Saturday, October 20, 2012

How *I* enamel Pennies :)


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.


28 comments:

carolynchenault said...

I love your DIY enamel sifter! I'll have to make one & try it the next time I use enamel on my lampwork beads.

Anonymous said...

Great tutorial, thank you! What is the cleaning procedure? Do you just soak the pennies in the jar for a time or do you have to scrub them?

mrs beadsley said...

When I clean the pennies, I do let them soak for a bit and then I just swish them around in the mixture - for those that have tough oxidation on them I use a scrubby (one of those blue sponges with the scrubby on the back) to clean as much as I can and then I swish in the mixture again before running clear water over them.
Hope this helps!

Kay said...

Thank you!

Kay said...

Thank you!

kalyxcorn said...

have you tried transparent enamels? do they show much of the underlying image?

kalyxcorn said...

have you tried this with transparent enamels yet? I wanted to find out how well torch firing works with that, or if the process is too dirty to produce proper transparency :)

mrs beadsley said...

Kalyxcorn - I have tried a couple of the gold transparents on the pennies - (2 and sometimes 3 layers) and it always came out great. The underlying image still shone through. I haven't tried any of the other transparent colors alone yet.

Fabiana Minelli said...

thank you... great tips!!!!

John Comerford said...

Great tutorial. Question: Do I have to be aware of the "COE" of the enamel powder used? Is it different for powder used for glass fusing vs. copper use? I want to make sure I'm buying the right kind. Recommendations for enamel powder sources?

mrs beadsley said...

John - I use the Thompson Enamels 80 - I found a supplier on ebay (but this was over 3 years ago - I bought a LOT of enamel powder then). I highly recommend you go to Barbara Lewis's site - she has supplies there as well as tutorials that will really help you get started. The tutorial link is http://www.paintingwithfirestudio.com/projects.html and from there you can find the pages of supplies.
Thanks for looking and taking the time to comment - it really means a lot to me. And have fun enameling - it really is addictive!

John Comerford said...

Thanks for the additional tips. I just bought a BUNCH of enamels from Painting with Fire. Thanks a million!

mrs beadsley said...

John - happy to help. Have fun with all those enamels!!

donna layman said...

Do you enamel both sides of the penny? If so could you explain how you proceed to the second side.

mrs beadsley said...

Donna-
I do not enamel the back of the pennies. The penny is thick enough that I discovered I did not need to counterenamel. Hope this helps!

handstrung.com said...

Can I make my "own pickle solution" out of household products or must I use the products that are sold for pickling? Would luv to use more natural ingredients if possible. Wonderful tut, thats for your detailed info. Will try pennies next. Thanks again for sharing your info.

handstrung.com said...

Just did my first piece of enameling today, and I think I am also hooked. Can I make my own pickle solution out of household ingredients. I rather not use chemicals if possible? Thanks for sharing your wonderful tips.

Divya N said...

I found another tute where they place the copper sheet in the flame and then dip it in enamel..whereas you have fired from the back. how do these methods fare when compared to one another

lablahdah77 said...

Great instructions just wondering if you coat the backside of your pennys with clear enamel? I'm new to enameling and started working with copper but I can't get the pennys to look like new.. suggestions?

mrs beadsley said...

lablahdah.....I do not counter enamel the pennies. I have experimented widely with pennies and torch fired enamel - used the pennies as they are; flattened the pennies, flattened and domed the pennies.......and have never needed the counter enameling. As for getting them shiny, I am not sure what you mean - after enameling and cooling the just fired pennies you can soak them in a (warm) vinegar/salt solution - this acts as a picke and helps to clean the firescale off them. Once I have cleaned all I can with the solution, I use a battery powered dremel and a wire wheel and buff them clean. Hope this helps!

mrs beadsley said...

Handstrung - so sorry I see that you asked about the homemade pickle and absolutely you can use that for the pennies. I only ever use the lemon and salt to clean the pennies before enameling them and after they are done and they have cooled I use the white vinegar and salt "pickle". Hope this helps and that you enjoy enameling.

Margaret said...

Thank you!

sue s said...

Mrs B, I'm melting my pennies! What am I doing wrong? I've double checked- they are dated before 1982, so they should be copper.

mrs beadsley said...

Sue S:

How long are you keeping the flame on the penny? I never had that problem with the pre 1982 pennies - they are US coins, correct?

Angela Berzins said...

HI,
My pennies are super clean when I start, but I'm losing the enamel. Comes right off. I'm air cooling the pennies after torching, in a non air- conditioned room. Is it cooling too soon? Where can I get the fire blanket you mention?

mrs beadsley said...

Angela-

There are a couple of things that could be causing this (things I have experienced when torch firing) - I had problems with the enamel staying on if I torched them in humid weather. I lost more than 70% of my pennies when doing them outside of an air conditioned room. The other thing I know is that you have to cool them down slowly so they become acclimated to the ambient temperature gradually rather than quickly. I cannot remember where I got the fiber blanket but you can find them places they sell lampwork bead supplies like here: http://sundanceglass.com/kilnmatr.htm.

Silver Moss Jewellery said...

Wonderful post that seems eternally popular - I've linked to in on my January Jewelled Web post on my blog to share it some more :)

mrs beadsley said...

Silver Moss Jewellery-

Thank you for keeping it going :)