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Sue’s Birthday Enamel Pendant Tutorial

    One of my good friends came round to see what was going on in ‘the shed of dreams’ and mentioned that she loved the shades of blue on one of the enamel test strips I had completed (below left).  Knowing that her birthday was coming up I thought I would experiment with them on a silver necklace for her.

    My design idea was very simple – a blue ocean and a white moon above it.  I thought it would make an ideal tutorial piece, using the techniques of ‘saw and solder champlève’ and ‘cloisonnè’ enamel work.

    I checked my silver stock and I found two pieces of fine silver.  Fine silver is almost pure and is much easier to use for enamelling than sterling (which is alloyed), as sterling creates ‘firescale’ when heated whereas fine silver does not so there is less cleaning to do.

     

     

     

     

    The fine silver was 2.5 x 2.5 cm and 0.70mm thick, which is about 20 gauge.  20 gauge silver sheet is an ideal width for fusing, which we will come to later.  On one of the pieces I drew a circle on the plastic film which is attached to the silver with a Sharpie marker (above right).

     

    Using my jeweller’s saw I cut out the inside of the circle very carefully (below left).  Considering Kizzy cat had decided to lollop on my knee at this point I thought I did quite well!  Then I touched up the pen mark with my Sharpie (below middle) and set off cutting again until I had a circle cut from one of my silver squares (below right).  I then used a half-round and a flat needle file to remove any lumps and bumps left by my dodgy sawing!

     

     

     

    I then took both the circle (top piece) and the square (bottom piece) of silver and hammered them flat between two pieces of steel so that I knew there would be no gaps between the two pieces of silver.  This is important for the next phase, which is fusing the two pieces together.  Although you can solder them, I think fusing is easier and less messy.

    Firstly I sanded the underside of the top piece (the circle) to roughen the surface up, and then cleaned both pieces with isopropol alcohol, which is a degreaser.  It is important not to touch the silver with your fingers now because grease from your fingers won’t help the fusing process.

    You don’t need to use fusing liquid, which is a cupric acid + Klyr Fire mixture, but by using this copper-based solution the melting temperature at the surface of the two silver pieces will be lowered and you will have a greater success with fusing.  Very carefully paint the fusing liquid (which can be bought from Etsy under the name of ‘BlueFuse’) onto the underside of the top piece (the circle) which you have preciously sanded (below left).  Place your circle very carefully into position on the top of the square of silver and leave the fusing liquid to dry.  Wipe of any excess if you have used too much.

     

     

    The photo above right shows the piece placed on a steel mesh, ready to be fused.  I use a propane/butane torch for this, the kind used by many people for soldering.  Basically the idea is to heat the piece up with the end of the flame and keep it moving all around, until eventually the top of the blue part of the flame is under the silver.  The fusing liquid will turn black and burn off, and the whole piece will start to turn red.  Keep your torch moving around.

     

    When it gets to this point you can concentrate your torch onto one section and you will see the surface turn molten.  It’s best to work in a slightly darkened room so you can see the effect.  The idea is to ‘move’ this molten section around the whole of the circle, but beware, as it is a fast process, and if the torch is left too long in one place the silver will melt completely.  The idea is to get in and get out of there!  If you find that the two pieces have not fused properly in one area, you can repeat the process as many times as you like.  Don’t quench the pieces (e.g. put them straight into cold water) after you have fused them.  Let them cool down naturally.

     

    The photo below right shows the piece after fusing.  Note how at the top of the piece I left the torch a little too long in one area and the silver went a little too molten.  This was not a disaster, however, as it didn’t melt completely and can be rectified.

     

     

    After I checked that there were no gaps between the pieces, I literally cut round the shape with a pair of scissors as 20 gauge fine silver is thin enough to do this with.  I filed the sharp point at the top off with my needle files, and then I worked round the whole of the edge of the piece with the same file to get the edges of the back and the front piece level.

    Finally, I used a rubber hammer in a doming block to gently dome the piece.  Fine silver is soft and anything harder would possibly mark the metal.

    So far, so good!  I’ll leave you to ruminate on that for now, but I’ll return soon with the next part, which is actually enamelling the piece!

     

    Hope to see you again soon!

    Kelly.

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