Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Torch Firing Enamel, or Oops, I Did it Again

On Sunday I got together with Kris and Sonya, the friends who road-tripped to St. Petersburg with me to attend Barbara Lewis' Torch Fired Enamel Workshop.

This is my first torch set up on Sunday:
This is the classroom area of the bead shop, and that is my pal Stumpy over in the far right corner - Stumpy comes in handy for all the hammering we do in Cold Connections.

This was a nice set up, and would have worked well, except Sonya didn't have one of those nice pinch clamps that I used to attach my torch to the table, and her C-clamp wouldn't fit over the large lip of the table. So we packed up everything and relocated to the front of the shop:
You can see we have our vermiculite crock pots, and our Barbara Bibles, and we are finally ready to fire! I sure wish I had enough room to leave everything set up; the setting up process is time-consuming!

Bailey settles in, again, next to my second torching set-up. He is a patient boy, and looks very interested in the whole enamel immersion process!

If you look on the near corner of my silver, heat-resistant work surface, you can see 3 strands of Metal Beads in the little silver tray. These are some test beads I purchased at Hobby Lobby, and you know how I know they are metal? Says so, right on the package!
Unfortunately, the manufacturer doesn't see the need for any further disclosure of vital information about these beads. Too bad, as we shall see.

For 1 of the 3 test strands of Metal Beads I purchased at Hobby Lobby, introducing the beads to the flame resulted in a beautiful, yet ominous, flame out:
Impressive, right? This bead withstood the flame well, but never, ever stopped flaming! I kept pulling the bead out of the flame, inspecting it, finding no damage, and putting it back in the flame. After several long minutes, the design on the bead eventually started to disappear on the side closest to the flame, and when I looked at the bead closely, the shape had deformed ever so slightly. And then the bead started to put out really noxious black smoke, and the experiment was over!

I moved on the the next test strand, some cute little 1 cm cube beads. These immediately started to melt in the flame. Here are the 2 TFBs (Total Failure Beads):

The larger round bead on the left is the one that flamed out, and the 2nd pic shows the side of it that was closest to the flame, where the design has started to fade.

So I moved on to the next strand, some really pretty beads I call "squash beads" because they remind me a little of summer squash. They have a cool textural pattern, and didn't melt, or flame out, and so I was finally ready to enamel!

I enameled the heck out of this strand of beads - trying different colors, including cobalt, peacock (my favorite!), jungle green, buttercup + sunset orange, white + egg yellow, foxglove (which will always be "digitalis" to me), and some I've already forgotten. I heated the beads, immersed the beads, fused the enamel, dropped the beads into the vermiculite, and just kept going. A torching machine!

I also did some bead caps, and a few copper beads I had lying around the shop.

Then we all decided to move on to making enameled head pins and twisty tendrils. We quickly re-read the proper procedure, and started cutting wire, drawing beads, and immersing. I made as many of these as I could before I ran out of wire, and my crock pot full of vermiculite was getting pretty full, anyway, so time to move on to the next project!

my enameled headpins and twisty tendrils in the vermiculite crock pot

I had prepped some copper blanks and copper washers on Saturday, and I started heating these and applying enamel. The washers were thicker than the materials I was used to heating, and they took a little longer to bring to a glowing red state. The pendants were slightly larger than beads I had been enameling, but no larger than the pendant I made in Barbara's workshop in March. I had to struggle to get the pendants to heat evenly, but I finally did. Then I decided I wanted to apply millefiore and cat whiskers to my pendants, and I learned just how tough this is! I was holding the mandrel with the attached pendant in my non-dominant hand, applying my glass embellishments with my dominant hand, and everything was shaking and trembling and falling off the pendant. At some point, I reached over to try and steady the whole thing, and stuck my right hand right into the flame. That was stupid.

Time was running short, so we started packing up and tearing down. I left all my beads and pendants buried in the vermiculite, and all my headpins and twisty tendrils buried in their vermiculite in the crock pot, and went home.

