Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Silver Lining

I am still smarting from my discouraging day at the torch on Sunday, both literally (my burned finger!) and figuratively, as the whole business with the peeling enamel is really getting to me.

I have talked with Barbara Lewis, the queen of Torch Fired Enamel, and she has explained that the likely culprit is the beads themselves, and in particular, zinc solder.

I was so fond of these beads - their shape, and their wonderful textural design. But if you look closely, you can see that these are seamed beads, and Barbara tells me that zinc solder is used to solder the 2 halves of the beads together, and ALSO to attach all the little bumpy designs. And when the torch hits the bead, the zinc solder flows over the entire bead, and the zinc is incompatible with the enamel. Hence, the peeling.

According to Barbara, even beads that are sold as 100% copper, if seamed, may be soldered with zinc solder, and will not work for torch firing enamel. And there is no industry requirement for this zinc to be disclosed, so it's OK to call them 100% whatever. Sigh... seems like all components should be disclosed, right?

And as far as my peeling copper washers, Barbara tells me that the box may say copper, but there is actually huge variability in the metals that make up washers, so some incompatible metals are probably lurking in them, too. Sigh....

And my copper pendants? Probably just not heated hot enough to grab the enamel. It's tricky, when the entire piece won't fit in the flame all at once. And these were pretty small pendants, too - so I need to be extra careful, since I love making the big statement pendants!

But here's the silver lining:

Remember my headpins and twisty tendrils, last seen buried in vermiculite in the cooling crock pot?

They turned out OK. Not great, but OK (so maybe it's a bronze lining, not a silver one?)

Twisty tendrils (not twisted yet - but nice and soft from the heat of the torch, and ready for twisting whenever I am!):
Detail of twisty tendrils:

I pickled them, removing all the firescale. I have some really nice colors here! Even the flame orange did well, and it is typically a very "shocky" color, tending to shatter from thermal shock as the temperature changes rapidly in and out of the torch.

Closer examination reveals scattered flakes of blue enamel when I move the headpins and tendrils, so at least one of the cobalt blue ones is peeling. And a few of the foxglove (purple) ones got vermiculite stuck in them, so apparently I need to flame anneal those a little longer before sticking them in the vermiculite. Also, there is a lot of nice patina on the unenameled copper, but I really didn't want any patina, just shiny copper! But that's OK. And I had a hard time controlling my enamel immersion on the twisty tendrils, especially when one leg of the tendril was longer than the other: I have enamel going further up the tendril's legs than I intended; I wanted it just on the balled ends. Oh, well, something to work on next time.

Biggest problem? Getting a nice sized ball to form on the ends of the wire - really need to work on this!

And here's hoping I can find a good source for compatible beads!

No comments: