Questions & Answers

Enamelwork Supply Company

Q: Why don't my fired samples look exactly like the pictures on the website?
Q: Can I get a sample of a color?
Q: What is cold enamel?
Q: What is overglaze? Underglaze?
Q: Is lead bearing enamel dangerous?
Q: Do I need to remove enamel fines?
Q: How can I use foil with enamels?
Q: Do I need to anneal cloisonne' wire?
Q: Do I need to test these enamels?
Q: Can I enamel on sterling silver?



 

Q: Why don’t my fired samples look exactly like the pictures on the website?

A: There are many possible answers but the most obvious one is that no photo looks exactly like the object being photographed. The sophistication of the camera and the lighting conditions make a difference in the output. Then when the photo gets to a webpage it is influenced by your monitor. You are encouraged to get $1.00 samples so that you can have a real life example of the enamels you are interested in.

Q: Can I get a sample of a color to see if I like it before I buy a quantity?

A: Absolutely, you can have a $1.00 sample of any of the enamels that we sell.

Q: What is the difference between “cold enamel” and “vitreous enamel”?

A: Cold enamel is epoxy resin and does not require heating with a kiln or a torch. Vitreous enamel is made out of glass and must be fused to metal at temperatures in the 1300-1500° F. range. It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between them when looking at them but the cold enamel is lighter weight and tends to scratch more easily.

Q: What is the difference between overglaze and underglaze?

A: Overglaze (painting enamel) typically has more glass (frit) in the composition and will fire glossy. Underglaze has much less glass and needs to be fired with enamel over the top of it to be shiny and permanent.

Q: How dangerous is lead bearing enamel?

A: You need to be aware that lead bearing enamel is potentially dangerous but if you use certain precautions you need not be afraid to use it. In my opinion applying or grade sieving dry enamel is the most dangerous time when dealing with enamels. During that time you don’t have much control over where the enamel dust flies. Using an appropriate dust mask, using ventilation that carries the dust away from you and keeping containers covered when possible are very important precautions. Remember that even lead free enamels have ingredients that are unsafe when inhaled or ingested so I use the same precautions for both types of enamel. It’s also a good idea to wet clean your work area rather than dusting, sweeping or vacuuming which just stirs up any enamel dust.

Q: Do I need to remove the "fines" from jewelry enamels?

A: Removing the fines (the smallest grains of enamel) from jewelry enamels will give you a clearer transparent and a more consistent color tone with opaques. Not everyone removes the fines though. Try a test to see if you like an enamel “as is”. Fines can be removed by sieving* (I use a 200 mesh sieve and use what is left on the sieve) or by washing with water* (stir or shake the mixture and pour off the cloudy water). The fines can sometimes be used for counter enamel or for shading.

Q: How can I use foil with enamel?

A: Foil can be used in a sheet or cut into shapes or punched with a paper punch. Often silver foil is used to cover a copper enameled piece when silver cloisonné wire will be used. Or gold foil is used on a silver piece to hold the “silver sensitive” enamels. Different enamelists have different methods of attaching the foil. Some use plain water, some Klyr-fire and some use a gold leaf size. Petroleum jelly will hold small pieces of foil down. Remember that there needs to be a layer of enamel between the metal base and the foil. The thicker and wider the foil the more necessary it is to puncture the foil before firing to allow ”out gassing” to pass through. An easy way to do this is to fold a piece of sandpaper in half, put the foil in between and pound with a rubber mallet or roll over it with a rubber brayer. Gold foil does not need to be pierced but the thicker silver foils do. If you are interested please see the article titled “Using Foil & Leaf”.

Q: Do I need to anneal cloisonné wire before I use it?

A: Most enamelists do. Unannealed copper cloisonné wire in particular is very “springy” and wants to return to its original state after you have bent it. Curl it into a coil and anneal it in the kiln at 1400-1500° F. and drop it into a bucket of water. It then needs to be pickled to remove the firescale, rinsed and dried. Silver wire benefits from annealing too but does not form firescale so does not need to be pickled and cleaned. Gold wire, especially the thinner wires, may be soft enough without annealing. Try it and see. Keep cloisonné wire on a spool to prevent it from getting snarled and kinked.

Q: Do I need to test an enamel before using it on a piece?

A: You don’t have to but it is a smart thing to do. For one thing you can’t always tell the true color by looking at the powder or even whether it is an opaque, transparent or something else. When you make a test tile you know the true color and the firing characteristics, which will save you a lot of grief later. Make tests on all the metals and substrates that you are apt to use e.g. copper, silver, gold, flux, white opaque etc. You can use silver and/or gold foil instead of those metal in sheet form for your samples.

Q: Can I enamel on sterling silver?

A: You can, and sometimes you have to, in order to get the strength required of a piece. It is however a little more problematic than firing on fine silver. If possible use fine silver to enamel and bezel the piece or frame it with something made of sterling silver. If you need to enamel the sterling, depletion gild it first. Fire it in the kiln until fire scale forms, cool it, pickle it, clean it with water and a glass brush and dry it. Do this over and over until no more black fire scale forms and then enamel it. This removes the top layer of copper and leaves a fine silver coating on the sterling. This gives a brighter sheen to the transparent enamel overcoat and removes the need to pickle between firings.  However be advised that not all enamels that look good on fine silver will look good on sterling.

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