So to recap - lots of beads, etc., cooling in vermiculite, sight unseen.

Casualties on Sunday?

Bead-shaped burn in the carpet, courtesy of a flying, flame-hot bead:

Bead-shaped burns on the oak table, courtesy of a rolling flame-hot bead:

Flame-shaped burn on my index finger (same finger I burned doing this last month!):

I knew this burn was a doozy almost the minute it happened, both because of the intense burning pain (duh) AND because of its location. Since it is right over my knuckle, I knew it would suffer from the repetitive bending at that joint.

The picture above was taken yesterday morning - just 12 hours after the "incident." The blister has formed, and is pretty tense.

Sure enough, by mid-afternoon yesterday the blister had already burst from ordinary use of the finger:

You can see a very small opening in the blister right at the joint.

By this morning, this is how this burn looks:

Nice, huh? It really needs to be debrided some, but it was hard enough taking pictures of my own right index finger (I am right-handed), holding my cumbersome camera upside down in my left hand, trying to press the shutter! I don't think I can manage to debride this burn by myself.

But forget about the burn! I woke up all excited about seeing my treasure haul from Sunday!

These are my headpins and twisty tendrils - they still need to be pickled to remove the fire scale:

Nice color, and one headpin at the lower left corner has vermiculite stuck to it. I haven't tested them to see if the drawn beads are secure, and if the color is secure.

Then came the disappointment:
These are my squash beads - the enamel is coming off ALL of them. The 2 beads at the lower left are what these beads looked like before enameling.

Here is a close-up of the cobalt squash beads:

Here are my bead caps and 2 small copper beads:

Again, the enamel is coming off all of them except for one seafoam beadcap.

Here is a very small copper bead:
The color is adhering, but it is splotchy. I don't know if another coat is the answer or not.

Peacock washers:

This is the second attempt on these same 2 washers. Sonya and I caught on to the fact that the enamel popped right off our washers, and I pulled mine out of the vermiculite and redid them.

Here is my foxglove pendant:

And here are the other 3 pendants I did:

The fronts of these look OK, but enamel is peeling off their backs just like the sunburns I used to get growing up.
So, to say I am discourage right now is an understatement. But I am ready to try again, although I need to do some research and see what's going on, and beads are too expensive to keep ruining!

I read the troubleshooting info in Barbara's book, and I didn't drop any of these on the floor, so that isn't it. Maybe the beads are incompatible with the enamel - but that doesn't explain the situation with the washers and the copper blanks. The only thing I can figure out is that the beads, washers, and blanks weren't uniformly hot enough, but I was doing the same thing I did at the Florida workshop, where I never had this result. Weird.

Also need to check Barbara's website and see if she carries asbestos gloves.


Halinka said...

Huge sacrifice....Painful work...I'm so sorry for Your not having had the expected effects...but I know-You'll manage next time.All ideas and all beads seem to be so nice.Looking at them,we do not even think,how much effort it cost.Put the asbest gloves next time on Your hands...I'm sad to see that.
Warm,Warm Hugs-Halinka-

Halinka said...

ps.Maybe You should bathe the beads first,before enemelling in a special liquid,that removes all,even minutest particles of FAT on the bead and do not hold it in hands,but in some kind of clips,whether not to put on them any 'fat' again.It's sometimes enough to touch them with sweat hand and the enamel can go off.
I do not anything about that technique-this is my only suggestion.

Hugs again-Halinka-

SJD/PWF said...

Actually, I like the foxglove pendant! Stuck vermicullite is just added texture for me, so one headpin with texture is OK. I've learned to travel with a magnet (keep it away from your credit cards!) to test unidentified "metal".

SJD/PWF said...

Actually, I like the foxglove pendant! Stuck vermicullite is just added texture for me, so one headpin with texture is OK. I've learned to travel with a magnet (keep it away from your credit cards!) to test unidentified "metal".