Easy Enameling: Make Enameled Copper-Tube Beads
Last February I was pleased and fortunate to see a free demo of how to make enameled copper tube beads using hardware store copper tubing by Ruth Prince, a talented and generous lady in my metal clay guild in Tennessee. She made it look so easy, and I took lots of photos to share with you someday. . . Today’s the day!
How to Enamel Copper Tube Beads
Prepare these materials 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) Tip: File or sand the ends before enameling so you won’t have sharp metal ends that could cut your stringing cord.
- an old coffee can or similar fire-safe container of vermiculite, preferably 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 that won’t melt and that you can easily turn with one hand
- an upright MAPP gas or propane torch strapped safely in place so you’ll have both hands free to work with the flame
- several lampworking rods (mandrels) with similarly sized copper tubing segments inserted on the ends
- fireproof clothing and safety glasses please!
Easy Enameling Steps
1. Heat the copper tube bead on the end of the lampwork glass rod/mandrel and roll the copper through enamel powder to pick up your first layer. The heat of the tube helps the enamel powders adhere to the copper.
2. Move the bead into the flame, turning it slowly as shown, 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 peel). 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 and using transparent over opaque enamel powders. Another fun addition to enameling is adding a different mesh enamel or glass beads.
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 surface is no longer textured like orange peel but glassy and smooth.
5. After you remove the bead from the flame, keep turning it about 45 seconds to allow a bit of cooling, which will prevent dripping or drooping. 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. When everything is at a comfortable temperature, fish out your enameled beads.
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!
Learn More Enameling Techniques
If you’re hooked on enameling and want to have fun enameling with friends, too, take enameling classes at Bead Fest!
Want to learn more, more, more? Build your own bundle of enameling resources and save!
All photos and video by Tammy Jones.