Easy Enameling: Make Enameled Copper-Tube Beads

26 Dec 2011

 
This time last year, I finished up my list of New Year's resolutions, among which were promises to add lampwork glass and enameling to my jewelry-making toolbox. I marked lampwork glass off my list (thanks Marcy!), but I didn't quite make it to enameling.

I had good intentions, though, and (sort of) started learning enameling. Last February I was pleased and fortunate to see a free demo of enameling on copper tube segments to make colorful beads by Ruth Prince, a very talented and generous lady in my metal clay guild back in Tennessee. She made it look so easy, and I took lots of photos to share with you someday. . . .

Today's the day!

 
Enameling Copper Tube Beads

Prepare before you begin:

  • copper tubing (diameter to fit lampworking rods) cut into segments (any length you want) and cleaned with ammonia, pickle, or baking soda (until water spills off and doesn't bead up)
  • an old coffee can of vermiculite warming on a hotplate
  • narrow piles of 80-mesh enameling powder in various colors (not too close together, they need room to spread out) on a lazy Susan or something similar (something that won't melt and that you can easily turn with one hand)
  • a standing torch strapped safely in place so you can work with the flame hands-free
  • several lampworking rods with copper tubing segments inserted on the ends 

To enamel on copper tube beads:

1. Heat the copper-tube bead on the end of the lampwork glass rod and roll the copper through some enamel powder to pick up your first layer.

 
2. Move the bead into the flame, turning it slowly so that it gets heated evenly and the molten glass--which the enameling powder is becoming--doesn't drip. Keep turning the rod and moving the bead in and out of the flame, checking for the enamel to fuse into the "orange peel" stage (where the surface of the glass is textured like a dimpled orange peeling). When that is achieved, move the rod out of the flame.

 
3. Roll the hot enameled bead through the powders again to pick up more powder--either more of the same color or a new color--and repeat the process, turning the rod slowly and moving it into and out of the flame.

Note: You can't mix enamel colors to achieve a new color like you mix paint. Red and blue won't make purple, etc. The powders don't melt together, they fuse--and each color will remain present. You can, however, play with color by enameling in thin layers.

 
4. Continue adding layers to create unique color patterns and/or to increase the size of the bead. When all of your layering is done and you've achieved the look and size that you want, continue heating the bead in the flame, checking it occasionally until the powder's surface is no longer orange-peel textured but glassy and smooth.

5. After you remove the bead from the flame, keep turning it about 45 seconds to a minute to prevent dripping or drooping and also to allow it to cool slightly; then stick the bead in the warm vermiculite.

 
6. Allow the enameled beads to cool and anneal slowly in the vermiculite. When you're done making beads, turn off the hot plate and allow the vermiculite to cool slowly as well.

Voila! It's as easy as that--roll and heat, roll and heat. If you can properly roast a marshmallow on a fire, I think you can make enameled copper-tube beads! And aren't they gorgeous? You couldn't make two identical ones if you tried, and I love their truly one-of-a-kind nature. Plus it's so quick and easy to do!

To learn more about enameling, check out Barbara Lewis's Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry book or Torch-Fired Enamel Basics video workshop.


Related Posts
+ Add a comment

Comments

SusanS@211 wrote
on 26 Dec 2011 2:14 PM

Great article!  I would like to point out that a lampwork glass rod is typically made of glass. We glass bead makers call the metal rod you are using a mandrel.  

ECee wrote
on 26 Dec 2011 4:53 PM

Hi,  Tammy, is that you making these beads?  Very nice, and good instruction & photos.  I'd like to know what kind of torch you are using. I see a sliver of a tank directly connected to the tip. Is this propane?  I want to upgrade from butane in my workshop room at home, and have been debating with myself about what to get. We do have propane outside with a grill. Info on this  would be appreciated. Thank you. Barb

TammyJones wrote
on 1 Jan 2012 2:06 PM

Susan, you are so right--thank you for pointing that out!

ECee, it isn't me, it's actually Ruth, a lady in my metal clay guild. But you're right, it is a propane torch. You can find a few different kinds at hardware stores like Home Depot and Lowe's, as well as independent hardware stores. The tip screws right onto the tank. Almost any kind of torch will work, as long as it's a hands-free setup. Good luck to you!

CalicoCallie wrote
on 5 Jan 2012 4:06 PM

I've been trying to find copper tubing to try this, but I'm running into problems narrowing it down. There seem to be more than one kind of 1/2" copper tubing. Any hints?

TammyJones wrote
on 6 Jan 2012 9:15 AM

Hi CalicoCallie, CUTE name! The only considerations I've had for doing this is that the thickness of the copper tube walls isn't overly thick--but that's a matter of preference. You don't want it to be so thin that it can't support the new glass coating, and you don't want it to be unnecessarily thick, due to increased weight, cost, bulk, and overall look. Still, it's just a matter of preference. Other than the thickness of the tube walls, what other kinds of differences in tubing are you finding?

on 30 Nov 2014 2:50 AM

Hi Tammy, I know this is an older post but I am just now seeing. Anyway, is there something on the mandrel to hold the copper bead in place? Thanks

TammyJones wrote
on 30 Nov 2014 11:04 PM

Hi SusanBCreations, glad you found it anyway!

There's nothing on the mandrel to hold it in place, you just tilt the mandrel and your hand to keep the bead on/near the end of the mandrel. Gravity! Do be careful not to let it slide down to your hand and burn you; wrapping wire or something else that won't conduct heat around the end closer to your fingers as a block is a good idea if you're worried about that.

Thanks for reading JMD!

Tammy