The Enameled Heart
Just a quick little demo of something I tried today plus, it’s a good backup for the video I just released: How to Make Enameled Cabochons. Thought someone might like it. It’s a lot quicker than sawing out a full heart shape and you end up with a spare disc or two, to boot! You can also practice your enameling skills. I’m not going to show the finished piece to you until the end. Building suspense is good writing practice, or so I’m told.
If you don’t want to make a heart, you can also try your hand at enameling other “negative space” shapes like these:
This technique is fine if you want a negative space cut out but, not if you want a piece of metal shaped like a heart.
Tools and materials needed:
- Circle template (optional)
- Disc cutter
- Lubrication like beeswax or (my favorite) Liquid Bur Life.
- Jeweler’s saw frame and saw blades.
- Copper – 24 – 18 gauge
- Sharpie-type pen
If enameling the piece:
- Newspaper or Magazine to catch enamel
- Thin steel mandrel
- Firing trivet
- Klyr fire or similar binder
- Paintbrush – not tiny, not huge – something sufficient to paint the metal with the klyr fire.
- Distilled water
- Pickle and pickle pot (you want the pickle hot so that it will work faster)
- Tongs (long enough to reach into the kiln without burning off your arm)
- Leather gloves
- UV glasses
- Particulate mask – not a Drs. mask. A real particulate mask.
- Firebrick, regular brick, cement board or another heatproof surface
- Oh, and enamel would be a good idea – opaque flame red (Thompson Enamel #1880) is used in this project.
I used 24g metal for the sample but, you can use whatever gauge your punch and strength can handle. If the metal is very thick, you may need to use a hydraulic press.
The copper that I’m using, in the example, has a strange oxidation thing happening – ignore it!
Cutting out your heart (hah)
- Step 1
Draw out two circles on the metal. Place them wherever you want. I used two different sized punches to add visual interest. Connect the circles in any style you wish. Mark the punch sizes so you don’t get confused (I do) – the sizes look very similar. I used the Pepetools Premium Disc Cutter – which works great and has a lot of differently sized punches (14) plus, the center-positioning dies (14), urethane pad and Pepe Lube. You’ll appreciate the positioning dies when cutting washers.
- Step 2
Align lines (from the circle you drew on before) in the disc cutter. Just to be sure that you place the correct punch over the correct circle. It doesn’t have to be perfectly aligned. The marks are there for guidance.
- Step 3
Put on ear protection, tighten down punch base, align punch, bring the hammer down, flat on the end of the cutter. Hit it hard. If necessary, you can whack it a few more times. You can also use the disc cutter in a hydraulic press.
- Step 4
- Step 5
- Step 6
Finish interior edges with files and sandpaper. Cut surrounding metal, if necessary, and finish.
- Step 7
Use a nail set or other tool to make a divot(s) where you want to drill the hole(s) for attaching to a chain with a jump ring (if that’s what you want to do!). If enameling, make sure that the hole is a little larger than you will need as the enamel will fill it in a bit. Clean any burs from around the hole. When deciding where to place the hole, think about how big a jump ring you will use: if you make the hole too far from the edge, you’ll have to make a ginormous jump ring – too close and the stress of movement will eventually cause the metal to twist, work-harden and snap.
Enameling and Finishing
If you want to enamel your empty, little heart, the steps are as follows:
- Clean the metal thoroughly. I like the torch cleaning method: hit with torch, pickle. Your hands are clean and you don’t ever touch your oily face (sorry, but it is!).
- Mix up a mixture of 50% binding agent like Klyr Fire to 50% distilled water. Stir. This binding agent is used to hold the dry enamel to the metal. If you didn’t employ a binder, the enamel would be very difficult to control – especially with dimensional pieces like a dome.
- Paint a layer of binder mixture onto the clean metal. Don’t forget to hit the exterior and interior edges with the wet binder (on your brush, that is. Don’t just fling binder at your copper. Flinging binder is considered rude within the enameling community. I just made that up – sorry). I find, that if I paint a little binder, dust with enamel, paint a little more binder, dust, etc., that the enamel seems to stick better. I think what happens is, that when the entire piece is painted with the binder and then sifted, the binder has had time to dry out. By adding binder, then enamel, section by section, the binder has less time to sit there and dry out. At least, this is my opinion based on my observations. Your experience could be completely different and may involve aliens too.
- (note bare spots) Sift the enamel evenly over the metal. Sometimes, after sifting, you will notice bare spots. Remoisten and, using a smaller sifter, tap a bit around the edges. You can even, gently, tap the enamel down with your finger. Don’t use your nose for this. (I think it’s time to quit for the day – I am getting silly and probably, stupid).
