Introduction: Enameling Metal Jewelry
About: Jill is a high school art teacher who works primarily with digital and jewelry in the northwest Indiana region. Shes a sort of a Jill of all trades and hopes to share her experience and ideas with you! …
This Instructable is designed to show you how to do some great basic jewelry techniques, like doming and torch enameling. This is one that is fairly introductory in skill level, so if youve never worked with metal jewelry, you will be able to do a lot of this with ease. I actually teach these basic skills in the jewelry class that I teach at the high school that I work at. I hope you enjoy! Heres a list of supplies and links to where you can find each of these items! I hope you enjoy! If youre trying to do this as cheaply as possible, research before you buy! Sometimes, certain items will be on sale through different websites.
You can also buycircle blanksas well, which would save you from having to cut the metal–tends to be more expensive by bulk, but if you plan on doing a lot of metalsmithing, youll save much more by purchasing big sheets, generally, the larger sheet you purchase, the less per square inch.
*If you didnt know, metal gauges work as the lower the number, the thicker the metal, the higher the number, the thinner the metal
3. Enamel Powder *Pay attention to your opaque and translucent powders! Opaque will not show metal through, as opposed to translucent need a base color to make it really show the color. Usually a white base works well.
Rings-Things–they sell small sample packs for really cheap, but limited selection.
Rio-Grande–great selection, but tends to be a little more pricy.
Fire Mountain Gems–Be careful you get the vitrearc type enamels, not their resin-based materials.
4. Beads–I used pearl and glass seed beads for this instructable, but you can always substitute!
5. 20 or 22 Gauge Silver Wire– I like to useArgentium Silverwire and Rio sells them in customized segments. For this instructable, you would only need about 4 inches for earring wires. You can use sterling silver as well. I like to use silver for earring wires, primarily because I have sensitive ears and I rash when using anything plated.
6.Head Pins- this link is to Argentium head pins, but you can substitute for sterling silver.
11.Nylon Ring Pliers–optional, you can also use a steel block to pinch the dome
17.MAPP gas(yellow canisters) andtorch(propane torch nozzles work on MAPP gas tanks!) –NOTE: Propane gas will fire enamel, but it WILL take longer to heat, so if youre impatient like me, youll want the MAPP gas.
18.Tri Pod and Metal Mesh ScreenOR Screen and Clamp
20.Rubber Earring Backs*Some prefer to use them, some dont. That is your preference.
3. Nonflammable surface to torch on–large ceramic tiles work great on top of another surface to protect your table tops!
Theres two approaches that I like to use that are relatively quick. The first is using a steel disc cutter. If you plan on cutting a bunch of round pieces, these do a good job at being consistent. Youll need the brass hammer and steel disc cutters. I used 1 diameter discs. When using steel tools (for example, the cutter die), youll want to use the softer brass hammer. Its ok for the surface to be rough on the hammer, its more to keep from your cutters from mushrooming at the top while using a steel hammer. Some important things to know when using your steel disc cutter. Make sure youre hammering it square, like a nail. If you hammer it crooked, it will shave the inside of your cutter and you will wear out the inside of it, causing for lopsided/stretched cuts. So, instead of a crisp edge, you get irregular lumps.
The second way to cut your metal is using thefrench shears. You wont get as smooth and perfect of a circle, but nonetheless it is a much cheaper solution, if youre looking to keep this pretty cheap.
If you would rather just purchase the discs, theyre more expensive in the long run, but for a set or two, they are significantly cheaper than buying the disc cutter.
If you cut your metal using the french shears, you may consider filing now to get the nice elliptical form you were looking for. I love filing to get the beveled edge that makes it feel more of a finished edge. It also removes any burrs that may be left behind from cutting them out. My go-to is a 10 inch single mill file. Theres many other options, but the one suggested at the beginning is a pretty good staple. Sandpaper also works really well, but I usually use 400 grit or higher if I go that route. The higher the grit on sandpaper, the more smooth/finer the finish will be.
Once your edges of your circles are filed, you will want to start doming them. I like to use my dapping block, which has a range of different sizes and depths for this particular one. You can also use a chasing hammer to do this doming process, but it gets more challenging. When you use steel tools, like the daps, youll want to use a soft metal hammer, like brass. If you strike steel against steel, you will mushroom your tools, which will end up in damaged tools in the long run. Heres a greatvideothat goes into the ins and outs of dapping and doming. The important thing to remember is that you should do it gradually, by going from largest to the intended size, step by step. When you hammer, there will be a change in the pitch of sound when hammering, and youll notice the difference if you listen for it.
