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Three rings enameled pendant

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This project uses basic hardware store copper washers purchased from Harbor Freight. Sold in a variety pack of many different sizes, these washers are intended for use by electricians or plumbers. They are very inexpensive and can be modified to create a variety of designs. (They also come in a great plastic box for storage!)
2_harbor freight washers
PHOTO A

SUPPLIES

  • Copper washers (Harbor Freight, www.harborfreight.com)
  • Lead-free powdered enamel (Thompson Enamel, www.thompsonenamel.com)
  • A1 Klyr-fire holding agent (Thompson Enamel)
  • Your choice of finishing materials: jump rings; a piece of cord or chain

TOOLS

  • Rolling mill
  • Rawhide mallet and bench block
  • Metal punch or drill press
  • Toothpick or pin
  • Materials to clean metal*
  • Magazine sheets for sifting
  • Sifters
  • Stainless steel trivets
  • Enameling kiln and tools*
  • Dust mask
  • Safety goggles
  • Heat-safe gloves


*Refer to our Enameling Toolbox for more information about a basic setup for an enameling workspace.

 
INSTRUCTIONS
3_rolling washers
PHOTO B
1. Run a selection of copper washers through a rolling mill.

Use different sizes of washers (PHOTO A) to create different looks. Trial and error will result in many interesting shapes, some oval, some just larger circles. Try running the same ring through the mill twice to create an exaggerated shape.

The washers are a thin gauge of copper and should go through the rolling mill easily (PHOTO B), but if you have any trouble achieving the desired results, try annealing the copper before rolling.

You may need to use a rawhide mallet and bench block to flatten the rings if they are warped from the rollers. Just tap them gently, flip them over and tap the other side until you’re satisfied. 
5_workspace
PHOTO C
2. Select a few rings in graduated sizes.

Lay your rings out on your workspace and experiment with different combinations. You project may not be three rings in graduated sizes, like mine, but instead two rings of a similar size. Move the rings around on your workspace until you find a combination that speaks to you. (PHOTO C)

Once you’ve chosen your rings, decide where your connecting elements will be positioned. Mark the copper with a tiny dot (a Sharpie marker works great for this purpose) and then punch holes in the copper using a metal punch or a drill press. Be sure to punch a hole slightly larger in diameter than the gauge of jump ring that you’ll be using, as some enamel may sneak into the hole during firing.
6_picking colors
PHOTO D

3. Select your enamel colors.

As mentioned in this article, the colors that I chose for this pendant were based on the Pantone Spring Colors for 2017. But with enamel, you have a large palette to choose from! You can work in opaque or transparent color; your pieces can be all the same color or you can create a rainbow! Be creative and experiment until you find the color combinations that work for you. (PHOTO D)

Some enamelists use a blend of leftover enamels as their counter-enamel (the color on the back of the piece), as it helps to recycle extra enamel, and because the back of a piece is not always seen. I chose to use the same color on both the front and back of these pieces, since they may spin around while being worn. It’s your choice what to use!

7_sifting
PHOTO E

4. Clean your metal and sift enamel onto your washers.

In order for enamel to adhere to copper, the metal must be very clean of grease or dirt. Use a green scrubby sponge and Penny Brite, Barkeep’s Friend, or a similar, non-abrasive cleanser to clean your metal, until running water comes off the copper in sheets. Carry your clean pieces by the edges so that your fingers don’t add grease right back onto the clean metal.

Spray your clean and dry copper with a light coat of Klyr-Fire and sift your enamel onto the washers. You will need to coat both the front and back of the pieces. You can do both sides at once if you are careful, but if you’re more comfortable doing one side at a time, just remember that you’ll need to scrub the firescale off the bare metal before you coat the opposite side.

Be sure to use a toothpick, pin, or something similar to clean the powdered enamel out of the holes that you’ve punched in your copper BEFORE you fire. If you accidentally cover your holes with enamel, it can be drilled, but not without some difficulty! (PHOTO E)

SAFETY NOTE: Be sure to wear a dust mask when sifting powdered enamel, and heat-safe gloves and eye protection when you are moving pieces in and out of the kiln. Remember that you are working at temperatures of 1500 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, so exercise caution and common sense in your workspace.

8_first fire
PHOTO F
5. Fire your pieces, then repeat. 

Transfer your pieces very carefully to stainless steel trivets and allow a few minutes for the Klyr-Fire to dry. Fire your pieces on the trivets in an enameling kiln. 

As these washers are quite small and thin, and have a very light coating of enamel, they need only about 90 seconds in a 1500 degree kiln. But as you can see in PHOTO F, one layer of enamel and one firing may not be enough to obtain a good coating or a vibrant color. That’s easy to fix; just add another layer of enamel, and fire again. You may need to do this more than once.
9_three colors
PHOTO G

When I’m working with more than one color at a time, I do set up a separate sifting area for each color. (PHOTO G) That way, I can pour my excess enamel back into its own container. Should your excess enamel become contaminated (i.e., more than one color become mixed together), either discard it, or keep a separate container of mixed colors to be used as counter enamel on future projects.

A NOTE ABOUT FIRING TIMES AND TEMPERATURES

Every kiln is different, every type of enamel is different, and every project is different. You will have to experiment with your own kiln and your own sifting technique to know precisely how much enamel to apply, how long to fire your piece, and at what temperature. Thompson Enamel’s 80 mesh, lead-free vitreous enamel, the brand used overwhelmingly by enamelists in the US, needs to reach at least 1450 degrees to fuse (Thompson has a great Help and Information page on their website for more information about their products). 

But enameling is not an exact science and different colors may respond differently. Enamel that contains lead or enamel from British or Japanese manufacturers may need to fire longer or hotter. The gauge of the metal that you’re using can affect firing times as well. 

Refer to your kiln’s manufacturer for their recommendations for setting your kiln’s temperature; most enamelists are comfortable firing between 1450-1520 degrees Fahrenheit (788-827 degrees Celsius). Remember that factors as simple as how long you hold the kiln door open may affect firing time. 

 

10_second fire
PHOTO H

Keep building your layers and re-firing until you’ve achieved a look that makes you happy. (PHOTO H)

There are no mistakes in enameling; if the piece that you’re working with isn’t coming together, set it aside and try another. A week (or a month or a year) from now, that “mistake” piece may wind up as the perfect component for a completely different project! 

11_finishing
PHOTO I

6. Finish and connect your enameled pieces.

You may need to do a bit of filing on the edges of your pieces to remove any bumps, jagged edges, or marks left from your steel trivet. Just use a regular metal file or some coarse sandpaper. Should your enamel become dull or matte from filing, just pop the piece back into the kiln for a few minutes and the enamel will re-fuse back to a high gloss state.

When you’re happy with your pieces, use a few jump rings to connect them into a pendant (I used oval jump rings here, but that was an design choice). Hang from your choice of chain or cord! (PHOTO I)

FIND MORE: enamel , metal , roll printing

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