Make a Whimsical Birdbath Ring with Metal, Enamel, and Resin
When I first saw Karen McGovern’s birdbath ring (below) in Stringing magazine, I had to make it. Karen’s technique uses components from Nunn Design along with paint and resin to create the “water” in the birdbath. But as we all know, there’s more than one way to skin a cat (poor cat! What a saying . . . ). So, being nutty for torch enameling, I wanted to try enamel for the water effect in my ring (above) and make the rest in sterling silver and brass.
There are so many ways to color on metal–half a dozen new ones have surfaced in just the past few years. Nail polish, enamel hobby paints, Swellegant, ICED Enamels, traditional torch- or kiln-fired enamels, alcohol inks, and more–whatever your skill or interest level, there’s a way to add color to metal that you can use to create the water effect of this ring.
You can fill the entire birdbath bowl with the color or, for a more realistic look, color just the bowl of the bath in your method of choice and then fill the rest with resin (as shown here). Be sure that the resin just touches the bird’s beak to create the realistic water surface tension/ripple effect.
Make an Enamel and Resin Birdbath Ring
Have I mentioned how much I love this ring?! Here’s one of many ways to get a similar look.
Nunn Design brass bird stamping
Nunn Design brass circle deep bezel*
ICE Resin two-part epoxy resin
sterling silver ring wire or pre-made band**
Xuron metal shears, wire cutters, or jeweler’s saw
blue/green enamel powders
enameling supplies of your choice (sifter, Klyr-Fire, tripod, etc.)
torch for soldering** and enameling
old pliers (“hot tools”)
bowl of water to quench
pot of hot pickle and copper tongs
chasing hammer, bench block (optional)
metal finishing tools (files, polishing supplies, etc.)
Choosing the Enamel Base
*The scale of this design is based on the bird–everything revolves around him! So whatever you use or make for your birdbath, the size is dependent upon the bird element you use. My bird is about 16x20mm, so the bath had to be proportionately large enough for him . . . or her? The bezel I used was about 25mm; Nunn has several other sizes. After making my own domed metal disc from metal sheet and experimenting with metal disc blanks (like Karen did), I found this bezel was perfect because it already had a “lip” around the edge (Karen used a copper washer), which saved me the steps of finding/making and attaching the lip, and I loved the old-garden-décor patina it got when heated.
**You’ll need a pre-made ring base or supplies to make one. I experimented with a found vintage patterned copper ring, a sterling silver rivetable ring from Beaducation, patterned wire from Cool Tools (used here), and sterling silver half-round wire. Karen’s ring was a wide aluminum adjustable ring blank; wide bands are great for heavy rings, but I don’t like wearing wide bands personally, so I made a heavy but narrow one. If you use Beaducation’s rivetable ring, drill or punch a hole in the bottom of the birdbath and rivet the two together in place of Step 2, below; then enamel etc.
|1. Shape the bowl: First, I annealed the brass bezel by holding it with old pliers (“hot tools”) in a torch flame until it glowed and then quenched it. I domed the softened bezel using a dapping set and brass hammer until it had a nice bowl shape.
Note: Because of the “lip” on this bezel, at first I had to use a dapping punch one size smaller than the one that matched the indentation I was dapping in and would’ve used had it been flat sheet metal. Then I used the correct size once for final shaping. You can easily cut a circle of metal sheet and dap it; form a lip around the edge when you dap or add a washer or similar bezel around the edge.
|2. Make/attach the ring: I hammered patterned sterling silver wire with a chasing hammer on a bench block to soften the pattern a bit and then cut enough to fit my finger. I bent the wire around a ring mandrel to get a basic round shape and then filed the edges at an angle for better contact with the bowl of the birdbath. Then I soldered both ends, quenched, and pickled the ring.|
|Notes: Because I was using fairly narrow wire for the band and the birdbath piece is sizeable, I wanted two points of contact on the back instead of just one. It takes a little fiddling to determine the ring size you’ll need this way, but a general idea is to make the ring band about 1/4″ to 3/8″ less in length that what is required to make the size ring you want. Then shape the ring so that the opening is about that same size (1/4″ to 3/8″) and solder.
