Cloisonné Enameling on Copper

Dianne Merrill

Your teacher

Steel wool & cleanser for cleaning oil from base metal (usually copper).
Copper for enameling; pure, cut to shape: 18 ga.
Scalex for cleaning copper and/or preventing firescale (optional)
Enamels 2 oz each, 80 mesh, opaques, transparents opalescents (medium fusing colors are standard, ask to make sure), 1 lb. washed hard fusing transparent undercoat (called “flux“) #2040, 1 lb. undercoat opaque white #1010. The hard flux should be rinsed again and again until water is clear, let dry between paper towels and store in covered jar. This is called washing your enamels and all transparent enamels will need this treatment (numbers given are Thompson’s ordering numbers).
60 mesh sifters  60 mesh sifters (for 80 mesh enamels) one for each of the 2 under coats.
Silver cloisonné wire It is 100% pure silver. It is ribbon shaped and the commercial wire is .010” thick and .040” high. Hard to bend!!
Silver cloisonné wire .004” thick by .040” high is what I use. (Note! This is 0.5 the thickness of commercial wire). Roll previous wire through a rolling mill to get another nice size. Or buy pure silver wire .016″ diameter round and roll down, .014″ diameter will make cloisonné ribbon .003 x .040, another good size. These finer wires are more suitable for fine, intricate work and do not clog your carborundum stones when you file down your work (Hauser and Miller is where I buy the wire).
Hydrofloric acid for destroying fired enamel when removing errors. Diane suggests using a hammer instead, as unlike Hydro Floric acid, hammers don’t cause cancer when used improperly. Hammer method even usable on gold.
Demineralized water used in contact with enamels or Purified water or Distilled water (both are bottled and regularly available at supermarkets these days).
Atomizer or eyedropper De Vilbiss atomizer #7 for spraying water over wet packed pieces (drugstore) or eyedropper for keeping your pieces wet while working (drugstore).
Klyrfire allow to evaporate and thicken to “glue” down wires. May be thinned with distilled water for saturating bowls and cups when enameling vertical or upside down surfaces.
Covered jars Covered jars for holding enamels while wet packing (tackle supply houses carry an item called: tackle-stacks. clear jars. screw caps. all plastic) .
Tweezers Tweezers surgical quality, pointed, for manipulating, bending and setting wires (Micro-Mark mail order is best pricewise & your local surgical supplyhouse also carries these).
Scissors Scissors tiny, straight manicure type for cutting wires. (Micro-Mark or the neighborhood drugstore).
spatulas Tiny “spatulas” for lifting wet enamels from jars to cloisons ( homemade, art store, Micro-Mark, leftover dentists scrapers, waxworking modeling tools).
water color brushes Small red sable water color brushes for lifting misplaced enamel 00 (double aught) very fine tip well tapered. (Micro-Mark or your favourite art store).
Purified water get a gallon (grocery store).
Kiln Allcraft model 88 (which has chamber 8” x 8” x 4”) with pyrometer is good. I use a Firemaster w/ pyrometer. (Any kiln with a chamber which will fit your trivets will be ok. I prefer the door which opens like a refrigerator – rather than like a gas oven – so I am not leaning over a hot door. You will certainly need a pyrometer) .
Trivets for supporting pieces by the edges during firing.
Mesh bases to put under trivets so they can be safely lifted in and out of kiln.Firing Fork for lifting mesh, and trivets in and out of kiln (barbecue fork is ok, too).
Table knife for pushing any loose wires into molten enamel during first 10-15 seconds after coming out of kiln (butter knife, or cake icing spreader).
Carborundum grinding stones for cleaning firescale off edges and grinding (Norton Company, Worcester, Mass 01606) or Scotch stones for knife sharpening may be substituted.
Glass brush for cleaning all traces of grinding residue from, enamel after stoning. This item continues to bring trouble to me. You do not want the product wrapped in tape, or plastic. The one bound in string is what I use. It has no secondary residue/adhesive which can leak off into your work. Apparently during manufacturing glass brushes are sometimes combined with an adhesive – horrible for us. So make sure these are the string bound variety.
Paper towels for blotting up excess water (and only for that use).
Typing paper to work upon (not to be exchanged with paper towels which contain LARD and contaminate bare copper – your base – and may later repel the undercoat).
Note The above list is compiled for the purpose of purchasing EVERYthing you need to open up your own studio and make enamels for a living. The quantities of enamels/copper could be adjusted down if you are just having fun.
Also note that the writer is using copper as a base. Theoretically you can also enamel on gold, silver, sterling, steel and probably others as well. The following recipe works perfectly on copper and will teach you good habits which can carry over into your working with the other bases. Gold and silver are easier to enamel than copper. I just prefer copper for cost and color reasons and, therefore, have used it exclusively.


