy!

Hi Pam,

I wrote a brief article about this topic and it is found in “The
Enamellist” the newsletter of the Canadian Enamellist Association.
So you might try there to get more details. In the meantime, hope
this helps.

To begin, I have no doubt that your question will start a debate. If
you put four enamellists in a room and ask for opinions, you will
likely get five of them.

  1. I don’t bother washing opaques because I (personally) can’t tell
    the difference between washed and unwashed opaque enamels that have
    been fired.

  2. I have found that washing does make a difference with
    transparents, and yes many of us have complained that 50% of the
    washing appear to go down the drain.

    a. What I did is apply Stoke’s law (use Googol) to the problem
    when I need to wash a large batch.

    b. Do you have a graded sieve set? If not get one and sieve
    your enamels and store each grade in a container. Use a mask
    when sieving, regardless of whether the enamels contain lead or
    not because the colouring agent is generally a heavy metal
    oxide and as such can be toxic too. Besides the silica isn’t
    great on your lungs either.

    c. Get a tall vase, fill with water, add some enamel powder and
    time how long it takes the graded powder to reach the bottom.
    (You’ll have to take the 25%, 50%, and 75% completed falls).

    d. Repeat for all grades.

    e. plot the data, time to fall (vertical axis) vs size of
    powder (horizontal axis). Join the dots.

    f. Now you can take ungraded powder pour it into your long
    skinny vase and slosh it around to thoroughly wet the grains.
    Turn the vase upside down with your and clamp tightly over the
    top (now bottom) and let the powder settle into your palm. When
    most of it has settled quickly turn the vase over and start
    taking time. Let the time run until those grades that you
    desire have settled out. Now decant the rest, I use a coffee
    filter to collect the fines for use in other projects.

  3. Now the alternative. When doing small work (cloisonn=E9, champlev=E9=
    )
    I take a small amount of enamel and place it in a rounded
    tablespoon, add water and swirl it around to raise the fines (the
    white stuff consisting, I believe, of very fine grains of enamel and
    abrasions of the mill) which I then decant.

Please contact me off-line if you have other questions. And please
forgive me I am sounding a little too pedantic, better to provide
too much info than not enough.

David in Victoria BC where it is supposed to rain and it hasn’t.
Please send some.

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A long time ago I was in an enamel workshop and we washed our enamels
in film canisters. As I remember the process, it was like this.

  1. Put a small (maybe a tablespoon) amount of the enamel in the
    canister.

  2. Pour distilled water in to about the 3/4 level.

  3. Swirl and pour off the clear water. This can be saved ,
    accumulated from other washings, and the water poured off after the
    enamel settles to the bottom. This mixture is useful as a
    counterenamel.

Marilyn Smith

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Can someone describe the proper washing process to me? I fill a
plastic teaspoon (labeled with a Sharpie with the enamel color and
number on the handle) half full of transparent enamel, turn on the
faucet to just a tiny trickle and put the spoon under until it’s
filled with water. Wait a couple of seconds and pour off the cloudy
part into a jar. If you pour immediately, you lose too much enamel.
I repeat the process until the water in the spoon is clear after the
trickle. Pour off one more time and do a final 2 rinses with
distilled water. I’m not discarding any of the “fines” at this
point. If you keep the fines in the jar, you can repeat the process
and salvage more of the enamel and use it for counter-enamel. Donna
in VA

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I’m going to be starting this too Pam, and what I read is that you
are supposed to catch the run-off (wash-off?) in another container.
Tom

