ENAMEL BEAD MAKING
Torch (your choice)
Ignition source for torch (unless auto light)
Stainless Steel Shot Glasses
Mandrels of various sizes
Pan with Vermiculite
Ceramic tile base
Optional – sifters
Jar of water
Bowl (to hold prepped beads for firing) (do not use plastic)
N95 or better mask
Safety Glasses (Didymium glasses not necessary as there is no soda flare from the flame)
Reamer to make holes bigger in metal beads
Base metal beads (Iron based)
Thompson Enamels – at least 3 colors
Optional – Glass threads
18g Copper Wire
Gas Canisters or Oxy /Propane
Safety does not have to be a big issue if you set your work area up properly the first time.
Because we are using a torch and fire is involved you should have a good knowledge of working around the flame and your torch. We tend to take advantage that we “know” what to do but you should familiarize yourself frequently to ensure you are not taking short cuts.
The torch should be secure to a table top (fireproof and/or the area underneath the flame should be flame retardant – e.g. ceramic tile)
There should be nothing in the way of the flame that could catch fire.
There should be adequate ventilation
Wear proper filter masks when using glass frits and powders
Wear Proper eye protection at all times.
Wear proper attire – no loose fitting clothes, no flammable clothes , hair up etc...
You should be positioned so that you will not knock the torch in any way while sitting or standing.
Know how to turn the torch on and light it.
Know how to turn the torch off
Be aware that the torch, mandrels and bead parts will be hot
Be aware that beads can melt and fall off mandrels – and roll – which means you must be aware of the hot bead and the flame.
Be aware of where your hands are
Concentrate on your project and not other things happening around you
Always have a Fire Extinguisher handy and know where it is
Always be aware of a fire exit route
If set up properly all of the above will become 2nd nature to you when you torch.
Torch (your choice)- There are a variety of torches that can be used for this project. If you are a lampworking your torch will work just fine for enamel bead making – you just have to keep the bead to the end of the flame as the oxy/propane mix creates a very high heat. There are Hot Head Torches, Fireworks self Igniting torch and other torch heads that you can buy from the local Home Depot. The Hot Head and the Fireworks are a bit different – you can modulate oxygen into the flame manually. The fireworks torch is a self igniting torch and can be the easiest to use. All of these torch heads have one difference – they use a canister of either Propane or MAPP gases (which can be purchased at Home Depot, Lowes, Canadian Tire and other locations) making it easier to find supplies. These smaller tanks are allowed to be used in the home – but still need ventilation.
Nortel Minor Torch (Oxy/Propane) Hot Head Fireworks
[Hot Head Torch Head] [Fireworks Torch Head]
Ignition source for torch (unless auto light) – If you do not have a self igniting torch you will need some sort of ignition source to light the gas –
Std Torch Lighter BBQ Lighter Lighter Matches Eletronic Lighter
[Grill-Pro Piezo Butane Lighter - 58420] [BIC Lighter 1 PK 0212100]
If any source is flammable – be sure to secure it away from the flame
Stainless Steel Shot Glasses (Dollarama 2/$1) – these are for putting the enamels into – not necessarily mandatory – some use flat stainless steel plates to roll in as well and sometimes you need those to add a second color to your bead.
Mandrels of various sizes – various size mandrels can be found at any lampwork studio that could fit your bead holes. I do have a preference for an aluminum handle mandrel that holds various size tips.
Aluminum Handle Tips Mandrels
the blue aluminum are available from Thompson Enamels
Home version copper tube and bead reamer
Pliers – used to hold wire, beads or other pieces into the flame or to remove enamel build up on the mandrel tips.
Bead Remover – This is a custom made item to help as a third hand so you do not have to reach over the flame to remove a bead from your mandrel. It is made to fit the edge of the ceramic tile and the pan with vermiculite which sits behind the front pulling area to catch the hot beads.
Pan with Vermiculite- Using a metal loaf pan or the aluminum loaf pans filled with vermiculite (is now mined asbestos free if you have heard concerns about using vermiculite) this is to receive your hot beads and allow them to cool without having to touch them. Vermiculite was purchased from U-line but I had to buy two huge bags – I was told nursery’s have some in smaller quantities – used around gardens. It comes in different grades – I use the grade 4 larger chunk but some are smaller and would work just as well.