Procedure for preparing the basesI generally work on several pieces at once. Most of my pieces are less than 3” in diameter, larger ones take a minute or so longer to fire.

Plan “A” basesCleaning

  • Take your copper pieces and paint fronts with scalex
  • Let dry
  • Paint backs with Scalex
  • Let dry
  • Lay them on a mesh base. Fire for 2 minutes at about 1400 °F
  • Let cool
  • Peel off scalex
  • Pieces are now clean so hold by edge only from now on

DomingThe firing above has annealed your copper. You may wrap your base in a piece of plastic film to keep it clean and with your thumbs push it into a curved depression in a piece of wood or a little bowl. This step is optional. It lessens the possibility of warpage if you pre-warp your metal, especially in larger work.

Enameling base coats

  • (Hard Fusing Glass Utterly Important!!)
  • Paint scalex on front. Let it dry.
  • Set rows of pieces on tongue depressors on sheet of clean paper with the unpainted backs up. Brush on a layer of Klyrfire adhesive then sift a thin layer of hard fusing enamel over them all at one time.
  • Put them on a mesh base as many as fit on.
  • Fire 2 minutes at about 1400 °F.
  • Let cool.
  • Peel off scalex.
  • Set rows of pieces on tongue depressors, fronts up, being careful not to touch the bare metal. Brush on a layer of Klyrfire then sift hard fusing undercoat over fronts, even and thin.
  • Set each piece on a trivet, fire 3 minutes at about 1600 °F till thoroughly mature.
  • Fluxed pieces should look clear and clean. If not, refire at higher temperature until they are.
  • Let cool while you fire next ones.
  • Stone edges under running water with carborundum stone to clean firescale

For base coats I use Thompsons hard flux #2040 or Thompsons hard white undercoat #1010 depending on color effect I desire. These are both hard enamels and never bubble through the color coats nor leak up the sides of the wire.
Plan “B” basesCleaning

  • Clean copper with steel wool (not soap pads !!which contain lard) and cleanser, until bright and clean. Both sides, top and bottom
  • Hold by edges only and repeat to remove your fingerprints
  • Test to see if water pulls away from any surface. Rinse really well

Enameling base coats

  • Place backs up (concave side)on your typing paper(not paper towels)
  • Brush with Klyrfire and sift on an even layer of hard fusing enamel
  • Saturate with Klyrfire
  • Let dry
  • Turn over. Hand hold by edges only while brushing on Klyrfire to front side and sifting layer of undercoat to front. A thin even coat is best
  • Place in a quiet place on a trivet to dry while doing others. LET DRY
  • Fire at 1600 °F for 3 minutes or until smooth and mature
  • Cool
  • Clean edge

NoteThese two methods give you your undercoat over your base. One method requires three firings. The other method does require better hand-eye coordination and finesse – but you can do it in one firing. You will also discover during these firings some standard characteristics of enamels:

  • the opaque undercoat, being opaque, takes a little more heat to get smooth
  • A characteristic of the transparent (also called “flux”) undercoat is that it has a blushing, reddish appearance if it is underfired. Refiring at a hotter temperature will make the blush go away and it will turn a pure, clear gold
  • A greenish tint on either undercoat is a clue that the enamel is a bit too thin, or was fired a bit to hot
  • Black spots indicate a hole where the not-dry adhesive boiled and/or the exposed copper turned black with firescale. All exposed copper will turn black with firescale. It is an inconvenience of copper & causes contamination (little blacks specks in your later work) if not handled properly.

