Christine Cox

Archive for the ‘Enamel’ Category

Metalsmith: Cushion Behind a Stone

There are times when a jeweler needs a cushion behind a stone or enamel that’s being bezel-set, whether to raise it higher, or to even out an unevenness such as in the case of a warped enamel. One solution is to use fine sawdust between the piece and the bezel. Some people like to use an old credit card. On a larger piece, like the enamel in the accompanying photos, I like to use a piece of a plastic lid, as from a can of coffee or something similar. They come in different thicknesses, and this little safety measure gives me a lot of peace of mind when working with a bezel roller later.

Update: I’ve had a few people write to me about using plastic for this step (some for, some against). I use plastic because it is a long-lived, neutral substance. It doesn’t rot away making the stone loose, or swell when it’s wet, potentially breaking the stone. Sawdust and cork are fine, but beware of the pitfalls.

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California Native Plants in Cloisonné

California Native Plants in Cloisonné
By Christine Cox

Recently, I finished these 4 kiln-fired cloisonné pieces, which are a little over an inch square each. They are made from sterling silver, fine silver and enamels, which are glass ground with different minerals for color. Each was fired repeatedly in a kiln at almost 1500°. It’s an exacting and exciting process with beautiful results.

The oldest cloisonné enamels — where extremely thin wires are used to make the shapes — are from the Middle East in the 2nd century BCE. From there the technique spread to the Byzantine Empire and to Russia. Spreading along the Silk Road, it found its way to China, Japan and beyond.

My pieces are destined to become bezel-set corners on a leather-covered wooden book which will house the letters of a California miner. He mined in and around our area of the California foothills and sent letters home for 3 years. The cloisonné pieces are in celebration of California’s beautiful native plants.

Check out the Wikipedia entry on Cloisonné to learn more.

Bookbinding, Metalsmithing and Glass
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Amazing Awls

Besides being one of the first tools created by humans, the awl is amazing for its usefulness. The earliest were made from wood, stone, obsidian and bone. Before that they were probably used as found in nature, in the form of talons or teeth.

Grotte de Tarté

A few uses:

  • Punch holes in the pages before sewing a book
  • Check the depth of etching on a piece of metal
  • Push eyelets into tight holes
  • Dig small items out of tight spaces
  • Precisely scratch off resists
  • Sgraffito in enamels
  • Untie knots in threads
  • Push “reset” buttons on small electronics
  • Clean out a seam before soldering
  • Scratch words and designs into polymer clay and PMC
  • Point during demonstrations
  • Poke holes in leather
  • Hold jump rings in place while making chain maille

Sooner or later the question becomes “why don’t you own one.” You’ll need one for every room!

Get yours from Volcano Arts

Historic photo of awls by: Didier Descouens – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Cross Pollination: Metalsmithing and Enameling


Being both a metalsmith and an enamelist means that I’m constantly using tools made for one medium while playing in the other. I’ve made some fascinating discoveries that have made both jobs easier.

  • Better detail in Keum-boo (photo above)
    Keum-boo is the Korean art of fusing gold leaf to depleted sterling silver. The complicated technique involves heat and burnishing. Dissatisfaction with the level of detail I was able to obtain with traditional burnishing tools led me to a fiberglass brush used in enamel work. (Available from Thompson Enamel). Since the fiberglass can take the heat, it’s the perfect tool to pounce the leaf down into the smallest textural details while the metal is still on the hotplate. The photo above shows a piece of keum-boo over a texture made by passing the sterling silver through a rolling mill with a skeleton leaf. Just look at that awesome detail!
  • Glue that can take the heat
    If you are soldering something and you have difficulty getting the solder to stay where you put it, try this trick. Get some Klyr-Fire from your favorite enamel supplier. It’s a low-tack adhesive liquid which is made to take the heat of a kiln for just a little while.
    Using tweezers, dip each piece of solder into the adhesive before setting it into place on your piece. While soldering, the Klyr-Fire will last just long enough to keep the solder in place while you bring everything up to temperature. This is great for beginners who might burn their fingers while trying to heat flux to the glossy point and then add solder, or for those who tend to upset the soldering set-up while placing balls or chips of solder on a precarious surface. If you’ve been using hide glue for this type of thing, you’ll appreciate the lack of odor in the Klyr-Fire. (And in case you were going to ask, it won’t work for granulation)
  • Saturated pickle
    Sometimes a metalsmith needs pickle that’s really saturated to electroplate the silver line left on copper after soldering with silver solder. Save the pickle from enameling on copper. I keep a truly nasty pot of saturated pickle around for use in both enameling (to remove oxides) and for electroplating.
  • Polishing papers
    After years of experimenting, I have yet to find anything better than our 400 grit polishing papers for cleaning metal prior to enameling. Simply sand the metal under running water and with a few strokes the water will sheet off and not bead up. Perfect!
Triangle kiln support

Triangle kiln support

  • Triangle kiln supports
    You know how it is; every soldering operation is a new adventure in supports, clips, third-hands and binding wire. I’ve found that for flat items, which need to be heated from below as well as above, there’s often nothing better than a triangle kiln support (also available from Thompson Enamel). They’re made of steel, so they can take the heat, and they stay out of the way while you move the torch. They’re small and therefore not a giant heat-sink, as a soldering tripod would be. They’re far more stable than a nest or coil of metal. Use them right-side-up or upside-down for the best support option for the job.