Hi Pam, You probably did everything right! Unfortunately, when
washing enamels it is normal to lose half or even more. However,
there is another way. Enamel may be grade-sifted through sieves of
various mesh sizes, available from Thompsons Enamels. Then the
smaller grains which are separated out may be used for other
purposes, and only the larger grains used, producing the greatest
clarity. I usually do this first, but if I want a very clear enamel I
will then wash these grains as a final task. For large quantities, I
put the enamel in a plastic container, fill with tap water, stir
vigorously, and pour off the milky water into another container, not
down the sink. (Aside from possibly blocking the sink, it isn’t
environmentally friendly!) I keep doing this as many times as needed
until the water is clear. The enamel is dried on blotting paper on
top of the kiln, and stored in airtight plastic or glass containers.
The residue then has the water carefully poured off after it has
settled, then that can be dried and used as counter-enamel. For
small quantities used in jewellery, I simply put a quantity of enamel
on a white plastic teaspoon over a jar of water and fill with the
water. I stir with a brush, and then pour off the milky water into
another jar. I continue with the process until the water is clear.
Then the enamel is usually used for wet-packing with the addition of
a few drops of ‘klyrfire’. Finally, I do not wash opaque or opalescent
enamels. These need the various sizes of grains so they do not
develop pinholes as they are fired due to air spaces between the
grains. Hope this helps, Jenny Gore, South Australia.

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There are separating screens which you can use instead of washing. I
think it works better without any waste and is quicker.

Sue Dorman
@Sue_Dorman

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Hi I took a workshop from you in Houston at the Glassell school.
This question is about the pinholes developing in the enamel. I am
using opaques (it happens with leaded and non leaded)and I am not
washing them. I am tapping the emanel and getting the water out
before drying and than firing. I still get pinholes in the opaques.
I do not have this problem with the transparents. What do you think is

causing this problem.

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Hi Donna, I was taught to put some enamel in a small mortar and
grind it w/a pestle along with some water. Let the enamel settle and
pour out the milky water. Repeat the washing process several times
until the water becomes clear. Then transfer the clean wet enamel
onto a piece of paper towel and let it air dry.

Kai-Ti

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Hallo Leslie, I’m presuming this question is for me?! Maybe you aren’t
putting a thick enough layer of enamel on if this is your first coat.
This should be about the thickness of the metal before it is fired
and the metal should not show through. If applying the enamel dry I
find that it works well to put the finer grains down first and they
will fill in the gaps, before the 80 mesh through the strainer. This
is done quite easily by holding pantyhose over a film container of
dry enamel and not pulling tight. As you stretch it more the bigger
grains will be able to fall through. On large pieces this is
impractical so just make sure that there is a sufficiently thick,
even layer, with a little extra around the edges.

If the pinholes are developing in progressive coats I would look at
the condition of the enamel. Is it old or degraded? Some remedies
could include stoning the surface and refiring, or try firing a thin
coat of well washed soft fusing flux, (clear), over your opaque
colour. I don’t normally wash or sieve opaques because I want those
fine grains, but if the enamel is not in good condition you could try
this.

Good luck from Jenny Gore in South OZ, where it should be Summer!

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I was taught to put some enamel in a small mortar and grind it w/a
pestle along with some water.  >Let the enamel settle and pour out
the milky water. Repeat the washing process several times until
>the water becomes clear. Then transfer the clean wet enamel onto a
piece of paper towel and let it air dry. 

Not sure why you were taught to grind enamel for washing. I find it
only necessary if I am grinding the larger lumps. I use an agate
mortar/pestle which is the best for that purpose. Usually hard to
find and expensive, but does not create any residue as a regular
mortar will.

Regular size 80 mesh enamel can be best cleaned by first sifting
with a 325 mesh sifter to remove the fines (save for other
projects… painting etc.). Then what enamel is left is easily and
quickly washed, several times till clear. Bill Helwig has given many
great demos on how to grade sift your enamels for different purposes.
I made a whole set of sifters out of Rubbermaid containers (w/
lid)(1/2 cup) by cutting the bottom off and adhering the different
size screens by melting them on.

When sifting the fine 325s, use a Rubbermaid cup(container) without
cutting the bottom off and place it underneath the 325 sifter to
catch the fines. Put a lid over the top sifter with the regular size
grains (add a nickel or quarter to help move the enamel). That way
when you sift out the fines, the powder will not fly all over the
room for you to breathe— and use a dust mask! Breathing any type
enamel, leaded or non-leaded, will give you problems sooner or
later… so use dust mask protection for your lungs. You’ll be glad
you did.

