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Firing Copper Enameling

Insert the piece into the kiln with an enameling fork.


Firing Copper Enameling

Interview with Pam East, author of “Enameling on Metal Clay”

Click here for information on Pam’s new book

Recent Q&A: Programming a slow cooling



Enamels are powdered glass. They are fused onto metal (usually copper) inside a kiln. The powder is heated for several minutes at the correct temperature (1450°F / 787°C for most enamels), and the copper piece is then removed from the kiln.

The kiln should open from the front. The red-hot copper pieces are easier to remove through a door than through the lid of a top-loading kiln. 1) Heat the kiln to the temperature recommended for the enamels you are using. Digital kilns: Use a single segment. Hold time should be the length of your enameling session. Switch-operated kilns: You will also need a pyrometer (temperature sensor). When the kiln reaches the correct temperature, adjust the switch every few minutes to hold the temperature.

2) Lay the copper shape on an enameling rack. If the part that touches the rack is enameled, place a trivet (a type of metal stilt) under the copper. Some bowls or other shapes have enameled sides that might run during firing. These should be fired with a stilt even if the piece has a plain bottom. Use an enameling fork or a long spatula to place the rack into the kiln on top of ½” ceramic posts.

3) Firing the piece at enameling temperature should take about 3 minutes and requires undivided attention! Look at your piece every 15 seconds by cracking open the door. Wear firing safety glasses. Angle your line of sight so that the glow from an element reflects off the surface of the enameling piece.

First, the enamel will appear granulated. As the glass particles begin to fuse, the surface will resemble an orange peel. Remove the rack when the copper piece appears a rosy red and the reflection of the glowing element is smooth. Place the rack on a steel pad or large ceramic kiln shelf and let it cool.

4) After you remove the enameling piece, allow the kiln to heat up again to the enameling temperature. Then insert the next enameling piece.


Q. I don't understand how the program a slow cooling. How can the temperature go from 1000 to 800 with a positive rate? Either the power is off with natural cooling or the power is on with increasing temperature as long as the rate exceeds the natural cooling.

A. Instead of thinking of "rate" as a positive number (temperature rising), think of it as temperature change per hour. A rate of 200 is a temperature change of 200 degrees per hour. Whether the 200 degrees rate is cooling or heating depends on the segment temperature. If the segment’s target temperature is cooler than the temperature of the previous segment, then the rate is cooling rather than heating.



Q. At what age did you become interested in art?

A. I come from a creative family. Both my grandfathers made jewelry after they retired. My grandmother was a painter for as long as I can remember. And my sister is a graphic designer.

I never pursued art while growing up, because as a kid I thought art meant drawing, and I wasn't great at it. I would flirt with it from time to time, buying sketch books and colored pencils or pastels, but then my sister would knock of a quick drawing in my sketch book that was so good it would drive me to despair, and I'd give up again.

In college I took a photography course and discovered a deep love of art. I came to realize how limited my thinking had been about what constitutes art and ended up majoring in art and photography.

After I left college I had a variety of jobs, none of which had anything to do with art. On weekends I toyed with stenciling, airbrushing, needlework, and rubber stamping. (I own over 1,200 rubber stamps!) It wasn't until I was in my 30s and my daughter was two years old that I finally stumbled into jewelry making.

Q. How did you get started in enameling and metal clay?

A. I was an enamelist long before I found metal clay. I got my start making torch-fired enamel beads on copper tubing. Eventually I wanted to enamel on silver as well as copper. But I discovered that sterling silver does not enamel well without first going through the complicated process of depletion gilding (refining the copper out of the silver), and fine silver tubing is nearly impossible to find. Also, I was not particularly interested in investing the time and money it would take to become a silversmith.

Enter silver clay. What intrigued me the most was that silver clay fired to pure fine silver, would be suitable for enameling right out of the gate, and could be worked without specialized silversmithing tools or knowledge.

Once I got my hands into silver clay, it took over my life completely. The stuff is totally addictive, and I moved on from beads fairly quickly. The clay is such a versatile medium it wasn't long before I added a Paragon SC-2 kiln to my studio and was making earrings, pendants, pins, and more. Again, my love of experimentation pushed me to see what I could do with this amazing product.

Q. Please describe your first experiments with enameling on silver clay.

A. My first experiments with metal clay were, of course, beads. I had been working on copper tubing for years, and so I started off making silver tubes out of the clay and torch-firing enamels onto them. I had the usual successes and failures when one starts playing with something new. I learned a lot not only about silver clay but enameling as well. A seam in the tube or changes in thickness caused all sorts of problems with the enamel chipping off. It took a while, but eventually I was able to produce consistent tubes with lovely patterns on them that would show through the transparent enamels.

Q. I noticed the pictures of the Paragon SC-2 kiln in your book.

A. The Paragon SC-2 is lightening quick to heat up and fire metal clay. I use mine for enameling as well. I wrote my entire book using the SC-2, and everything worked great.

Q. How did your book idea begin to form?

A. With my background in enamels, it was natural for me to look at everything I made as a canvas. I had been writing articles for bead magazines for several years, so writing enameling on metal clay articles was the next logical step. I wrote several before beginning to think about a book. I had noticed that there were several metal clay books on the market that had one enameling project in them, and there were several enameling books that touched briefly on metal clay, but there was no book devoted to the subject of enameling on metal clay.

In talking to my students, customers, and fellow artists in the metal clay community, I saw a strong desire for an enameling book for metal clay artists. There are many excellent books on enameling in general, but most of them target the fine art market and can be overwhelming for beginning home hobbyists. Also, the general enameling books do not address the specific challenges of enameling metal clay. It is significantly different than working on sheet metal. So I decided I to write a book with a clear focus on beginning enameling for metal clay artists. My goal was to demystify the process and make it easy for anyone to start applying enamels to their metal clay.

Q. What was most challenging about writing the book?

A. Time!!! Or a lack there of. While writing this book I was still running Pinzart, working trade shows, and raising a family. Life doesn't slow down and make time for you while you are writing. During the year I worked on the book, we weathered the storms of a manuscript due right during the holidays, edits due right during my daughter's Bat Mitzvah, and the loss of a family member.

I learned to schedule time for writing and to make it a priority. When a deadline is months away, it's easy to think you have plenty of time, but that's an illusion. Every day counts.


Thank you,

With best wishes,

Arnold Howard Paragon Industries, L.P. – Better Designed Kilns 2011 South Town East Blvd. Mesquite, TX 75149-1122 Voice: 972-288-7557 & 800-876-4328 / Fax: 972-222-0646 /

PRIVACY NOTICE: Under no circumstance do we share or sell your email address.

Copyright 2007, by Paragon Industries, L.P.

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