After pickling, complete any finishing work (filing, polishing, etc.) before continuing.
|3. Add enamel: After the metal finishing is done, it’s time to enamel. Since it’s a domed shape, Klyr-Fire or other “adhesive” is helpful to achieve an even layer of enamels inside the bowl; I took a hint from Pauline Warg and used nonaerosol hairspray. Spray the interior only of the bowl of the birdbath and sift in blue, green, turquoise, or a mixture of enamel powders. I used turquoise to cover it completely and added a pinch of cobalt.
Note: Run your finger around the lip of the bezel to remove any enamel powder that gets on the lip of the bezel and on the outside of the bowl; remember that the blue/green color represents the water, so it only belongs inside the bowl.
|4. Fire the enamel: Allow a few moments for the “adhesive” to dry and then fire the enamel as you wish. I use a MAPP gas torch, sometimes heating from the bottom before moving up for a more direct approach. Watch for the powders to achieve the orange-peel look and then turn glossy before removing the flame. Remember not to quench!
If your color isn’t to your liking, add another layer of enamel. If you’re happy with the color, allow the piece to cool until it is cool enough to handle. Scrub the outside of the bowl with steel wool to remove firescale if necessary.
Note: In one of my experiments, possibly because I mixed colors and slightly overfired the enamels on that piece, the result was a mottled look that reminded me of the mossy green I’ve seen on the inside of old birdbaths before–so I stuck with that process. It matched the old look of my birdbath well and also emphasized the illusion of water. Karen’s example is a brighter, more consistent color. Enamel yours as you wish.
|5. Add the resin: Once the ring was cool, I filled the birdbath bowl nearly full of resin. I wasn’t concerned about bubbles in this resin–it’s water, after all. With the bowl filled, I propped up the ring in Play-doh and allowed the resin to cure almost entirely under a UV lamp.
Note: Because I wanted the bird to remain bright shiny brass and didn’t want to risk overfiring the enamels, I chose not to solder the bird in place but rather to use the resin to adhere it. If you want to solder your bird, do so after Step 4 (enameling) and before Step 5 (resin).
|6. Attach the bird: Next I added a small dot of resin on top of the nearly cured resin where the bird’s beak would touch and another dot or two of resin on the lip of the bezel to adhere the brass bird stamping. Placement is important to achieve the water effect; make sure his beak just touches the surface of the resin to created that raised surface tension look. The resin is self-leveling so the dot on the “water” surface will spread out and look natural. Prop the ring upright and allow the resin to cure completely.
Note: After the resin cured, I flipped the ring over and added another couple of dots of resin under the bird to secure him to the edge of the birdbath, for added adhesion.
Playing with the idea of resin as liquid while making this ring led me to think about similar fun ring projects–a bee on a golden enameled hive dripping in honey-colored resin, enameled eggs in a wire nest, a tiny goldfish in an enameled resin-filled bowl–even a bowl of cereal! Enameled or other colored metal pieces paired with resin are a great way to create realistic-looking snapshots of whimsical life and nature in your jewelry designs.
To learn more about one of my favorite techniques, torch-fired enameling, order Pauline Warg’s five-star-rated video Basic Jewelry Enameling: Torch-Fired Tutorial (or download it instantly!).
About Karen (designer of the original birdbath ring):
Karen McGovern designed the original project as a member of the Nunn Design Innovation Team. She’s also an environmental jewelry artist who donates most of her proceeds to support wildlife conservation programs through the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation, RareSpecies.org.
Growing up in Florida wilderness shaped every aspect of Karen’s life, so a career in conservation biology was almost pre-destined. Her work allows her to travel to Caribbean islands, African savannas, and Mexican jungles–not to mention living every day with endangered parrots, primates, and African antelope in the 30+ acre wildlife preserve she calls home. Her work as an artist and jewelry designer directly reflects her deep respect for nature and passion to preserve creatures living wild in the world. Karen is an avid collector of the unusual and prefers to use mixed media, recycled or repurposed elements in her work such as reclaimed metals (copper and brass pipe and sheet), sterling silver, and all manner of found objects including bone, fur, antiquities, and botanicals. You can learn more about Karen and her work at Beadkeepers.com, “Where ART and the ENVIRONMENT Meet.”
Updated March 22, 2019.
Learn how to torch-fire enamel and get the magazine with Karen’s birdbath ring tutorial: