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Decorating Copper with Enameling

Copper enameling, almost a lost art at one time, is gaining popularity. Should you like to try it, here are a few basics:

Decorating the Copper

Counter Enameling

Most enameled pieces should be counter enameled on the back side. This gives the piece a much more finished look, it eliminates a great deal of fire-scale cleaning, and it controls the chipping and cracking that can result from the different rates of expansion and contraction in copper and enamel after the enamel has been fired.

Counter or backing enamel, a mixture that gives a mottled effect, can be used for counter enameling. Or you can use regular enamel. Counter enamel is applied by the sifting method described next.

When firing counter enamel, underfire it so that the fire scale on the front of the piece isn’t too difficult to remove. You can purchase a masking preparation from your supplier to help prevent fire scale. You must place the piece on a stilt when firing the other (front) side of the piece. The stilt prevents the back of the counter enameled piece from sticking to the enameling rack.

Applying Enamels

Apply enamel over a clean sheet of paper so you can pour the excess back into the bottle for reuse. Transparent enamels should be applied in several thin coats. Transparent enamels can be mixed with fairly good results. If opaque enamels are mixed, however, a grainy effect results. The two basic methods of applying enamels are sifting and spatula.

Sifting Enamel

Spray or brush Thompson holding agent onto the copper. Then sift a 1/32” layer of enamel onto the copper. Use a #60 mesh sifter. If the coat is too thin, you can easily add another coat after firing. But a coat that is too thick will bubble and crack. The enamel must dry completely before firing.

Spatula or Inlaid Method

You can use this method to decorate a small area with many different colors. Using a diluted solution of Thompson holding agent, dampen the enamels just to the saturation point, and maintain this moisture while working with the enamels. Apply the enamels onto the copper with a small spatula, and spread them out with a spreader to a coat of about 1/32” thick. Lines of contact can be formed by the spatula blade. Then spray the enamels with the holding agent to keep the grains of enamel in place. Allow the enamel to dry completely before firing.


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

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