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Enameling 103 Metal Preparation

2013 Saul Bell Design Awardwinner,Nena Potts, crafted this lush and vibrant necklace using her considerable enameling skill. An inspiring example of whats possible with this fantastic technique!

We discussed safety and supplies inEnameling 101, and kiln firing vs. torch firing inEnameling 102. Now, lets get down to the hands-on process. This post will cover the importance of proper metal preparation for the enameling process.

Its important to have your metal clean and free of any contaminants such as oils, dust, fingerprints, or oxides prior to applying enamel. If you dont begin the enamel process with metal thats properly prepped and cleaned, all of your other planning could be in vain. Its possible to end up with enamel that wont adhere to the surface, or, after firing, might chip, crack and possibly pop off your work piece. Its kind of like trying to put makeup on a pig. Itll last a short time, but all the color will come off and youll be back to a dirty pig again.

When it comes to enameling there are several methods of preparation and cleaning. Some are more complex than others, but that doesnt necessarily make them better. Its important to select a method that will work with the piece youre creating and above all, one that youre most comfortable with. Regardless of your preference, the point is, do it right the first time!

Top: After annealing, dip your piece in pickle to clean the oxides off; Bottom: RiosHardwood Dapping Block and Punch Set

The first part of this process will be to prepare your metal by smoothing any rough edges. This can be done with aScotch-Brite™ pad, which also works great for scrubbing and texturizing metal. Next youll want to decide if you should dome your piece or leave it flat. This will be determined by your design; however, doming the metal will help to keep its shape and avoid warpage during the enameling process. A domed piece will also reflect light much better than a flat piece.

To dome the metal, youll first want to anneal it with a torch. Yes, annealing can be done in a kiln, but it takes longer because youll need to wait for the kiln to heat up and reach the correct temperature.

If youre working with copper, after annealing, quench in water, and then place inpickleto remove firescale. Once the pickle has cleaned the oxides off of the piece, remove withcopper tongsand rinse both sides thoroughly under running water so as not to leave any of the acid on the piece. The metal is now soft enough to be placed in awooden dapping block. You can now press down upon it with your fingers or a doming tool to generate a slight dome. (Not familiar with annealing? Heres a link to a greatAnnealing Metal videothat will help you to understand the process.)

If youre working with fine silver, theres really no need for annealing. The metal is already soft enough to put in a dapping block and dome slightly with your fingers or a doming tool.

Youre now ready to clean the metal and remove the oil and grease transferred from your fingers during the preparation process. You might wonder why the metal needs to be cleaned after its been heated, pickled, and rinsed. This is necessary because pickle only removes tarnish and oxides. It does not remove oil or grease and if you touch your piece during the sanding and doming process youll need to clean it prior to applying the enamel.

Take a Scotch-Brite™ pad and water, along with a cleaning agent likePam Easts PreNamel Surface Scrubor somepumice powdermade into slurry. (Pumice powder is a de-greasing agent and is great not only for cleaning a piece to be enameled, but also prepares metal for soldering, and helps to remove firescale. Its always a good idea to have some on hand.)

Scrub the metal on both sides in a circular motion until the water flows evenly across the surface. If the water beads up or pulls away from any part of the metal, then youll need to scrub again.

Once thoroughly clean, dry the metal using a clean, lint-free cloth. Be sure not to touch the surfaces with your fingers or youll have to clean it again. Hold the piece by the edges or with some tweezers to avoid re-contamination.

Left: Scrubbing in a circular motion with a Scotch-Brite™ pad to clean your metal; Right:Stainless Steel Straight Tweezers with Fiber-Grip Handles.

You can heat the copper with a torch, or in a kiln to burn off any grease or oil. If you work with atorch, set the piece on a tripod and begin heating under the piece keeping the flame moving. Soon, the copper will begin changing to a dark reddish-orange color. Within a very short period of time, as youre moving the torch, youll see the color begin changing to a greenish tone. Once the entire piece is this color, turn off the flame.

If working with akiln, pre-heat to the standard enameling temperature of approximately 1500. Once heated, set your piece on the kiln shelf and watch for the dark reddish-orange color change. This should take about 35 40 seconds. As soon as this happens, remove the hot item from the kiln with a spatula or kiln tweezers. While the piece is being removed, it should begin changing color to a greenish tone. If it doesnt change, place back into the kiln for just a few seconds. Watch closely to be sure you dont over-fire.

Either set the piece off to the side to cool, or usingtweezers, pick up the hot piece, and quench in water. When firing to green, theres no need to pickle the piece. However, if you over-fired to black, youll need to pickle, and then rinse both sides well under running water to remove the acid.

Dry the metal using a clean, lint-free cloth. Remember not to touch the surfaces of the piece or youll have to go back and start the process again.

Left to right: The copper changes color as it heats. It goes from a dark reddish-orange color to a color with a slightly-greenish tone and in the end its color is changed and its surface is grease-free.

Pre-heat the fine silver piece with a torch until it has a slight orange glow.

Watch carefully for the piece to look like its about to melt. At that point, pull back the flame of the torch where only the tip is heating the surface of the metal. Be sure to keep the flame moving over the piece in a circular motion until you see the entire surface of the metal become very shiny. Once this happens, immediately remove the flame and turn off your torch. This is known as flashing the surface. Use some caution with this technique. Too close with the flame and you will actually melt the piece, too far away and it wont flash. Flashing the fine silver not only helps to clean the piece, but also creates a polished looking surface visible through transparent enamels, which adds to the beauty of the piece.

Once the piece flashes, put it aside to cool. Be sure not to touch the surfaces.

On the left, a dull disc of non-flashed fine silver and on the right, a disc of polished-looking, flashed fine silver.

Follow the previously-described metal prepping process (anneal, pickle, and rinse your piece).

When youre ready to enamel, get some saliva on your clean thumb or finger, then rub the saliva over the surface of metal youre enameling. Once this is done, dont touch the surface. Saliva is a good neutralizer and works well to easily clean off the oil and grease after youve been handling the piece of metal. Please note, while this works great for small pieces, you wouldnt want to use this technique on large projects. It would be hard to create that much saliva for your piece, not to mentioneww!

This post, along withEnameling 101andEnameling 102, includes an explanation of all recommended supplies, except for theenamels. Now that you have an understanding of the prep and cleaning process, its time for the fun to begin! In my nextand finalpost, Enameling 104, Ill discuss the enamels and their application. Until then, if youre still questioning your ability to enamel, remember this

You dont have to be great to get started, but you do have to get started to be great. Zig Ziglar

Filed Under:Tools & TechniquesTagged With:cloisonneenamelingHow-Toknow-howtechnical know howtips & tricks

Hi! How can I clean the enamel surface between firings from finger grease?Except fiberglass brush is there any other method to clean grease?Is it wrong to use denatured alcohol?

Thanks for the question! To clean the enamel surface between firings you can follow the process suggested under the Metal Cleaning Process, Method 3 Saliva or you can take standard isopropyl alcohol on a cotton ball and gently clean the enameled surface. If using alcohol, be sure to close the lid immediately after use and do not keep the container near a hot kiln or torch. We hope this helps!

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