Pic of set up
Ceramic tile base- This is to be used as a convenient and quick way to make a fireproof work area – it is secured by using a C-Clamp
C-Clamp – This is to secure the ceramic tile base – but if you are using the small gas tank and torch set up the same one that holds the tank to the table is used to secure the ceramic tile as well.
Gas /Propane: Depending on your torch you should check your canisters to see how full they are – for the oxy/propane lampwork torch – be sure to have sufficient propane and oxygen in the tanks. For those using the smaller canisters check to see how full they are so you can gauge when to change out - NOTE: I us MAPP gas (yellow canister) as it burns more cleanly than propane
Optional – sifters – Sifters can be used to apply enamels to beads – or clean your enamels should any metal shards appear in your enamels
Jar of water- to cool off your mandrel after taking off the bead – additional safety so you do not touch the tip when putting on a new bead. No plastic
Fire Extinguisher – See Safety
Bowl (to hold prepped beads for firing) (do not use plastic)- To make torching efficient it is best to prep your beads before torching – if holes are too small ream them out and file down the edges if necessary – Having a bowl of beads ready make torching much easier and less waste of gas and turning the torch on and off.
MASK - N95 or better – Because particulates can circulate in the air when using – it is best to wear a protective mask. Especially if you have breathing problems . When pouring the enamels into containers its best to wear. However it is your option to wear a dust mask for general enameling.
Safety Glasses (Didymium glasses not necessary as there is no soda flare from the flame)- protective eye is essential when working with torches – you never know when something may pop.
Reamer to make holes bigger in metal beads- reamers are great for making the holes bigger in the soft metal beads. I found that one side of a pair of inexpensive scissors work great
Work area set up: Choose an area that is open and is well ventilated . Because you have a ceramic tile you can even set up on a portable table. But the table must be secure and not able to tip.
You can purchase a single ceramic tile at any Home Depot – maybe even something that matches your decor !. You do not have to limit yourself to a single ceramic tile – build an area to protect your surface or – stainless steel sheet can also be purchased –as long as you have something that is flame/heat resistant so that if something should fall to the surface it will not burn or start a fire.
Place your flame/heat resistant surface on your table. Install your torch – lampwork or single heat torches with canisters use a C-clamp to secure – use the c-clamp to also secure your flam/heat resistant surface all at once – check your canisters to see if they are full – nothing worse than starting and your empty on the first bead. How long you use your canister will depend on how many beads etc... you have done.
Slide your Bead Remover onto the back edge of the tile and sit your pan of vermiculite behind the angled/grooved front piece of the Bead Remover – this allows you to use one hand to remove your hot bead without reaching over the flame.
Set out your mandrels, water jar
Enamels: Pour into either in the metal shot jars or on flat surfaces that will not melt (metal pans, ceramic tiles etc.) (Thompson 80 mesh is the best for this typical project med expansion ) There are both opaque and transparent . This will become a hard choice as you will want all the colors and choices eventually.
Bead Preparation: “Before” torching it is best to prep your beads. This means ensuring that the beads are of a metal that will not melt to readily – Iron, Copper, Silver or gold. (sometimes a magnet may help in finding what you need) There are metal beads that will melt in an instant because of the materials or are very intricate and thin - so sometimes it can be trial and error to ensure that you have the right bead type to use . Note that beads that contain more than 5% zinc solders or zinc in the metals (such as brass) the enamel will not adhere to the bead.
The Hole : One of the biggest issues is the hole and making it fit a mandrel . Many of the metal beads that I get have very small holes 1.5mm and some have 2.0mm . These beads are of a soft metal and easily reamed to make a larger hole to suit which ever mandrel I use. The best tool I have found is ½ of a pair of the tiny scissors –
The Mandrel: As I mentioned I like the interchangeable tip which is sharpened to a point and allows me to place the bead securely onto it for enamelling . Lampworking mandrels are stainless steel and come in a variety of sizes - I suggest grinding the ends to a point to make it easier to put the bead on the end. You must try not to poke or stab yourself when putting onto mandrels – you also do not want it too loose where it could travel down the mandrel and hit your fingers – especially when its hot – so the bead must be snug on the mandrel - Once you have dipped in enamel it could stick to mandrel giving you more control.
