About Me

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I am an artist, wife and mother, paraeducator, yo-yo dieter, and small town country girl. I love singing in my church choir, computer time, beading and making jewelry. And I love enameling! There is something very magical about turning powder into smooth, shiny, and colorful glass.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


The art of enameling requires applying powered glass to metal using a holding agent and firing it in a kiln at about 1450 degrees F. The powder melts and becomes smooth and shiny and can be used with many techniques to create gorgeous art pieces and jewelry. Enameling requires some specialized tools but I found I didn't need everything that was recommended in books. The most important tool is a kiln. My first kiln was a hot pot style which was given to me and was about 30 years old. These small  kilns are still available in several styles.
There are many advantages to starting with a small kiln. They are less expensive, fit in small places and do not need a dedicated circuit to run. It's a good way to learn a craft and see if you like it. The disadvantages are that you can't control the temperature and you can only fire one small piece at a time. I found I sometimes had trouble burning the edges of the enamel before the middle was melted with my small kiln. About a year and a half ago, I bought a used kiln on ebay. It's a Paragon with a digital temperature controller and a window. I paid about $400.00 including shipping. The same model is about $700.00 new. I love it! I can program time, temperature and it's also great for PMC and fused glass (which I haven't tried, yet) I can fire more than one small item or larger tiles, switch plates, etc. I also bought a kiln shelf and a metal mesh shelf made especially for enameling. My new kiln  is not overly large but my husband did have to put in a dedicated circuit because our house wiring is older and couldn't accommodate the kiln and everything else that would be on that circuit. That could be a disadvantage if you don't have someone who used to be an electrician and is willing to crawl through walls for you for free. (Thanks honey!) There are a lot of companies on the internet that sell kilns and there are many different styles to chose from. My advice would be to buy the best you can afford.
It is necessary to completely clean the metal surface you are enameling. Penny Brite is absolutely the best for cleaning copper. I've tried a few other copper cleaners and a mild acid that was recommended in a catalogs, but Penny Brite is the best. The metal has to be completely clean from dirt and oil or the glass will just pop right off! I have to order Penny Brite on line because I can't find it in stores. A glass brush is used to clean the glass before putting on another layer and the alundum stone is necessary for grinding off imperfections in your finished piece and  cleaning the edges of the metal.
        Other necessary tools include stilts and mesh stands to keep your piece from being in contact with other surfaces it will stick to while it's being fired. You will need a potholder or fireproof glove. My glove has been very helpful when I drop a piece on the carpet when I'm taking it out of the kiln and the carpet is smoking and I need to pick it up quickly. A long fork is great for taking the mesh stand out of the kiln. Different sifters are needed to sift the powdered glass on the metal which has been coated with a fixative. A timer is very important as the enamel can burn quickly once it's reached that perfect shiny stage. And a mask is important to keep the glass dust out of your lungs especially if you're using vintage enamel or leaded enamels. I usually use a particulate respirator even though that isn't what I have pictured. I'm pretty careful about using the mask as I do use some leaded enamels and it just makes me feel better.

Of course you need the enamels and the metal to fuse them to! I love using premade copper shapes. I buy them from a variety of places which I'll list at the end of this post. I sometimes cut shapes from 18 gauge copper sheet with my saw. You will need to drill holes before enameling if you plan on making jewelry. I use mostly Thompsen enamels in opaque and transparent colors. I have used Schauer enamels which I didn't like as much and I recently tried some Soyer French transparent enamels on silver which were gorgeous! I hope to work with these some more in the future. I have also used lumps which are fired over the colors and make beautiful spotted designs and are easy to use.
          There are several places to buy enameling supplies.  RioGrande has a creative arts catalog with lots of enameling supplies. On line you can't beat Schlaifer's Enameling Supplies. They have everything you need to get started in enameling including kilns. I bought their 1 oz. sample kits of enamels which were great to start out with. Another great place is Warg Tools in Scarborough, Maine. Although they don't have an online catalog, if you know what you need they will ship it to you. When my kids were going to UMaine I always stopped there but now they've graduated and I do miss that store! Different copper shapes can  also be found on ebay and etsy.
          This first post ended up lengthy and I appreciate your time! My next post will jump right in with a step by step tutorial on basic enameling.

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