    • The triangle kiln supports are listed in the Thompson catalog as “three point trivets” and are numbers TPT-1 through TPT-5
  • Old soldering tripod use
    If you have an old soldering tripod, use the steel mesh that came with it for transporting enameled items in and out of the kiln. Just bend the corners down so that you can get a kiln fork underneath. A piece of mica on top of the mesh will stabilize the piece during the trip to the kiln.
  • Silver Dust in the Sky
    If you work in either sterling or fine silver, save your silver dust when you are sawing. When you are enameling, use a sifter to clean out the silver dust and then sift a tiny bit of the silver onto your last fired layer of enamel. Fire it one more time and remove it from the kiln when the silver and glass have just fused together (think: fire polish). A quick polish and the silver will look like stars. This looks especially gorgeous on a dark enamel. You can also use the silver dust under transparent enamel (as you would silver leaf), but spend more time cleaning the silver ahead of time. You don’t want to pollute your enamel.

    Silver dust on a blue enameled copper flower

New Earrings in my Etsy Shop!

During the holidays, my jewelry inventory was almost wiped out by friends and fans. Thank you very much! What with running a retail art supply company and all, my Etsy shop was pretty dry there for a while.

So, I just spent all day photographing and listing sterling silver and enamel earrings for my shop. I’m really exploring my style, and find that right now I’m into simple and elegant designs, clear colors, and shine (yes, like a crow). I’m not into too much foofaraw, ya know?

I hope that you’ll hop on over to the shop and let me know what you think!


Treasure: Books of Gold Leaf

Just got an email asking for ideas on what to do with several books of 23k gold leaf. Depending on the thickness of the gold, here are some ideas:

  • Gilding on a lot of surfaces (put down glue, wait for it to get tacky, put leaf on, dry, brush off spare leaf)
  • Keum-boo (heat fine or depleted sterling silver to 600 degrees or so and then burnish gold leaf to it)
  • Tooling book covers (blind tool line with hot tool, paint with glare – glorified egg whites, apply gold leaf, dry and brush off spare leaf)
  • Applying under transparent enamels
  • You could always melt it down in a crucible with borax and then roll out the ingot to make your own gold sheet.

The original email mentioned working with silver sheet, so I’m thinking keum-boo is the answer to her question. Celie Fago did an excellent book on it. Here’s a link to it on Amazon:
Keum-boo on Silver Techniques for Applying 24k Gold To Silver, By Celie Fago

Cracked Enamels

Enameled shape

This 18 gauge flower only had 2 layers of enamel, so no doming was necessary.

Studio artist Vicki Potter and I were talking about enamels yesterday. Vicki said:

After total success with my green flower necklace and another black and white necklace, I ran into some trouble with the yellows/oranges.  The enamel on all 3 of the flowers I did in those colors cracked.  So, I got out 3 more copper flowers and repeated the process all over again.  The same thing happened!  I’m pretty sure I did the exact same process with all of the pieces, as I was working in “batch mode”.  Any suggestions?

To which I replied:

That is COE (coefficient of expansion) at work. The enamel and the metal are expanding/contracting at slightly different rates as they heat and cool, and the glass, being the only thing that CAN break, does. I can’t say why one color worked and the other didn’t, but I’d guess that it’s either chemistry (different minerals used to color enamel = different rate of expansion), OR (more likely) that you used a heavier hand when sprinkling the yellow/orange enamel.

Are the flowers domed? A domed shape (even slightly domed) will resist the expanding and contracting movement.

Counter-enameling is probably the solution at this point, if you didn’t dome the metal. Next time you can work in a thicker gauge of metal. That will also prevent cracking of the enamels and warping of the metal.

Counter-enameling is putting a layer of enamel on the back of the piece to counteract the stresses caused by COE on the front of the piece. Almost all cracking in enamels is caused by COE problems. Some things disguise themselves as other types of problems, but they most often turn out to be COE issues. Taking enamels out of a hot kiln into a cold garage? Crack. That’s a COE problem. Enamel too thick? COE problems. No enamel on the back to counter the weight of the enamel on the front? COE problems. Warping caused by a rectangular shape? COE problems.

Oh, you can save your currently cracked flowers:

  • Enamel the back (I keep a container of contaminated and junky enamels to use as counter-enamel)
  • Fire upside down on a firing trivet
  • Clean up any marks left by the trivet with your alundum stone
  • Fire-polish

Remember to keep the torch off the front, if possible. It could discolor your enamels.

Let me know how it goes, Vicki, and thanks for letting me post this.

A Goal Met (Years late)

I have put off selling my work in public venues for years. Oh sure, I’d sell, barter or gift with friends, but I wouldn’t take the final step and actually offer my work to strangers. I finally overcame that (thank you to my friends who pushed and helped) and so far have put 2 items on Etsy!

A quiet moment of joy as I appreciate a completed job, done well.

The truth? It was nerve wracking! My husband calls me 90% woman because I do 90% of everything and leave the last 10% for him (usually the clean up, poor man). Figuring out the last 10% of selling my work on Etsy meant photos, descriptions, shop design, and so many details that I’ve, until now, avoided. Oh, and pricing! I just got the willies thinking about it.  Anyway, I’ve made the mental leap and am so happy to finally share my handmade books and jewelry with people that I don’t actually know.

My next personal goal? To keep putting new things in my shop and not falling into my usual, “There, that’s done” mode. I’m an excellent starter, but I get kind of cranky when I have to maintain things. Does any of this sound familiar? If so, I encourage YOU to go the last 10% and finish something important to you, whether it’s putting up an online store or sewing your first Coptic stitch!

Have a glorious day, and FINISH something!

Christine Cox

Soon to be an enamel switchplate

Today we’re making enameled copper switch-plates. Check out those tiny pieces of wire. In spite of bad eyes, years of chain maille has made me love detail work like this.


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