Torch-Fired Enameling: Make an Enameled Disc Bracelet by Barbara Lewis
Torch-fired enameling is my current favorite jewelry-making technique. I have always loved enameling and the colorful possibilities it offers, but I was put off by the kiln–I don’t have one, which was a major deterrent! But I didn’t like the idea of kiln enameling because all of the magic of the enameling process happens behind the closed kiln door.
I love watching it happen in the torch flame, watching the metal glow and the enamels melt. I love the hands-on nature of torch-fired enameling, of rolling the components in the enameling powders, of mixing and blending the colors or adding on layer after layer of one color to get thick juicy color. I love it all! And I know that after you try it, you will too.
So try it! Barbara Lewis, author of Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry: A Workshop in Painting with Fire, created this fun and versatile bracelet featuring a torch-fired enamel disc focal piece just for Jewelry Making Daily readers. Here’s her step-by-step torch-fired enamel tutorial so you can make your own.
1″ 24-gauge copper disc (cut your own or purchase)
metal hole punch or drill
8-gauge copper wire or tubing
22-gauge copper wire
large-barrel forming pliers (optional)
abrasive copper cleaner and scrubber
bowl/jar of water
dedicated copper pickle
cookie sheet or other heat-proof surface
clamps and hardware to secure the torch, gas tank, and heat resistant surface to your work table
stainless steel mandrel/s
pan of vermiculite
optional enamel add-ins: 2mm millefiori pieces, 6/20 (pea-gravel size) enamels, enamel threads or “cat whiskers” and enamel marking pens
Barbara’s patent-pending bead-pulling station
* Barbara recommends either a Fire Works torch or Hot Head torch with MAPP gas. An oxy/propane lampworking torch can also be used. A butane torch does not provide a hot enough or bushy enough flame.
|1. Cut/saw or use a purchased 1″ copper disc. Mark the opposing sides using a template or ruler.|
|2. Drill two 3/32″ holes on the disc as shown.|
|3. Heat the disc to a dull cherry red to anneal and quench in water.|
|4. Dap the disc to give it a gentle dome.|
|5. Create a frame to fit around your disc (with a little extra space to spare between the two) using 8-gauge copper wire tubing. Use large-barrel forming pliers to help create the general frame shape.|
|6. Using a jeweler’s saw to cut the wire will give you a clean-fitting join and make your job of soldering a lot easier.
7. Shape the metal into a circle to fit around the disc. Pay more attention to getting the ends matching perfectly close than to the shape of the frame at this point, though. The ends must meet perfectly in order to solder.
|8. Scrub the copper clean, paint flux on the wire frame, and add a chip of easy solder at the seam. Heat the frame gradually, moving the torch flame around the entire frame at first and then focusing the flame on the join. Remember that solder flows in the direction of the heat, so continue until the solder flows up into the seam. Quench the frame in water and pickle in dedicated copper pickle. Don’t worry that it’s a wonky shape, you’ll shape it next.|
|9. Use a rawhide mallet and ring mandrel to shape the copper frame to round. If you want the frame to be larger, hammer it down toward the larger end of the mandrel. If you just want to make it more round, hammer straight at it onto the mandrel.|
|10. Check the fit of the frame around the disc and stretch it further if needed.|
|11. Next you’ll stretch the metal frame a bit more and flatten it at the same time by hammering it with a chasing hammer on a bench block. Drill a hole in each side of the flattened copper frame to correspond with the holes in the copper disc.|
12. Set up your torch-fired enameling station as shown in Barbara’s setup below, so that you can add color to the copper disc.
(Editor’s note: Be aware that the water is no longer for quenching but for emergencies. You will not quench enameled pieces but let them cool gradually on their own. Quenching enameled pieces can cause the enamel to shatter and pop off the metal. You can stand the mandrel (which is a skinny stainless steel rod) enameled-end-up in a jar, wooden block with holes drilled in it, or similar apparatus until the enameled pieces have cooled enough for you to remove them safely from the mandrels–or drop the pieces off the mandrel into a pan of vermiculite.)
|(Editor’s note: When I torch enamel, I clamp my MAPP gas torch to my work table. Because I’m right handed, I sit to the right and keep my enamel powders and other supplies to the right of the flame, so I never have to reach around it.)
13. Barbara used #1319 Bitter opaque enamel powder in this example.
|14. Place the disc on a mandrel. Turn on the torch and dangle the metal in the flame. When the metal is glowing, dredge it through the green enamel powder.
15. Repeat the heating and dredging process about three more times or until you have covered the metal with enamel.
|16. After firing three coats of Bitter green onto the piece, tilt your wrist while the piece is still on the mandrel, so that the piece is parallel to the table, and direct the flame to the underside of the disc. Place the millefiori pieces as desired.|
|17. How about creating a few dots by adding enamel threads? Hold the enamel thread in tweezers and place the tip of the enamel thread in the flame to allow the tip to ball up; then touch the molten ball of enamel to the disc and pull your hand away, depositing the little ball of enamel.|
|18. Now let’s melt those babies in! Heat the disc in the flame again. Fire the piece until the millefiori and enamel dots are flat and smooth. Remove the disc from the mandrel and allow it to cool.|
|19. “Since I’m a big fan of MacKenzie-Childs, Alice in Wonderland and Nanny McPhee, I figure, if a few millefiori flowers and enamel dots are good, more dots made by an enamel marking pen must be better!” Barbara says. So shake up the enamel marking pen and place dots as desired on the piece. The enamel marking pen contains enamel, just in a liquid form. Fire the piece again to fuse the dots to the enamel.|
|20. To put your bracelet together: Start by “sewing” or wire-wrapping the enamel disc inside the wire frame using 22-gauge copper wire.|
|“I’ve added some Swarovski crystals, a patinated section of chain, a few links, and an enameled flower,” Barbara says. “I have fan-shaped components that don’t hold enamel well, but I found that when you burn off the plating, you get a wonderfully rusty-looking surface. I used one of them as part of the clasp.”|
|Barbara’s alternative design|
The possibilities for personalizing Barbara’s enameled disc bracelet are endless. You can use whatever components you like in your bracelet, any color palette of enamels and beads, any chain or links, any clasp. Make the focal disc a different shape if you like, or make multiple framed enameled focals (all matching or all different) and link them together for a bold enameled bracelet. The color possibilities are so much fun!
See why torch enameling is my new favorite jewelry-making technique? Learn more about it in Barbara’s beautiful book, Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry: A Workshop in Painting with Fire, available now in the Jewelry Making Daily Shop.
About the author/designer:
Barbara Lewis is the author of Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry: a Workshop in Painting with Fire, named the Best Craft Book of 2011 at Amazon. She is a popular workshop leader of the Painting with Fire immersion process of enameling, which eliminates many of the tedious and time-consuming steps normally associated with torch- and kiln-firing enamel. As a Thompson Enamel distributor, Barbara maintains a teaching studio and retail store in the Grand Central District of St. Petersburg, one of the artistic hubs of the city. She welcomes visitors to her studio, gladly demonstrating her enameling process and offering a hands-on experience to her visitors. You can learn more about Barbara and the tools needed for torch-firing enamel, including her patent-pending bead-pulling station, at her Painting with Fire Studio or by calling 727-498-6409.