And wash only the enamel that you will use for that project and keep
the other dry. (Easy to wash a little more if you run out) Cheers,
Louise @lgillin1

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Pam, I wash enamel all the time and the method I use is: take a small
(shot glass) glass or plastic cup (baby food jar) add 1/2 tsp of
enamel add 1/2 the container with water let sit approx. 1 min. until
the enamel sets to the bottom and gently pour off the water—Use a
separate container to receive the pour off and when the enamel has
settled to the bottom of that container use it as backing enamel–
this way nothing goes to waste. rinse at least 4 times for transparent
enamels flux you may have to rinse as many as 7 times

If you let your enamel sit overnight before using again you should
rinse them again. flux decomposes easily and should be rinsed more
often than the rest.

Opalescent enamels should get the least number of washings in order
to retain the opalescent characteristic.

You can contact me privately at: jennifer.h.friedman@lmco.com if
you have any additional questions.

thanks
Jennifer Friedman in Atlanta

I too was taught to grind enamels in water with a pestle & mortar in
water, then rinse 6 or 7 times with with distilled water until all
the frit had gone with…& not a sieve in sight! The rationale was
that the action effectively “polished” the enamel giving a better
brilliance as well as reducing the grains to uniform sizes. I
attended a course with Keith Seldon - probably the leading painting
enamellist in the UK at present - who insisted that opaques should be
treated in this way as well. He maintained that this gave a better
surface on which to paint.

regards, Deborah Miller

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Thought I’d do a bit of thread necromancy to ask a question:

If you are going to be sifting transparent enamel onto copper / silver / etc. do you have to wash it, or can you get away with using a stack of sieves to separate out all of the different grain sizes?

If you do have to wash it, what methods would you recommend for getting it dry enough to then sift properly?

Thanks

Yes, if you want clear, transparent enamel you have to wash it.

To dry just dump it out onto a coffee filter (or a piece of kitchen paper) and put it on top of your warm kiln - or a radiator.

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Sieving enamels, useful when sifting onto metal, really just separates the various sizes of the grains of glass. When using transparent enamels, for the clearest most transparent results, the enamel grains must be washed. The problems with unwashed enamels result from the grit/powder that remains from when the glass was ground to create the enamel ‘powder’ by the manufacturer. No matter how clean the manufacturers make it, no matter how ‘clean’ it appears when we receive it from them, there is always stuff that remains behind. So, even though, when you’ve sifted and reserved the largest grains of enamel, these still would need to be washed.

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Thank you both. I’m not moving on to the transparents until I’ve got more practice in with the opaques, and the washing / drying thing was really making me scratch my head. Just couldn’t figure out the logistics of doing it while sifting, but this makes sense :slight_smile:

I just place my ground transparent enamels in a clear plastic cup add water and swirl or stir the enamel in the water. A cloud will come to the top. I then carefully drain off the cloudy water and add more water and swirl again. I often have to do this 10 times before I get only clear water after stirring and swirling. What is left in the bottom of the sink or a bowl that your drain off the water over is called the fines. It can be saved and used for counter enamel. I don’t because I want my counter enamel to be as pretty as the front. I also wash my opaques if I want a really strong color. If you are using transparent enamels on copper you will need to fire on a clear flux first. Have big fun experimenting with enamels. As metal smiths we can get so bored with working only with yellow and white metals. I so love the pop of color that glass can provide.

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Thanks. I’m rather enjoying the experimentation. Didn’t know you could get stronger colour by washing the opaques.

Washing TRANSPARENT enamels is critical for removing the ‘fines’ or smaller grains for achieving the maximum clarity/transparency. This washing must include at least one final rinse in distilled water, if the mineral content is high in the tap water being used.

Washing OPAQUE enamels. . . well the answer is different depending on who you ask. Some enamelists don’t bother washing their opaques at all (I don’t). Others suggest that a simple one-stage rinse in tap (low mineral content) water or distilled water is all that is needed.

All enamels come from the suppliers/manufacturers with some powder from the grinding (of the glass) and other miscellaneous dust. The effect of this included material on opaque enamels is minimal, if at all.

If in doubt, always thoroughly wash transparents and don’t overdo the washing, if any, of opaques.