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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

First Experiments Enameling in my Ultralite Beehive Kiln

As much as I love torch-enameling, there are some limitations.

One is that I can only enamel very small pieces (well, unless I get out my very large torch, which I prefer not to do indoors).

The second and more important of the two problems is that I can only counter-enamel in black. When the flame is directly on the enamel, it turns various dark and unattractive colors. So I just use opaque black enamel which, when fired directly upon, ends up looking like opaque black enamel. But that’s limiting. Maybe you don’t always want black to be on the backside of every piece.

Insert: ultralite beehive kiln ($185)

My hope for a solution to my wish to learn kiln enameling, yet without firing up my oversized outdoor kiln. (Can’t enamel outside and no desire to run between he workroom and the patio kiln.)

This little kiln is actually mostly used for PMC, so I might give that a go at some point too.

Anyway, I needed something that could hold my work piece elevated above the kiln floor yet short enough to fit in this mini kiln. My enameling trivets are too big so I decided to fashion something from nichrome.

Seeking instant gratification, I looked up nichrome and discovered that toasters have nichrome wire in them and in perfect serendipity, we had recently purchased a new toaster and the old one was still in the garage.

The nichrome wires are the ones on the panels facing the toast… so in a 2-slot toaster, you’ve got three panels of nichrome wire (left, right and center).

Here’s the contraption I made after seeing a similar shape on Lillian Jone’s website. (Lillian Jones, btw, is the one who inspired me to try a beehive kiln for enameling in the first place.)

Here are the pieces I mentioned earlier that I’d made for testing. Copper disks with fine silver frame edges soldered on. (Yes, as you can see, I’m an amateur solderer.)

Before using one of my test pieces (these things took me a long time to make!), I took just a plain copper disk and prepped it for enameling.

So here’s the exciting, good news: I did achieve a clear counter-enamel coating on the back sides of both my test pieces. I’m so happy about these I can’t stop staring at them and smiling.

After counter-enameling on my plain copper disk, I sifted some opaque yellow onto the top side, placed it on my little nichrome wires, and placed it in the kiln.

After a few minutes, I removed it and although the enamel was smooth, the color was gray. I admit this surprised me a bit.

I sifted another coat of yellow on top of the gray coat and scratched a few wannabe sgraffito lines into that coat, then fired.

At least it came out yellow this time.

Next I took one of the test pieces that I messed up on (when doming it I distorted the copper in one place) and after counter-enameling the back (see above), I brushed some 50/50 klyrfire (because of the dome shape) on the top, sifted opaque red, and placed it in the kiln.

After it cooled, I repeated the red enamel.

So here’s the bad news…

What is up with the black/dark patches? It *may* be a combination of the copper base and too thin layers of enamel, but I thought I had pretty thick layers.  I admit I've not found as even a coating when using klyrfire as when merely sifting the enamel.

Well, that’s the end of my first experiments enameling with a kiln.

I want to eventually get some fatter gauge nichrome wire. My little contraption was pretty flimsy, making it hard for me to get the piece into and out of the kiln.


  1. JEC Products now carries Nickel Chrome Trivets.

  2. Red is one of the most difficult colors in enameling as it tends to burn easily. Considering my red experience I think your red looks pretty good - maybe take it out a little earlier.

  3. Thanks Cindy! Go figure... my favorite color is one of the most difficult. Ha ha ha! Thanks for the encouragement... I'll keep experimenting.