Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Torch Fire Enameling ~ My Post on Artisan Whimsy!

I recently joined an awesome Ning group called Artisan Whimsy.  The creators of the group are the administrators of Creative Bead Chat on Facebook.  I love love love Creative Bead Chat as it's a great place to share ideas, ask questions, and form friendships.  Artisan Whimsy is like Creative Bead Chat on steroids!  The site is so well organized and currently there are 20 groups in different techniques/genre of jewelry making blog posts on a weekly basis.  If you haven't visited the site yet, come join in on the fun we are having!

I joined the Enameling Group lead by Heather Marston and signed up to post about Torch Fire Enameling.  I focused on the sifting method which I learned from one of my favorite teacher, Richard Salley.

Here is my mini tutorial I posted :)


Aloha from Kauai!  I am super excited to share this blog with you!  I am by no means an expert in this field but will humbly share my experience about torch fire enameling.  I love working with metals and being able to add colors to metals was icing on the cake!  I took Richard Salley’s Torch Fire Enameling class at Bead & Button Show in 2011 and fell in love with torch fire enameling!  I will be sharing the sifting method of torch fire enameling as I am still a newbie to the immersion method taught by none other than one of my favorite teacher, Barbara Lewis.

One of the beauties about torch fire enameling is it requires minimal tools.  Here is what you need to get started:

Enamel – Very important that you only use Lead-Free enamel for torch fire enameling.  With Richard’s recommendation I purchased Thompson’s Complete Med Temp/Med Expansion 80 Mesh Enamels (169 colors!) which will give you 17g of each color.  It’s a great way to determine which colors you like and experiment the different color combinations.   This sampler pack will last you a long time for jewelry making.  Another excellent one stop source is Barbara Lewis' Painting with Fire website!  Barbara carries pretty much everything you will need for Torch Fire Enameling and her site is much easier to navigate and find what you need :)

Tripod – I recommend getting the 9 inch height so you have room for the torch head to go underneath.  You will not be using the mesh that typically comes with the tripod.  It’s a huge heat sink.  I use the mesh to cool fired pieces.

Trivet – there are various sizes but you need get a trivet that will sit on top of the tripod.  I use Thompson’s TPT-3 (2-3/4” d).  I have several trivets in different sizes so that I can torch another piece while the other one is still cooling.
Sifter – different sizes available to provide different coverage and effect.
Cheap Pliers – I use cheap pliers to remove the trivet off the tripod.  Don’t use your good pliers!  Get flat nose (not chain nose) so that you have a stable grip.  You don’t want the hot trivet to be tipping over.
MAPP Gas Torch with self igniting torch head – I got mine from Home Depot.  It’s the yellow canister.  MAPP gas is hotter than propane which will melt the glass faster.  I like the torch head where I can turn the flame on an off by just pushing the button. (personal choice)   MAPP vs. Propane?  That will be another post J  Don’t be afraid to use the torch!  I have to admit I was scared of it at first but now I have 6 torches of different sizes with different fuels for various projects (officially a pyro!)

Holding Agent/Enamel Adhesive – You can use enamel holding agent like Klyr-Fire (dilute with water 50/50) or use a cheap liquid hair spray (I was told the cheaper the hairspray the higher the alcohol content which works great, i.e. White Rain)  One thing to remember is to let the piece dry after you sift your enamel before firing.  If you put too much holding agent and there is wet enamel, it will pop during firing and leave holes.

Safety Glasses – Always protect your eyes!  Torch fire enameling is quick so I don’t use didymium glasses but you may want to get one if you plan on torching for long hours to protect your eyes.

Mask – I use the 3M 8212 N95 for soldering/welding.  This may be overkill but I try to take every safety precautions.  You are working with ground glass and whenever you are sifting or transferring enamel from one container to another, you should be wearing a mask to protect your lungs.  Also it’s super important to wipe down the area with wet paper towel so that you are not sending enamel dust in the air.  I keep my mask on until I’ve finished cleaning the work area.

Let’s get started!
Step 1:  Clean your metal – Use mild detergent (like Dawn) and rinse off well.  Scrub if necessary.  The water should not repel from a clean surface.  Dirty piece will cause enamel to pop or crack later.

Step 2:  Lightly spray enamel adhesive on metal (back side first)
Step 3Sift the backside with counter enamel.  I place the little trivet (this is not the same trivet I use for firing) on top of old glossy magazine pages to collect enamels and pour it back to the container.  Try to get an even coating.  You can use a darker color enamel or mixture of all the left over.  Heat the piece from the bottom and melt the enamel until you reach the orange peel texture look.  Don’t over heat the counter enamel side as you will be applying the flame directly later when you are enameling the front side of the piece.
Let it cool (don’t quench in water as the shock will crack the glass)

Step 4:  Repeat Step 2 on the front side of the piece.  I typically start with opaque enamel as my base coat.  Unlike the counter enamel, heat the piece until it looks glossy/shiny.
That is when the glass is fully fused.  If you want just one coat of color and you have good even coverage then stop here.  In this picture I wanted only the bottom half enameled.

Step 5: This is where the fun begins!  Layering different opaque and/or transparent colors.  Color combinations are endless!  Keep in mind transparent enamel requires a little longer to fuse than opaque colors.  Wait for the surface to give you the even glossy look.  It’s almost like watching solder flow.

  • If you are planning on layering multiple colors in the front, be sure to apply several layers of counter enamel.  Otherwise, the front side will have more enamel than the back and the piece will curl.
  • If you have holes, be sure to keep it unclogged with enamel.  I use a toothpick.
  • When re-torching a piece, heat it nice and slow.  Give it enough distance and once the enamel starts to change color bring the torch closer.  You are working with glass and you don’t want to temperature shock the piece.
  • Don’t over heat the piece.  You will have enamel pull away from the edges.
  • Don’t put the torch too close to the piece.  I have a tendency to bring the torch tip closer and closer to the piece and have to keep reminding myself there is a “sweet” spot where the flame is hotter.
  • Keep your edges clean when you sift the enamel on.  Otherwise, the piece will get stuck on the trivet.
  • If you don’t like how the color turned out, layer with another.  Some of my favorite pieces started out super ugly!
  • Layering opaque over transparent enamel will cover over and mask the transparent underneath. 
  • Keep your work area clean
  • Torch in a well ventilated place even if you are wearing a mask!
Earrings are done!  Pretty happy how they turned out :)

It’s so great to be part of this wonderful community.  I’m looking forward to learning from you all!  Mahalo for reading and happy torching everyone!

Kumi Fisher (aka Malie Kai on Facebook)