Thursday, 25 August 2011

Enamel Blog

How To Enamel!

Hello, Zoe here again and welcome to our ‘How To Enamel’ post.

Right then, firstly you need to have a good base to enamel on. It has to withstand temperatures of over 1,000 degrees so the best metal for the job is copper.

I’m going to be using recycled copper piping, the stuff that you find in your house (not that you should go ripping up your house just for this ha ha).

Firstly you will need to cut the piping to the correct length. I have used a metal tube cutter as this gives a nice even edge, but you can use a saw if you don’t have this lovely tool. Once the correct length saw lengthways down the middle so to be able to bend it flat.

Next I am going to fire the copper tube in the kiln. This makes the copper really pliable, so making it really easy to bend. Once the copper is red hot, using some metal enamelling pliers, CAREFULLY remove it out of the kiln and submerge it into cold water.

Once it is out of the water you will find that the copper is very easy to bend and you will be able to flatten it out. The way I did this was by bending it out with my hands, then using a vice with aluminium plates to gently squash the copper in between the plates until flat.

Be warned though as the more you bend it the harder the copper will become. If you bend it too much you might have to fire it again, and this will make it weaker!

Next you might want to drill holes in your copper if you are going to turn it into a necklace.

Using a small vice and a pillar drill gently drill through your pre marked and punched holes.

You should now have your base!

The next step is enamelling. You need to make sure your copper is clean and ready to accept the enamel. Using a glass brush (a small brush made from fibreglass) scuff up the backside of your copper.

Then, using a fine sieve, gently build up a layer of counter enamel (special backing enamel) over the back of your copper piece.

You want to make sure the layer is quite thick, may be about 5mm, although it helps to work out what is right for your kiln.

Once you have your enamel on your copper, using the metal enamelling tongs, carefully place the copper with counter enamel onto the wire grill in the kiln. This will be very very very hot so please be so careful when doing this!!!

Watching through your small window, try and judge when the enamel powder has started to melt, the timings will be very different with each kiln. With my kiln it happened at about 40 seconds. You can tell when it is starting to go as the powder will go hard and then cracks will appear, shortly after this stage it will melt into one form.

Once melted, remove (with the metal enamel tongs) and leave on a heatproof block to cool down, this again varies but should take about 10 mins.

Once cool you can repeat the process on the other side using your chosen enamel colours.

And now you have a lovely piece of enamelled copper!

A few useful hints and tips to remember:

• Always enamel the back first with the counter enamel as this helps stop the front from peeling off.
• If you don’t want the back to stick to the grill when you are firing the front with your enamel colour, you might want to erect a small platform for your work to balance on, using nails or other metal that can withstand the heat, but wont melt in the kiln.
• Always use glove and the tongs when firing, it gets pretty hot and will burn your skin right off if you touch it at all! I should know as I did it a few times and it really really hurts!!!

• If you want to get a bit fancy with your enamelling then you can always etch a design into the copper first (please see the Craft Bunker ferric chloride etching blog). Once you have etched your design then mix a small amount of de-ionised water into some powder to form a thick paste, and carefully paint on in the areas you want to ‘colour in’. Pop it on top of the kiln to dry out for 5 mins, and then carefully put it into the kiln to fire! You don’t want to put it in while the glass paste is still wet because as the moisture evaporates in the kiln it can deform the nice neat pattern you have created!

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