Try your hand at enameling with these simple yet elegant enameled cufflinks.
Project by: Rosa Martha Celorio
Edited by: Jeannette Froese LeBlanc and Margaret Schindel
Click on images to enlarge.
Materials and Supplies: Low-fire silver metal clay (Art Clay™ Silver or PMC3™) and Low-fire silver metal clay paste (same formula as clay), Fine silver embeddable cufflink findings, Flat-nose pliers (preferably parallel-action pliers), “Cushion” jewelry shape template or 2 different sizes of square cutters (approximately 19 mm and 11 mm)
For the enamel part of the project: Japanese leaded* enamels in LT70, LT71 y LT7, N3 clear leaded base coat enamel (AKA flux) (optional) *Unleaded enamels can be substituted for leaded enamels, but do not mix them for this project.
Equipment: Programmable kiln with kiln shelf
Rotary tumbler with mixed stainless steel shot
*Also needed Basic Metal Clay Supply Kit and Basic Enamel Supply Kit.
STEP 1: Roll out and texture the metal clay. Apply olive oil or balm to your hands, non-stick sheet and texture mat. Roll out the metal clay on the non-stick sheet to a thickness of 2mm, using purple rolling slats or stacks of 8 playing cards as thickness spacers. I like to roll the clay under a plastic sandwich bag to keep it moist, but a sheet protector cut into fourths will work fine, too.
Place the clay slab on top of the texture mat. Place a stack of one red and one black rolling slat (or a stack of 7 playing cards) on either side of the clay (also on top of the texture), top with the plastic bag or sheet protector and roll out the clay to a thickness of 1.75 mm. Important: Do not roll the clay thinner or you will not be able to embed the findings properly. Carefully peel the clay from the texture mat and place it on the non-stick sheet.
STEP 2: Cut out the base components. Lightly oil the template and the needle tool or craft knife and cut two 19 mm (.74 in) squares with rounded edges. These will be the base components into which you will embed the cufflink mounts.
STEP 3: Embed the cufflink mounts. Before the clay starts to dry, pick up one of the cufflink mounts with tweezers and embed it into the textured side of one of the base components, centering it on the square and pushing it in until the bottom of the mount is in contact with the surface of the clay. The tabs need to be completely embedded in the clay without showing through the other side of the base component. Repeat with the second cufflink mount and base component.
Moisten the attachment areas around the cufflink mounts with water, and fill in the gaps around the tab by adding small amounts of clay around the edges, tamping them down with a clay shaper. Smooth the clay against the bottom of the cufflink mounts and blend the edges invisibly into the surrounding clay with a wet clay shaper. If any pits or marks were created while embedding the tabs into the clay, fill them with paste. Set the base components aside to air-dry.
STEP 4: Create and attach the upper components. Roll out the remaining clay under plastic on a piece of non-stick sheet to a thickness of 1 mm (using either the black rolling slats or stacks of 4 playing cards). Cut two 19 mm squares from the untextured clay.
Center the 11 mm template opening on one of the clay squares, and cut out and remove the clay inside the opening, taking care not to deform the original shape. Cut a matching opening in the center of the remaining square and set these upper components aside to air dry flat.
STEP 5: Refine and attach the base and upper components. Refine all four components with your choice of needle files, sanding sponges and/or sandpaper, taking care not to alter the original shapes or remove too much material.
Moisten the smooth side of one of the base components. Apply paste to one of the upper components and place it on top of the moistened base, aligning the edges perfectly. Use enough paste so that it will ooze slightly around the seam when the two components are pressed together. Apply firm pressure for several seconds to get a good bond, taking care not to dislodge the cufflink mounts. Clean off the excess paste that oozed out around the seams. If there are gaps where the paste did not ooze out, fill them with paste or, if they are large, with tiny snakes of moist clay. Attach the remaining components in the same way. Set both cufflinks aside to air dry flat, with the cufflink mounts facing up.
STEP 6: Pre-finish the cufflinks before firing. Hold both of the cuff links together, smooth sides touching. If necessary, file the edges so that both pieces are the same size and shape. Further refine and pre-finish the greenware to your satisfaction.
STEP 7: Fire the cufflinks. Carve two depressions into the fiber brick just large enough to comfortably accommodate the cufflink mountings. (I use pieces of thick fiber bricks that have broken). Set the cufflinks on the fiber brick, so that they lie flat, with the mounts inside the holes you just carved for them. Place the fiber brick with the cufflinks into the kiln. Fire at full ramp to 1650°F (899°C) and hold for 60 minutes. Allow the pieces to cool before removing them from the kiln.
