Pat Johnson Enamels

Enameling FAQ
First Steps on Making an Enamel Image in Copper

Background Information
First Steps
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After Firing


 The first step in enamelling copper is to clean the surface of the copper. This is a very brief and simple operation and need not be thorough. Either rub the surface of the copper with a piece of abrasive sponge until it just becomes bright, or else clean the copper with any scouring powder and water. This cleaning removes any oil on the surface of the metal. It is only required before the application of the first layer of enamel. After first firing, any remaining oil is burnt off. However, the abrasive sponge can be rubbed around the edges of enamelled work after every firing in order to remove any loose bits of firescale (copper oxide) which might get into the unfired enamel of the next firing.

The basic technique for applying dry powdered enamel to a large surface is sifting. It is a good idea to rest the work on top of a coin, so that it can be easily lifted up after the enamel has been applied. Although simple in itself, sifting must be done correctly. Enamel powder is tipped into a sieve while the sieve is held over a piece of paper. The sieve should not be not over the suspended over the metal surface when it is being filled with enamel. This will prevent some of the grains enamel falling through to sieve and piling up on the metal, which results in and uneven surface.

The sieve is then shaken evenly over the surface of the copper. The hand holding the sieve should swing freely from side to side in order to cast the enamel grains evenly and create a uniform depth. One pitfall to watch for is putting on either too much or too little enamel. For the first coat, the depth of the enamel should be approximately the same as the thickness of the copper. If the colour of the copper can be seen shinning through the grains of enamel, then the coating is too thin.

It is important that the mesh in the sieve is the right size for the grains of enamel. Tea strainers bought in most stores have mesh which is too big, allowing too much enamel to fall through. This can be corrected by painting them with a 50/50 solution of PVA glue, letting the glue become mostly dry, then rubbing the sieve with loose enamel. This should gum up the mesh so that it is no longer too big to use. Trial and error is required.


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