Applying a Counter Enamel and Top Coat of Glass Enamels

by Tammy Honaman, Author, Jewelry-Making Expert and Educator,
Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and BeadsĀ®

When enameling on metal, depending on the thickness and the technique you are working in, it is advisable to enamel both sides of the piece. This process will help distribute the stress that is created during the enameling process and will help lessen warping, which might occur as the metal and enamel expand and contract. These enamel layers are called counter enamel (the under or back side) and top coat (the layer that is facing forward).

Prepping the Metal for Enameling

Prepare your metal so it is ready for your finished design. Drill all holes, file all edges as needed, etc.
Rub Penny BriteĀ® onto the surface of a copper blank.

If working with fine-silver, use a 50/50 solution of ammonia and water to clean the metal surface.

Rinse. The water should "sheet" off of the blank (not drag along the surface). Clean again if necessary.

Once clean, do your best to not handle the side of the component you will be enameling as oils and dirt from your hands will impede proper fusing between the enamel and metal.

Adding a Layer of Counter Enamel

Put on a dust mask. Have nearby, a trivet and appropriate tools and firing set up according to your choice of kiln firing or torch firing.

Fill a sifter about 1/3 full of a color that is the same as your design or a color you have a lot of and don't use often. This will be the back or under side so the color will likely not matter.

While holding your work over a piece of magazine or copy paper, place your metal upside down on the end of two fingers in your non-dominant hand. With your dominant hand, hold the sifter above the outside edge of the blank. Tap the handle of the sifter, and as the enamel comes through the mesh, move the sifter in a spiral pattern around the blank, working toward the center.

Carefully place the enamel-covered blank onto the trivet. Ensure any drill holes are free of enamel. If needed, use a beading awl or toothpick to clean any enamel from the hole.

Fire using a kiln or a torch.

Applying a Top Layer of Enamel

The top layer, also known as the base layer, faces forward.

Note: When firing copper, a layer of firescale will form on the areas not coated with enamel. This is an oxide formed when the metal comes into contact with high heat. Firescale will flake off as the metal cools and the surface will be left with a beautiful reddish brown color. The firescale will literally start to fall off without dong anything. To make sure all the loose particles are removed though, use your fingers to brush the metal completely then rinse, ensuring the water sheets off the surface. If needed, repeat cleaning with Penny Brite to ensure the surface is free of any oils or dirt. If applying transparent enamel ensure the color of the metal is as you would like it as you will see through the glass--if needed, scrub the surface to return it to shiny copper.
Repeat Steps 3 - 4 to add a layer of enamel. When using the trivet, place the blank so the bottom (where there is already enamel) touches as little as possible, yet is still supported safely. The counter enameled surface will want to stick to the trivet and may mar the surface. If it does stick, after firing, and after the metal has cooled, carefully remove the blank from the trivet. Assess the surface, and if needed, use an allundum stone to grind down any rough areas.

Note: After finishing your first layer on the front, check the edges of the blank. Remove the flakes of firescale so they do not inadvertently flake off and wind up in your next layer of enamel. You can clean the metal as before or with an allundum stone. Repeat adding more layers of enamel until your design is as you would like.

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