STEP 8: Prepare the silver for enameling. Brush the fired pieces with a wet brass brush and a drop of liquid dish soap as a lubricant. Rinse the pieces and tumble them overnight with stainless steel shot, water, and burnishing compound (or a few drops of liquid dish soap).
Remove the pieces from the tumbler and wash them thoroughly with a glass brush under running water until the water sheets and no longer beads up on the metal, holding the silver by the edges to avoid touching the surfaces to be enameled. (Do not use any soap, ammonia, etc., just plain running water.)Rinse and dry the silver carefully, continuing to avoid touching the surfaces to be enameled with your fingers from this point forward.
STEP 9: Wash the enamels. Before proceeding, put on the particulate respirator/dust mask and keep it on while you prepare and apply the enamels. Important: Handle all enamels (whether leaded or unleaded) carefully, safely and responsibly, following all the manufacturer’s safety precautions. Wash your hands after touching enamels and wash both your hands and your work surface thoroughly both before and after you work with the enamels. TIP. If you have not enameled before, it is better to choose cool colors, such as blue or green. Warm colors are trickier to work with and the color may change when applied directly onto silver.
Transparent enamel powders must be washed thoroughly before using them to remove the very fine particles (called “fines”). Pour each color of enamel into a separate, small glass or plastic jar with a tight-fitting lid. Label each jar with the color number, manufacturer name and mesh number, using a permanent marker on a strip of adhesive tape. Add some water to one of the jars and swirl the contents around with a coffee stirrer or the enameling spoon. The water will appear dirty and cloudy (because of the “fines”), and some particles may float to the top. Let the contents settle for 2 or 3 seconds, and then pour off most of the cloudy water into a large, plastic container, leaving the wet enamel powder in the jar. Repeat this process several times until the water remains clear after it is stirred into the enamel. Then switch to distilled water and wash the enamel two more times. Repeat this entire process with each remaining enamel color. Note: Washing transparent enamels properly is a tedious procedure, but it is the only way to achieve shiny, clear fired enamels, and it absolutely is worth the effort!
After all enamel colors have been washed, let the water in the large container sit and then pour off most of it, leaving the just the wet, powdery enamel residue (“fines”). Allow the remaining water to evaporate and transfer the dried “fines” to a tightly sealed container, to be used as counter enamel for future projects.
STEP 10: Counter enamel the cufflinks. Counter enameling means applying enamel to both sides of a piece. It is done to help balance the tension on the front and back of a piece, since enamel puts the metal under tension and if it is only on one side, the metal can warp, causing the enamel to crack. You can counter enamel with one of the same enamel colors as you used on the front of the piece, or with leftover “fines.” If you prefer not to add color to the back of your piece, you use N3 enamel, a transparent base coat for silver (sometimes called flux).
To counter enamel your cufflinks, start by preheating the kiln to 1450°F (788°C). While the kiln preheats, apply an even layer of wet enamel with a flat shader brush to the textured silver on the backs, being careful to avoid getting any enamel on the cufflink mounts, the area immediately surrounding them, or the edges of the cufflinks. Tap the side of each cufflink gently with the handle of a heavy tool to settle the enamels, and then tear off a small piece of a paper towel and lightly touch the torn edge to the edge of the enamel to wick away excess water. Inspect the pieces carefully and remove any stray grains of enamel with a clean, damp brush (or push them down into the wet enamel layer). Set the cufflinks in a warm place (such as on top of the preheating kiln) until all the water has evaporated and the enamel looks dry and sugary.
Place each counter enameled cufflink on an enameling trivet with the enamel facing up, and then carefully transfer both trivets to the mesh firing support rack. Tie back your hair (if appropriate) and put on your fireproof gloves and IR safety glasses. Open the kiln door and quickly and carefully use the enameling fork to transfer the mesh rack into the hot kiln. Close the kiln door immediately and start timing. After 2 minutes, carefully crack open the kiln door (or use the peep hole or window instead, if your kiln has one) and quickly check the appearance of the counter enamel. If the enamel is smooth and glossy, with a glass-like appearance, it is fully fused and should be removed from the kiln immediately. If the enamel has a bumpy, orange-peel appearance instead of being smooth and glossy, quickly close the kiln door again and allow the cufflinks to fire for another 30-60 seconds.
As soon as the enamel is fully fused, open the kiln door all the way and lift out the mesh support rack (with the cufflinks still on the trivets) with an enameling fork and set it down on a heatproof surface to cool at room temperature. Leave the kiln on at the same temperature while you enamel the front of the cufflinks. Note: In my kiln, the enamel fuses fully in approximately 2 minutes. However, your total firing time may be different depending on the type of kiln you’re using (firebrick vs. ceramic fiber, top-loading vs. front-loading), the accuracy of its pyrometer, and several other factors.
