Enamel on copper?

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BeadingMitsu wrote
on 9 Dec 2012 7:19 PM

I recently found out that I'm getting a torch as my gift for christmas this year, which made me go :D 

While doing research on what all I can do with this lovely little bit of tech, I found out the possibility of doing torch enameling. I love this idea. Honestly, 100% flipped over the idea of doing this. What I need to know is, where do I get enamel? How much jewelry (roughly) does 2oz give you? How 'opaque' is opaque? Are there translucent enamels? Are there enamels just for metal? Can I use a hand torch to do this type of work? I read somewhere that it is possible, but other opinions are always useful...Oh! And prices, what price range should I expect to be spending for doing something like this?  And..I think that's it..for the moment at least ^^;.


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TammyJones wrote
on 10 Dec 2012 12:36 PM

Oh Mitsu, welcome to my world! I'm HOOKED on torch enameling right now, and since I've just been learning myself these past few months, I am so happy to share.

First, the torch. If by "handheld" torch you mean a micro butane torch (like a kitchen or creme brulee torch), no, you can't enamel with those, they don't get hot enough. You need MAPP gas. Propane will also work, but I find that it takes a little longer than the MAPP gas does to melt the powders, and some folks say that propane makes muddy colors. You can buy either of these gas canisters with or without an appropriate torch head at Home Depot, Lowe's, or just about any local hardware store, for about $40. I enameled for days and days, hours each day, on one canister. I like the "fat boy" canisters, because they sit upright and their wide base makes them sturdier and less likely to tip over. You can get the skinny canisters and clamp them to your workbench--up to you.

For supplies, I've been buying mine from Barbara Lewis's Painting with Fire Studio site. (http://www.paintingwithfirestudio.com/) She wrote the torch enameling book that I love so much and shared a step-by-step enameled bracelet project with us a few months ago. Here's a link to all of that, plus a photo showing how to set up a torch-enameling work station.


She also sells on Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/Paintingwithfire

You can also buy from Rio Grande online. Barbara's store and Rio Grande are the only two places I've really shopped for enamels.

I can't say how much jewelry 2oz of enamel will give you, but I can try to help you understand how much that is, because I wondered too. Most of Barbara's enamel powders come in 3oz jars, and they are almost as round as an aluminum drink can and over 2" tall. There's quite a bit of enamel powder in there. Also remember that if you keep your enamels clean, you can collect and add the excess back to the rest, so it's like glitter--it feels like it never really gets used up or it's slow going, at least. When I started, I ordered a few of the 3oz jars in colors I really like and knew I'd use a lot, and then I also ordered one of her four-color sampler packs for colors that I didn't think I'd use as much to help me get a variety of color. The jars in the sampler pack are about as big as two Carmex lip balm jars stacked on top of each other, maybe not quite as large around. Hope that helps you get a feel for how much 2oz of enamel is.

For opaque vs. translucent... Opaque is quite opaque because enamels are done in layers, and if you do the minimum three layers, it's definitely opaque. Opaque is what I assumed I wanted all of mine to be, but I have some small amounts of translucent enamels and I have to say I'm surprised at how much I like them. Translucent pinks or rosy reds over textured brass make a beautiful rose gold effect that I love, and a translucent green makes gorgeous glowing vines and leaves. You can get white base enamel and use it under translucent colors for a unique effect, too.

For prices, I'm not sure what to tell you other than it seems that enamels in red or shades of red (oranges, pinks, purples) cost more than other colors (blues are the cheapest, for some reason). Also, if I may offer one piece of personal advice... I went to all my local craft and bead stores buying up unique metal blanks to enamel on when I first got started, and almost every single one of them melted in the torch. Stick to copper or brass (or even iron, if not silver), and try to make sure that what you're using is solid copper or solid brass. Even though copper is cheap, you might be surprised at how many jewelry findings that look like copper are actually copper-plated pewter (or brass-plated pewter, etc.)--and pewter will melt almost immediately in a MAPP gas flame. I wasted a good bit of money and a lot of pretty components by melting them during my experiments.

We also have a free eBook on enameling, you can get it here:


I hope this is all helpful! Let me know if you have other questions.