Using the handy Eurotool Metal Hole Punch, create two holes in each domed piece of copper. These are where your headpin will run through to hold your pearl in the middle later. If you also noticed, the dome is not exactly perfectly domed, because I pinched it laterally using nylon ring pliers. If you dont have any of those handy, you can also use a chasing hammer to hold it sideways and collapse the dome just slightly, so theyre not exactly perfect domes.
Any surface oxidization you may have on your piece will need to be cleaned off. If you start with bright copper, I find the yellow Sunshine Polishing Cloths are super quick to get back that high shine if you have a few spots here and there after handling it. Be sure to wash both your hands and your piece with soap and water after you get done polishing it because the compound will be a contaminant in your enamel later and you REALLY dont want that. Any contaminants can potentially cause your enamel to crack later. You can see the difference between unpolished versus polished in the image above.
Using a small brush, apply the clear liquid called Klyr-Fire. There are several other brands of solvents that you can use, but a small amount GOES A LONG WAY. I like to keep from cross contaminating my big stash by using small film canisters (provided by my fellow Photo teacher). Be sure to always label the container. Let it dry. This will help keep your enamel fused to your metal.
When youre sifting enamels, be sure not to contaminate the powder. I like to use little scraps of matboard as a base to capture the lost enamel. With translucent/transparent enamels, like our cascade blue that we will be using later in this instructable, generally, you will want to use a base color, like white.
While using the sifter, gently vibrate the enamel powder onto the domed discs. Ive got mine inverted to act like a cup to hold the enamel. The sifter handle has a series of ridges where you can run your thumbnail across it to vibrate it enough to sift it like powdered sugar. Give it a generous coat, but you dont want to make it too thick. You shouldnt be able to see any of the underlying metal and it shouldnt be more than an 1/8 thick. Any thicker than that, you run the risk of cracking your enamel. Be sure to also remove any contaminants that may fall onto the surface. Occasionally, a fleck of dirt will fall in, so you want to do a double check before torching, because once its heated, its very difficult to remove any blemishes/dirt.
When firing enamel on copper, you will want a couple things handy. First off, a MAPP gas torch. As mentioned at the beginning, a propane torch nozzle will work with MAPP gas. Propane can work as well for firing, but it will take considerably longer to hit the firing temperature to melt the enamel, which is 1300F to 1600F, depending on the glass color, thickness, and chemical composition. Youll want a well-ventilated space, safety goggles, a nonflammable surface, and a dust mask (because of the powder). If you dont have a metal surface handy, ceramic tiles work as a great substitute! I would suggest using independent tiles placed on top of your surface, as opposed to using a ceramic tiled surface, if you go that route.
When you heat enamel, it should be fired FROM BELOW. Any fire that comes directly in contact with the enamel itself will become smoky and not as vibrant of a color. Hold the torch so the blue cone of the flame is touching the metal. Make small circles continually to heat the metal evenly.
As you torch the enamel, it will change to three textures. The first, it will look like burnt sugar, so it will still be in powdered form, but typically it darkens, like burnt sugar, hence, the burnt sugar stage.
The second stage is the orange peel stage, when its half melted and looks like the bumpy skin of an orange peel.
The third and final stage is the glossy stage. As soon as you see it hit that stage, pull the torch away. Let it cool. I usually like to move it after its no longer glowing and place it on a metal surface out of the way for at least 5-10 minutes. The larger the piece, the longer it will take to cool. If you rapidly cool glass, it will crack and fracture off, so let it take its time and cool.
Once the enamel is cooled, you will sift on the second layer, similar to the white layer we just did, but using the transparent enamel. In this case, I used Cascade Blue. If you want more vibrant of a color, layer more and do multiple layerings and firings of the same color. You can do this several times, especially if theres a thin spot. The process is the same as the base coat, just a different color.
Here in the second round of firing the Cascade Blue enamel, I included pictures of the enamel as its firing and cooling to show that colors can change during the heating process. DONT WORRY! Most enamels will cool to the color as sampled! Some colors, like reds and oranges that if they are fired too long, may result in duller colors, so make sure you pull the fire away after youve hit the glossy stage. I also included images of the stages of how it goes from powdered to the melted gloss.
