I love a bit of enamel, it’s a practice I’m fascinated by and is on my list to try next. For those not familiar with the process, enamelling involves applying powdered glass onto metal, glass or ceramics. The vitreous enamel powders are applied through a fine sieve and the base is then placed inside a kiln at temperatures of between 750° and 850°. Within a couple of minutes, the glass powder melts & becomes a liquid. Then, as it cools, the molten glass solidifies to form a smooth, hard finish. Enamels are highly durable and will not fade making it a process historically favoured by jewellery makers. Here, Rebecca Louise Wilson, an enameller from York, shares her essential tool kit for designing and creating small decorative enamelled objects.
I have only recently graduated and set up my business and although my wish list is extensive, for the time being I am managing quite well with a fairly basic amount of equipment! For example, you can get proper heat proof mats for your work bench but I am using some surplus ceramic floor tiles for putting my work on as it comes out of the kiln. They protect the work top and help cool the metal. I also use an old slow-cooker for heating the cleaning solution.
So although there are some pieces of equipment that are absolutely essential, it is not always necessary to have all the ‘proper’ stuff to start with!
My ‘Enamelling’ essentials… Clockwise from top, but in no particular order of importance!
1. Iron… just a supermarket basics iron, cord chopped off…I use this to flatten the metal as it cools.
2. Adjustable saw frame and beeswax… for cutting out my copper shapes. I have tried loads of different blades, fine jewellery ones just break too easily and I think I am a bit heavy-handed! The adjustable frame means that I can sometimes reuse saw blades if I do break them. The bees wax is great for applying to the saw blade, helps it glide through the metal easier and stops it getting stuck.
3. Wire mesh stands… for holding the metal in the kiln… I buy sheets of wire mesh and cut it into strips to make my own stands…that way I can adapt the sizes to suit different pieces of work.
4. Tweezers… plastic ones for taking the metal shapes out of the cleaning solutions…metal ones for handling the hot metal, and it gets really hot! The enamels are fired at temperatures of between 750˚ and 850˚.
5. A toothbrush… for cleaning the bare metal and also for cleaning between layers of enamel… the surface needs to be kept dirt and grease free.
6. Diapads… polishing pads made with loads of (really little) diamonds!! (Not as glamorous as it seems!)… For smoothing down the surface between layers.
7. Face mask… really important to wear one of these… there is a lot of dust and although I use lead-free enamel powder it is still wise not to be breathing it in… health and safety!
8. Sieves… for applying the enamel powder… various sizes.
9. Three x 2p pieces… little tip – stack up 3 x 2p pieces and place metal on top, means that when you have applied the enamel it is much easier to pick up without disturbing the powder. If you’re really posh you can use £1 coins!
10. Timer…my most recent purchase but well worth it, I’m very good at trying to do several jobs at once and ‘forget’ what’s in the kiln!
Not pictured… but nothing would happen without my kiln! I use a small table-top Paragon kiln.
Huge thanks to Rebecca for contributing to this piece. You can browse and buy her products in her Folksy Shop Rebecca Louise Wilson Designs.
If you have an interesting crafting kit you just cannot live without, please send it to me at email@example.com.