- Using a thin mandrel, clear out any enamel that has built up in your jump ring hole. Smooth sides/edges of the metal, if there is any enamel poking out. If you are using two colors; one for the back and one for the front, be sure to clean off any loose enamel from the other side. Also, clean your trivet. You don’t want enamel to stick to it. If this does happen, over a garbage can, crush the fired-on enamel with a pair of pliers. I squeeze them together and twist a little. Watch out for slivers of broken glass – as you well know – glass is an efficient wound creator.
- Dry enamel. Here, the wet, enameled piece is placed over the “blowhole” of my kiln (that’s not the real name of that hole, BTW. I don’t know what it is called).
- Fire. In this image, I over-fired (by accident – really!). The black areas are telling my sad tale of burnt enamel. What happened was, my timer lost its voice. It ticked off the minutes, quite well but, didn’t alert me when it was done. Off I go to grab another timer. Glad it was my first coat. When firing, keep an eye on the enamel – check often. The timer should be there as a last resort. What was it that I my mother always told me? Oh yes, “Do what I say, not what I do!” or what I would say: “don’t write a web page while you have a piece in the kiln“.
- Repeat steps 3, 4, 5 and 6 on the same side.
- After you have applied 2-3 layers of enamel on one side, turn it over and do the same with the other side.
- Stick a jump ring in it (I think this should a jeweler’s way of saying “shut up”), attach to a chain and you are done.
- Show it off to everyone and start taking orders.
- You could texture the background and use translucent enamel.
- Cut out a small heart (need a saw or a heart punch for this one) and attach to the interior of the empty heart with a jump ring. Metalliferous has a few pre-cut heart shapes, as does FDJ Tool and a zillion other sources. You could also purchase a heart punch (don’t we call that an “ex”?). Rio Grande sells the Swanstrom version. AnyMansCastle on Ebay sells another type of heart punch (no brand name noted): a $100 (- or +) cheaper version than the Swanstrom. I have no idea about quality. I do know that Swanstrom makes good tools. One note on disc cutters: You want the type that tightens down. If you use a disc cutter without this ability, you cannot hit the punch two or more times. The metal usually moves during the cutting process and the punch will leave “shadows”, of the formerly attempted cuts, on the metal. A non-tightening punch is fine if you are only using it with a hydraulic press. To cut without the press, with only one whack is possible but, for those of us with less than manly upper body strength, it can be very difficult to accomplish – especially with metal over 24g.
- Make two, one with a slightly smaller heart shape. Rivet the smaller heart to the back side to add visual depth.
- Instead of a rectangle, cut the surrounding metal into a heart shape. Although, I would make the walls thicker than I did in my Photoshop alteration.
- Pierce out the rectangular area and create a ton of tiny hearts of varying sizes. You love to saw, isn’t that right. Well, that’s what you told me! Which is it?…
- Remove bubbles from the surface before sifting. I just brush over them. Cat, dog or yeti fur may need to be tweezed off.
- If you burn your edges, as I did in my first firing, you can just sift over it again. You can also use an alundum/enameling stones stick to grind off the black areas and try again.
- Clean sifters and brushes well between colors.
- Use magazines or newspapers to sift over. You then fold the magazine or paper and pour the enamel back into the jar. Try not to use the same paper for different colors. If you do use the paper over again, like when switching from red to blue, be sure to clean all traces of the prior enamel off of the surface. Wear a mask while doing this.
- Try to find trivets that touch the least amount of surface area.
- Most enamels fire between 1400°F and 1500°F. Do a few test pieces to see what temperature works best for you. Kilns vary and their thermostats may be off too. I fire in a 1450°F kiln for approximately 3 minutes.
- Check out Fire Mountain Gems website for images of the different looks of unfired, underfired, perfectly fired and overfired enamels. I have seen all of these today. Lucky me.
- You sift enamel by holding the handle in your (dominant) hand and tap the handle, near the cup, with your pointer finger.
- I tilt the piece, while under the sifter, to be able to coat hard to reach areas.
- I sift over the jar to get most of the enamel back into the container and therefore saving me some cleanup. Not-so-lazy jeweler here.
- I also pour the extra enamel back into the jar between siftings – it keeps the enamel from getting all over your trivet and in other places that you don’t want it.
- If you want more control over your sifting, use a smaller sifter.
WEAR A MASK WHEN SIFTING ENAMEL. KEEP THE DOGS, CATS AND YETIS OFF OF THE COUNTER. SWEEP UP AFTER ENAMELING. SWEEP COUNTERS TOO. WEAR A MASK WHEN YOU DO THIS.
DON’T BURN YOURSELF. WEAR SAFETY EYE PROTECTION – UV TYPE. BEHAVE! OR ELSE…
THANKS (oh, whoops, can stop yelling now) for visiting and I apologize for my behavior. Kiss, kiss. Nancy.
May 29, 2015, 6:41 p.m., PST.