Setting Up a Safe Torch Firing Area and Firing Enamels with a Butane-Filled Torch

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

Glass enamels are applied to metal for a beautiful and colorful finish. Enamels are fired onto the metal with the heat of a torch or kiln. When using a kiln for enameling, the target temperature is in the area of 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. When torch firing, the temperature needed is the same, but the goal is to do the fusing quickly. Since you are working in an open-air environment, it is recommended to use a torch with a higher temperature rating--more like 2300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Safety Notes

There are 4 stages that enamel will progress through when heated: sugar, orange peel, full fuse and over fired. These words describe what the enamel looks like at each stage:

1. Sugar
Sugar looks like fine sugar.
2. Orange Peel
Orange peel looks just like an orange peel--glossy with bumps.
3. Full Fuse
Full fuse is when the surface is smooth and shiny.
4. Over Fired
Over fired is when you start to see pits in the surface, black spots and sometimes the edges start creeping and/or changing color.

Each stage is obtained by controlling the heat. All have their place and it is advisable to become familiar with each so you understand what they look like, how they can work to your advantage and how to avoid them if they are not what you are looking for.

Torch Firing Area

Enameling Area

Torch Firing Enamel

Fill the butane torch with fuel per manufacturer's instructions. Prepare the metal surface for enameling. Apply the enamel to the metal. Carefully maneuver the enameled metal onto a trivet then carefully move the trivet onto the mesh firing rack.
Put on your safety glasses. Ignite a butane-filled torch. Introduce the flame to the metal, working from underneath the blank, and doing so slowly at first so the flame does not blow the enamels from the surface of the metal.

Continue heating the blank from underneath, using the dynamics of the trivet to splay the flame to all areas of the blank, moving the torch to reach other areas if needed. Heat until the desired finish is reached.

Note: 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 will help distribute the stress evenly and 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 topcoat (the layer that is facing forward).

Since this first enamel coating will be the counter enamel, heat the blank until the surface of the enamel is at least to the sugar stage. The metal and enamel will be heated again so "sugar" will eventually turn to fully fused. Allow the metal to cool.
Fold the paper that caught the enamels, to form a funnel-like spout then pour the enamels back into its original container.

Repeat to add a topcoat of enamels until the finish of the enamels is as your design calls for.

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