Enamel supplies from Rings & Things make enameling easy! High quality 80-mesh lead-free Thompson enamels are for copper, gold, low-carbon steel, fine silver, fired copper clay and fine-silver clay. This medium-temperature vitreous enamel can be kiln fired or torch fired at temperatures from 1,400°-1,500°F (760°-815°C).
The 41-page workbook from the creators of Thompson enamels is filled with valuable tips, techniques and technical reference material covering a wide variety of enamels, metals, and methods.
See below (bottom of page) for free basic enameling techniques and tips!
Enamel is durable, but not totally infallible. (It's glass!) Handle finished pieces with care.
Do all metal shaping, stamping, hole punching, etc. before adding enamels.
You can easily torch fire pieces up to about 2" (50mm) in diameter. Much larger, and you'll need to fire them in a kiln.
Butane Micro Torches aren't totally out of the question, but they don't work up-side-down, and the small flame takes longer to heat a piece to the temperatures required to melt the enamel.
The Handy Flame II Propane/MAPP Torch is our favorite for enameling. It heats pieces up the fastest, and can be used at any angle. But we also really like the Handy Flame Butane Torch head -- it has a nice bushy flame, and is our only butane torch head that can be used up-side-down. In both cases, purchase gas locally (hardware or camping store).
Thoroughly clean your metal before enameling -- Penny Brite (either the liquid or the cream) works great.
Before sifting enamel onto the piece, spray on a light coat of Klyr-Fire, to help enamel stay in place with an even coating.
Translucent colors are normally applied on top of a white base coat, so you can see the true color of the translucent enamel unaffected by the color of the base metal.
Opalescent colors are normally applied on top of a base coat of your choice.
Clear enamel can be used on its own or in combination with other colors.
To paint instead of sift, mix enamel with Klyr Fire or approximately 40% distilled water (to get desired consistency) and paint with a small sable paintbrush. You may want to fire a layer of Opaque White Undercoat first (especially if painting with translucent colors!).
Sift or paint enamel in desired pattern, carefully transfer to your firing station, and fire!
If you painted, allow the piece to dry before firing.
When torch firing, heat from below, so you don't blow your enamel off. Like soldering, apply heat evenly, in a circular motion, starting outside the piece and then bringing heat in towards the center.
If torch firing, watch closely: when the enamel begins to melt, you'll see a glossy "orange peel" stage where the enamel beads up before slumping to a smooth enameled sheen. Fire a bit more (past the "orange peel" stage), but don't overheat - some colors will scorch.
Allow to slowly cool. A warmed pan (or small crockpot) of vermiculite works great.
In a hurry? It's usually fine to drop small pieces in a quenching bowl after firing, instead of cooling slowly, but there is a chance that the enamel will pop off. (We've had almost no problem with this, but consider yourself warned.)
Clean as necessary - Penny Brite or a brief pickle, maybe a little underwater grinding with an alundum stone.
Warning: Pickle gives a matte effect to some colors of enamel.
Keep all your leftover / spilled enamel powder. If the colors get mixed, save them in a separate bin for use as a counter (back side) enamel. Place a creased paper on your sifting worksurface, so you can easily dump excess enamel back in the container or a mixed jar.
Eye protection and a fine-particulate mask are recommended when working with enamels.
Wash hands thoroughly when done, and avoid rubbing your eyes.
If working regularly with enamels, we suggest protective gloves to prevent irritation from small glass particles.
Prepare a fireproof work area, and remove clutter.
A fire extinguisher nearby and good ventilation are important.
Consider wearing an apron, closed-toe shoes and natural fiber clothing, and avoiding loose hair, flowy clothing and dangling jewelry.
Keep food, drinks, pets and small children away from your enamel and/or firing workspace.
Metal Compatibility & Color:
Copper "paint chip" in item image shows how each enamel looks on copper. Opaque colors are on their own. Translucent and opalescent colors have Foundation White on the bottom portion, and then a layer of translucent or opalescent color over the Foundation White and part-way up the bare copper. The color number was stamped on each strip of copper before enameling.
The firing temperature range for our enamels is 1,400°-1,500°F (760°-815°C), and they have a coefficient of expansion (COE) from 258 to 360, cubic expansion. Metals that work with these enamels must have a higher melting point, and a similar COE. Otherwise your metal may melt before your enamel, or the enamel may pop off when your jewelry is exposed to temperature changes.
Specifically, these enamels work with copper, gold, low-carbon steel and fine silver. This includes fired copper clay and fine-silver clay. (And some alloys of brass work -- we've had good luck with Vintaj brass blanks and our 24g brass blanks, especially with the higher COE colors, but color results have been unpredictable with brass -- they often require a 2nd layer and 2nd firing to get the color you were aiming for.)
Specific COE for most colors is listed in the "Additional specs" field in each item's product details. For more information about why COE is important for people who like to experiment with alternate metals, see the Thompson Enamel Workbook.