After reading about (and seeing) torch fired enamel on copper, I wanted to give it a try. The one thing I had plenty of was pennies, and since I had already been using pennies in my jewelry for a while, I decided to try enameling them.
I already knew that the pennies with the highest copper content were the ones that I had to use (pennies minted after 1982 are only clad in copper – they are mostly zinc which melts when torched) so I gathered all my pre-1982 pennies and got to work.
The first step is to drill a hole in the penny – determine how you want to use the penny, mark a pilot hole (I used a scribe - small tap with a hammer - just enough to make a mark)and then drill (I use a 5/16” titanium bit in an electric drill). Using a file, make sure the penny is free from burrs, if you want it domed now is the time to dome it, and then clean the penny (I use a bath of lemon and salt and then a rinse with clean water).
|lemon and salt in first jar, plain water in second and vinegar and salt in third - also keep an empty jar handy - you will need something to pout the lemon/salt or vinegar/salt into before putting pennies in the water|
Make sure the penny is really clean – you will have problems with the enamel if not.
I gathered all my supplies together – a tripod, screen to set the penny on,
|this is not the original screen that came with this set up (that I have totally modified from a lampworking kit)|
a fiber blanket, a torch, a sifter and some enamel powders. The screen sits on the tripod so the penny can be fired from below so make sure when you set your work area up there is enough room to get the torch under the tripod.
Once the penny is clean, put it on the screen and you’re ready to sift your first coat of enamel powder on it. There is a spray adhesive you can use (Klyr-Fire) that helps to keep the powder on the penny but as I take my pennies right out of the water rinse and use them immediately, the enamel is held on the penny by the water. Sift an even coat of enamel powder on the penny,
|this is what I use to sift the emael on - it's a large cotter pin and a faucet spout fitting - handmade diy'd!|
thick enough that it coats the penny. I keep a piece of cardboard under the screen to catch the powder that falls during this process – you can use thick magazine pages or even glossy photo paper – the thicker the better. Save after each application – some enamels are opaque and some are transparent and they don’t mix well. Also, mixing your colors together will net you a muddy brown color when fired……..most of the time.
|these little tins came from the bridal section of some store - my wonderful brother and sister found them for me - it's really good having the enamel in a container that is fire proof|
Turn the torch on (I use a MAPP gas torch – with a standard issue plumbing tip on it) so the flame is about 6-8” long – and while you are doing this remember that the hottest part of the flame is about a quarter inch in front of the blue cone - and start heating your penny from underneath. Hold the flame about a quarter to a half inch from the back of the penny and apply even heat. The penny will turn dark, and then you’ll see the enamel start to melt onto the penny.
It melts in three stages – the first stage is the “sugar stage” where you can see it’s melted but it’s still noticeably granular; the second stage is the “orange peel stage” where the enamel is now an orange- red and dimpled much like the skin of an orange; and the last stage is the molten liquid stage – the entire penny is orange-red and shiny – there are no crystals or lumps and the enamel looks like liquid on top of the penny. Once the molten red stage is reached, I count to five just to make sure the enamel is completely melted.At this point, take the flame away from the penny, sift on your second coat of enamel powder and fire again. It is up to you and what you are enameling how many coats of enamel powder you use – sometimes I use two and sometimes I use three.
Once you are done applying the enamel, put the penny in the fiber blanket (or you can use warm vermiculite) where it will stay until it’s cool. This is an important step since the copper and the glass cool at such different rates – if it’s not properly protected while cooling down you will lose the enamel off the penny.Once the pennies are cool to the touch, pickle them (I use a vinegar/salt pickle) and then clean remaining fire scale off using polishing papers or a dremel tool.
I hope, if you try this torch fire enamel technique, that you get as much joy out of it as I do. And please do let me know if you have any questions.