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BeadingMitsu wrote
on 11 Dec 2012 6:25 PM


Thanks so much for your response, that's a lot of useful information! 
I did find the article that started this whole thing http://www.jewelrymakingdaily.com/blogs/daily/archive/2012/04/06/micro-torches-101-part-1-the-which-what-and-why-of-butane-torches-by-kate-richbourg.aspx


Either way, I cannot wait to be able to work with enamels. :)  

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TammyJones wrote
on 12 Dec 2012 3:04 PM

Oh I see! Kate does say the Max Flame can do torch enameling. I haven't tried it, but if that's the one you got, go for it! I know the smaller ones don't get hot enough but if she says the Max Flame gets up to 2400 degrees, I believe her! She's the micro-torch queen :o)

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kmelgoza wrote
on 10 Jan 2013 12:13 AM

Hi Mitsu,

I came across your question today while perusing the forum. Hope you're having a great time with your new torch and that you've found some enamels that you like. I started down the enameling path about a year ago when I took a class at RioGrande, and I learned a lot in just a couple of days (not that it made me any kind of expert, but it was very informative). I have not done much torch enameling, as the class I took was using the kiln firing technique, but the materials and principles are the same whichever way you do it. The instructor did do a sample with a torch so that we could see the stages that the enamel goes through (sugar stage, orange peel stage, and fused). So there is a good visual tip -- as you watch the enamel flow, it will first look like slightly melted sugar, then quickly go to a sort of glossy orange peel texture, then it will smooth out. It's really a matter of trying not to "over-fire" the enamel, which is usually indicated by dark pits showing through the enamel as the copper oxides start to darken areas. 


The most common metals used are Copper, Fine Silver, Sterling Silver, Gold, and I have heard that iron and steel can be enameled as well with the proper enamel type. Many other metals contain zinc which can lower the melting temp of the metal and cause other discoloration or expansion mis-match issues. In the kiln environment, I fire at around 1500 degrees, which is the ballpark standard enameling temp. (can vary but I won't get into that).

I mostly use copper because of the cost savings. Many people prefer silver for the transparent enamels because the color and glow are much cleaner and more brilliant on silver. Copper produces oxides that will affect the the color saturation of transparent colors -- although I still find many of them quite lovely. Many people will recommend that you fire a clear transparent (clear flux) enamel as the first layer on copper, then fire your other transparent colors over that layer. I've tested this and it does make a difference for many (but not all) colors. You can also follow this path: Use a Copper shape, fire clear flux as layer 1, fuse fine silver foil (not silver leaf which is too thin) over layer 1, then proceed with your other transparent layers. This way, you get the cost savings of copper, with the underlying light reflection of silver.

Notes on copper:
As you fire, the copper will become oxidized at the edges or wherever there is no enamel. This should be scrubbed or pickled off between firings (if more than one firing). If you leave it, and then fire another color, it could flake off and float into your next molten layer of enamel.  


I use Thompson enamels because they are a well established supplier with consistent quality and many many colors available (transparent and opaque). I've only used 80 mesh enamels so far, as this is the typical mesh size for standard enameling, but there are finer meshes available for different techniques. Pick a few opaques and a few transparents to play with, as well as a clear flux (clear transparent enamel). Here is their site: http://www.thompsonenamel.com/. The 2 oz. jars will last you quite some time because it's not applied thickly. My instructor always said "...you want it about 3 grains thick". I have no idea how to see 3 grains of enamel -- but it's quite thin -- just barely hiding the metal. It's best to fire in these thinner coats and build up the color than to try to fire a thicker layer. Single thick layers tend to crack more easily after cooling -- sometimes days later.

The Art of Enameling, by Linda Darty - I love this book! It has the most readable and complete information I've found on enameling. It does tend to focus on kiln firing, while touching on torch firing, but other than the heat source, the info is the same for both methods. Very inspiring photos as well.

Torch-fired enamel jewelry, by Barbara Lewis - A definite read for torch enameling, but it doesn't really cover traditional enamel styles -- the examples are more raw and rustic -- but it looks like great fun. This is the book that made me think about trying the torch method (I haven't yet, but I will).

Good Ganoskin article on enameling: http://www.ganoksin.com/borisat/nenam/enamel-material.htm

Hope the above was helpful, and that you have a blast on your enameling adventure.

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LuniLadi wrote
on 14 Jan 2013 6:55 PM

Everyone has done a fabulous job of supplying the basics and then some on this topic. I would just like to add that you *can* enamel metal (iron) beads. Barbara Lewis sells them on her website, which Kristy has supplied, but you can also pick them up very cheaply at some bead shows. Bring a magnet, if the beads can be picked up by the magnet it shows they are iron and most likely they can be enameled!

Doreen aka LuniLadi

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