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 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.