Now that weve created the enameled part, we will now need to create earring wires. Theres all sorts of designs and styles, but my go to is creating the fish hook style. This is done with a small loop using round nose pliers (in the first picture) and then a bigger loop with the bail pliers (in the second picture). Bail pliers can always be substituted with dowel rods and other items slightly smaller than a pencil diameter. Once I do the big loop, then I will typically do a little kink parallel to the little loop.
Using the french shears, I typically cut at anywhere from 1/8 to 3/8 from the kink, depending how comfortable of length you want. Be sure they are the same length for both earring wires. I cut these a little longer (the ones demonstrated are at 3/8) Once theyre cut, they will need to be filed and rounded down. French shears do a nice job being pretty flush, but can still leave a pretty sharp cut. Filing prevents ear punctures later down the road.
Now that we have our components all made, next we will use the headpins and string the few little glass beads at the base, then through the first hole. After its through the first hole, then string on the pearl and feed the headpin end through the second hole. Make a 90 kink flush to the enameled piece. Use the french shears to cut the length of the headpin, which is typically 3/8 to 1/2 in length from the kink. Use that length on the headpin that is weaved through the holes and create little loops using the round nose pliers. Finally, once you have the loops, open them back up, using the round nose pliers, and insert the earring wire and join the pieces together! Keep in mind, you can always substitute different beads and different enamels to create different effects. Because of the weight of these earrings, you may consider rubber earring backs. I typically put them on majority of the earrings I make, simply as a preventative to keep them from falling out. Hope you enjoyed learning about enameling! This just scratches the surface of what this medium can do!
Did you make this project? Share it with us!
Please be positive and constructive.
What kind of eye protection do you use? The ones Im finding with the right IR and lens type are crazy expensive!
I found a pair on Amazon was reasonably cheap. With the green filter, it is kind of hard to see colorations as youre torching, but at least it does provide a decent amount of coverage against burning your retinas. Its scored for a 3.0 level, meaning light brazing, torchwork, etc. They do have a 5.0 level pair, but that gets hard to see, unless youre doing for significant lengths of time, and at that point, you might as well get a welding helmet. If youre just doing small batches at a time, these will be uncomfortable at first, but I found that they help in the long run.
Ive long wondered how accessible enameling metal is for the casual DIYer and now I know! Thanks for sharing this! How long do you normally get out of a metal screen before it becomes too burnt through to use?
About 50-60 firings at least. It also depends if you use the same spot frequently or if you rotate it around. The replacement screens are usually under 10 to replace. I actually just ordered a heavier gauge steel screen to try out and I will let you know how that lasts! This particular one isnt flexible and is typically used for kiln firing, so I assume it will last a lot longer.
Ive had a chance to try out the screen and ITS FANTASTIC! have a feeling its going to outlast at least two of the screens that I have used previously. I also recommend the enamelwarehouse etsy store if you need specific materials for enameling. They carry a lot of the random colors no one carries anymore.
Speaking as a professional jeweler this is a really great project/write up!
Do you think you could do this with an induction furnace? Would that work for the first layer but get to hot for additional layer or be no problem?
You can do it, and its been done traditionally previous to the experimentation of torch firing, but the big thing you want to pay attention to is the temperature. With torch firing, its pretty easy to see the three stages of melting, whereas if you put it in an induction kiln, you will want to make sure that you have a thermometer handy, to make sure you dont overheat it, or at least some range of visibility to watch for those three stages. It can also be done with a traditional ceramic kiln as well. In fact, you will get more consistent results and less fracturing/contamination with kilns, but kilns are much more expensive to stock, rather than a little torch.
Excellent, clear instructions! I have unsuccessfully tried copper enameling using inherited supplies. Now I know what I did wrong! Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Ill bet you are a great classroom teacher!
Youll have to post pictures! I love seeing what others do!
Most of my jewelry students favor enameling over other mediums like porcelain or lampwork, so thats why I wanted to share!
Nice – very cool to see this process. Excellently taught/documented too. Thank you!
Thanks! Ive been doing a lot of research to learn enameling myself, and I truly enjoy creating enameled jewelry!