Good work habits are well worth developing here and will reward you as you progress.

Wire Work

  • Anneal your wire by laying coils on a wire mesh and firing in your kiln to dull red if you find your wire is springy (2.5 minutes at 1450 °F – about 790 °V – or so is plenty)
  • Draw your design on paper. Mark wire thickness and color scheme
  • With tweezers and fingers shape wires to conform to your drawing (note: India ink on copper will burn away without a trace)
  • Cut shaped sections off, dip into thick Klyrfire and place on your prepared base
  • Arrange your wires to match your design. Watch that wires don’t “swim” away from their intended place (Klyrfire is too watered). Should wires dry in the wrong position, moisten area with a wet sable brush until wire comes loose and can be repositioned
  • While your first piece dries, do the next (all my students do two identical pieces – one on the white undercoat and one on the flux undercoat)
  • Fire at safe temperature for 2.5 to 3 minutes and wires will adhere minutely to base coat
  • With your table knife gently tap down any wires that have not laid themselves into the base coat
  • Fire for another 30 seconds
  • Let your piece cool, while you fire others
  • Stone edge under running water with the carborundum stone
  • Rinse

ColoringFirst color coat

  • Put enamels into clean jars, marked with the name and number, wet with distilled water
  • Opaques and opalescents are ready to use but transparents must be washed to clean them of oxidized fine particles
  • Add distilled water to the transparent powder in a glass (I use a measuring cup). Agitate, let settle to the count of ten (lessen the count as you proceed) and pour off the milky water
  • Refill the glass with water, agitate, settle, pour away
  • Repeat this 5, 10, or 100 times until water is perfectly clear
  • To test: agitate, with ¼ cup water, count to 3 and water should be perfectly clear. I decant this into my clean marked jars at this point
  • With spatulas pick up tiny dabs of wet enamel and put each dab into the appropriate cloison. The right amount of wetness is the secret here!
  • Fill your entire design, if you can, and give an occasional drip with your eyedropper or sable brush to keep everything damp. If things get too wet, blot gently with a paper towel
  • When you’ve filled all you can, hopefully a nice thin even coat on all spaces, tap the copper edge of your piece several times to settle the enamel, drive off air bubbles, bring water to the top where you can blot it away
  • Set your piece on a trivet to dry
  • Do your other pieces
  • Fire at safe temperature (1450 °F only if your pyrometer is 100% accurate) for about 2.5 minutes till enamels are smooth
  • Let cool
  • Meanwhile fire others
  • Stone edges under running water to remove fire scale
  • Examine your work to see progress, to check for errors, contamination, consider improvements, etc.

Next color coats

  • Repeat as above until all colors are filled up to or above the tops of the wires. Some transparents are best when applied and fired in many thin coats or they look patchy. Some colors will not show their true color until three or four firings. Some react with the silver wire and have a thin edge of a different color where they come in contact with that metal
  • When the design allows you to apply all the colours in one filling, it usually takes 4-5 fillings and firings before the enamel is high enough for the first stoning. If you stone too soon, the wires will fray and burr leaving the debris to become imbedded in the adjoining enamel during the next firing. That is a shame. So fill generously before grinding
  • Watch for contamination as you proceed. Anything that comes into contact with the enamel is a source for debris which becomes embedded into your enamel as a fuzzy haze or worse at the next firing. Your job as an astute observer is to remove these variables from your studio. I have learned to turn off the air conditioner or fan while enameling, to keep the cat off my lap, avoid eating sugar dusted cookies, to wash my enameling desk and kiln surfaces daily. I notice which clothes I wear – not that new shedding mohair sweater. I consider which brushes I use – not the one used for watercolor. I never inlay with a brush because the glass can work up into the ferule and never be cleaned out, I only use a metal scraper or trowel for inlaying the enamel. Each step needs careful, thoughtful consideration so contaminants do not get into your work.