Note: adding heat will expand the hole and it may have to be reset – as long as you have control you are
The Bead Remover: This is so you do not have to reach over the flame and work to get your bead off the mandrel. Prior to removing from heat – heat area around the mandrel so the enamel melts – place into groove and pull slightly but do not drop into pan for about 5 seconds – enough to harden up the enamel so that the vermiculite will not stick - if any threads of glass are produced we can file after.
Remember – after you finish and our not happy with the enamel you can re-fire
READY – SET - TORCH
We now have all our beads ready – our workspace is set up – our mandrels are ready – our enamels are out etc...
Lets make some beads.
Put on all your protective gear – mask and safety glasses
Starting your torch: Depending on which torch
Lampwork torches – oxy/propane - POOP is the acronym we use - Propane On (red) – ignite propane with lighter etc.. - then slowly add oxy (green) – do not leave the propane running very long
to turn off - its oxy off first and propane off last .
Canister Torch Heads; turn dial till you hear hiss and ignite with lighter or the self ignition has a button above the dial – press and it will ignite – again do not leave the gas running without ignition.
Initially you may want to try this a few times just to get the hang of it .
Where do I put my bead: You want to place your bead in the hottest spot but you also want to have control over that heat by bringing it in and out of that spot - if you leave too long you will melt the metal beads.
What should it look like: You want your bead read hot so that it will melt the enamel when you roll it into the enamel powders.
How much time do I have: The knack is to get your hot bead into the enamels and covered in one rolling motion. If you do not you just heat back up till your satisfied with coverage
How many layers: –Three is about best for good coverage - or the effect you wish to obtain.
If suddenly you wish to stop in the middle of a bead – just prop it on the Bead Remover – turn off your torch and come back later – just heat the bead slowly up and then you can finish.
Can I mix colors such as blue and red to get purple : - No – the enamels do not mix like paint but you can layer colors to get various effects – opaques on opaques , transparent over opaques, transparent over transparent and so on. Various layers and overlays will produce different effects.
Annealing beads?: Because the surface coverage is so minimal you have basically torch annealed the enamel - but beads can have enamel pop off – could be just not hot enough , the bead has some zinc etc... just put the cooled bead back onto the mandrel and reapply to the areas missing.
What about my Flame ?: There are flame settings you are capable of getting with Lampwork torches (oxy/propane) , the Hot Head torch and the Fireworks Torch heads. These are the: Neutral Flame : This is the flame you will use the most – on a lampwork torch – the most efficient flame and on the canister torches you must have the oxy band set just right.
Reduction Flame: enamels with copper in their formulation can react with copper in this flame by flashing and giving red and pink hues. This is created by less oxygen - if you get smoky hazes (which you may like ) you may need to add more oxygen.
Synopsis of the Step by Step Process
Bead on Mandrel securely
Bring bead into flame – move back and forth and rotate till red/orange hot (if you leave in one place the bead could suddenly become so hot it melts. When bead is all one color roll in enamel. (first roll tilt to get an even coat on both sides of the bead) Do not worry if the enamels stick to the mandrel
I like to hold the enamel pot and roll the hot bead (this pot can get hot after a couple of rolls) – when covered be sure to tap any excess from bead – especially the inside you will see lots of enamel fall from the filigree holes in the bead.
After each roll bring back into the flame – if using different colors be sure to melt the first color in first before using next color – you do not want to contaminate your pure colors. If you want to add small amounts without dipping – use a sifter or lay out enough to roll on a flat surface .
Heat and keep rolling the mandrel to give even heat
The surface will look rough – keep heating (unless that is the effect you want)
The surface will then get smooth
Remove from heat – count to three and pull – if stuck don’t panic – reheat at the mandrel and give a small pull to loosen then let drop into pan – again not when its super hot or the vermiculite will stick to the bead. In the past I have used pliers to work the bead off – just be careful not to send it across to your neighbour or the room.
Dip your mandrel into the water after each use to cool down
Use pliers to work off any residual enamel on your mandrel
Ready for next bead
Let beads cool and inspect – if not happy re apply enamel
REMINDER THAT ALL THINGS CONNECTED TO THE TORCH ARE HOT - DURING AND AFTER USE – WHEN USING THE OXY DIALS OR THE NECK BAND ON THE CANISTER TORCHES BE SURE TO USE EXTRA CAUTION AND POSSIBLY PLIERS TO TURN MOVING PARTS