STEP 11: Enamel the front of the cufflinks. It is easiest to enamel the front of the cufflinks if they are on the trivet. So when they are completely cool, hold them by the edges only and turn them over so they are face up on the trivet, making sure the mounts on the backs of both cufflinks face the same way.
With the permanent marker, label three plastic spoons with the respective color numbers of the three washed enamel colors. Scoop up a little bit of each color with the corresponding spoon. It is better to take just the amount you need for the project. You can either leave the enamel in the spoons or transfer them to three of the depressions in the watercolor paint palette. Add a drop of Klyr-fire™ and then add a few drops of distilled water to each enamel color (with a pipette or eyedropper), so that the enamels will not dry out while you’re working with them. Aim for a medium consistency for optimal workability.
Use a size 000 sable brush to “paint” the wet enamels onto the recessed square area of each cufflink. Mentally divide each recessed area crosswise into thirds. Apply a thin layer of the lightest-color enamel across the bottom third of each recessed area. Then paint a thin layer of the next darker shade across the middle third, and end with a thin layer of the darkest shade across the top third, so that there are three wide stripes of color. While the enamels still are wet, shade the colors gradually from light to dark by blending the edges of the stripes together where the colors meet until you achieve a subtle ombré effect. Be precise with your brush as you blend and shade the enamel colors, since each grain of enamel that strays out of place will look like a tiny dot after firing. Again, tap the side of each cufflink gently with the handle of a heavy tool to settle the enamels, and then wick away the excess water with the torn edge of a scrap of paper towel. Remove any stray grains of enamel with a clean brush, and set the trivets on top of the hot kiln todry until the enamels have a sugary appearance. Fire until the enamel fuses, just as you did for the counter enamel.
After the cufflinks have cooled at room temperature, apply another thin layer of wet enamels directly on top of the first layer, applying wide stripes of color from light to dark and then shading them gradually with a brush as before. Wick away the excess water, dry the new layer of enamel, fire, and air cool the cufflinks. Repeat this process to add additional layers of enamel until it is level with the top of the silver (or ust slightly higher).
Try to remember not to touch the enamels with your fingers so that you don’t have to stop and clean the pieces again between enamel layer applications. However, if you di accidentally touch the fused enamel with your fingers, clean it with a glass brush under running water until the water sheets and then rinse and dry thoroughly before applying the next coat of enamel.
STEP 12: Grind and sanding the front of the cufflinks. After the last layer of enamels has been fired and cooled, use an alundum stone under running water to grind the enamel on the front of the cufflinks flush with surface of the silver, taking care not to scratch the silver.(If you see shiny spots in the enamel after grinding it with the alundum stone, wash the enamel with a glass brush, reapply enamel on those spots, and re-fire before proceeding.) Note: The counter enamel does not need to be ground or sanded.
Next, use diamond sanding sticks or pads (also under running water), working through the four grits in order (120, 200, 400, 800) until the silver and enamel seem to be one continuous, smooth surface.
Pour some water in a shallow, flat-bottomed plastic or stainless steel dish or tray. Place a piece of 400-grit wet/dry sandpaper in the bottom of the tray and wet-sand the cufflinks under water. When the surface is uniform, remove the sandpaper and rinse out the tray thoroughly. Refill the tray with clean water and 600-grit sandpaper, and sand at right angles to the direction of your previous sanding strokes until the silver has a soft sheen. For a higher shine, repeat with 800-grit sandpaper. (If you wish, you can continue working through even higher grits.)Make sure the silver is sanded to a smooth, high shine now, so that after the enamels are fired again the silver will need only a final polishing.
Polish just the silver with 3M™ Wetordry™ polishing papers, working through grits 1200 through 6000 in order, being careful to avoid scratching the enamel. Tip: If you are concerned about accidentally scratching the enamel, you can cover it temporarily with Scotch® tape cut to fit while you are polishing the silver.
STEP 14: Mount the cufflink bars. For each cufflink, insert and align the cufflink bar into the opening in the base mount. Hold the bar in place vertically and squeeze the sides of the base mount with the pliers to capture the cufflink bar and lock it into place securely.
About the Artist: Born and raised in Mexico City, Rosa Martha Celorio graduated from history of art. Always linked to creativity, she has worked as a make-up artist for the media and now in jewelry making. She lives and teaches jewelry making in Mexico. Contact Rosa Martha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nacida en la Ciudad de México, Rosa Martha Celorio estudió la carrera de historia del arte. Siempre ligada a la creatividad ha incursionado en campos como el maquillaje para los medios y, actualmente, la elaboración de piezas de joyería. Rosa Martha reside y enseña hasta la fecha en México.
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