FinishingPreliminary stoning

  • Using your coarser stone, work across your whole piece, flat, always under running water, until all tops of wires are cleaned of enamel. The running water carries away the abrasive and acts as a cushion to prevent cracking of the glass
  • Having exposed all the wires along every tiny millimeter of it’s length you are ready for the next step. This is a blind step as you cannot see the difference between before and after: so with the glass brush, brush the piece thoroughly under running water in a scouring, circular motion for three minutes
  • Note
    Carborundum dust , if left on your piece, will fire into the top of the enamel with a foggy, scummy look. It can be removed only by stoning again, and re-cleaning with a glass brush and refiring your enamel.
  • Dry your piece, and examine
  • Low-spots (not touched by stone and therefore still shiny) need to be filled
  • Air bubbles should be opened with a sharp scribe, cleaned with a glass brush then refilled and fired
  • Burrs have to be scraped and lifted sway
  • Fire at safe temperature for 2.5 minutes, cool
  • Stone the edge.

Last stoning

  • Using finer carborundum file go over entire piece under running water until it is even, smooth and all wires clear
  • Now glass brush to clean completely. You cannot see the difference before or after glass brushing. Beware!

Final finishingFire finishFire at safe temperature for 2.25 minutes. Cool. Stone edge. Result is a highly glossy finish!


Mat finishAfter fire polishing take 600 wet or dry sand paper and buff under running water in one direction until gloss is removed. Result is a very smooth finish!

Note!A final layer of colored glass on the back (called “counter enamel”) is a good idea for strength. I generally do two of these and use my favourite color – unless there is one color on the front which is cracked or giving signs of stress, in which case I use that color. This usually removes the cracks entirely from the front.


Dianne MerrillDiane Merrill is a twenty-seven year resident of Marin County, California, USA. Born and raised on a New England farm she had the constant encouragement by her naturalist mother and artistic father. Creativity and experimentation were as natural as breathing.

While at the University of New Hampshire her first interests were pen & ink and monoprinting, later giving way to her first serious art form: cloisonné enameling. This she learned in the late sixties from her parents, Marianne & Andrew Pfeiffer, family friend Margaret Seeler, and William Helwig. She further developed these skills in the early seventies while attending Arizona State University and working as a local production silversmith. She began her professional enameling career in the Bay Area in the mid-seventies doing select street fairs while teaching cloisonné enameling at College of Marin and, in the early eighties, Dominican College. She holds two valid California Community College Instructor Credentials and over the years has taught artwork to hundreds of adults privately, in small workshops and in college classrooms.

In the late seventies she joined the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), a Medieval and Renaissance recreation group, which developed in her an interest and curiosity regarding the fine details and careful workmanship used by earlier artisans in the making and decorating of every kind of ware. This has led to an eclectic study (including early embellished papers) which is still growing. She took a class in Islamic Art History and is now excited to be learning the techniques of miniature painting and illuminated manuscripts by copying the originals.

In 1991 she shifted from cloisonné enameling to another ancient Oriental art form, gyotaku (also known as fish rubbing), which she prints on her handmade papers. These are now sold across the USA.

For twenty-two years she has worked with the public at Kaiser Hospital under very stressful conditions and has reduced the anxiety and warmed the hearts of many patients. She is constantly being praised for her smiles and compassion in a fearful environment. She loves working with people and her talent in this department glows.

Diane has held many private classes and workshops all over the country in various disciplines; some medieval and some modern. Her enthusiasm and cheerfulness makes her classes entertaining as well as artistically satisfying. She clearly loves to teach. Techniques that are very old, difficult or obscure appeal the most to her. In her classes students learn how ancient crafts evolved through the centuries to the present.

Currently Diane judges for the Sonoma County Fair committee in both the Arts and Crafts Divisions. She teaches workshops through the SCA and is on the College of Marin curricula, teaching Jewelry – Cloisonné Enameling. She administers and teaches her Hand and Spirit Art Therapy Program to the elderly and ill in Marin.