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Glass Enamels

 

There are two different processes for making enamels.  The first, a traditional method that has been around for over 2000 years, involves grinding together small particles of glass with colorants, fluxes, and other ingredients.  This approach uses a mortar and pestle for small quantities or a machine such as a ball mill for larger ones.

 

The second way to make glass enamels is through a process known as "fritting".  This starts with a dry mixture of minerals and chemicals.  The mixture is heated until the particles melt together, then quenched in water so that it cools rapidly and breaks into small pieces.  These pieces are ground into a fine powder.

 

Regardless of the method used, the resulting particles tend to be around 80 mesh in size, which is about the same size as commercially available glass powder.  Enamels can be sifted dry, but are most often mixed with a binder before applying to glass.  Application can be by paintbrush, by airbrush, by screen printing, or by tools such as palette knives or toothpicks that can be used to transfer the enamel to the glass.

Once transferred to glass, enamels must be fired to maturity.  Different enamels have different firing temperatures, but in general temperatures for painting or spraying enamels range between 1100F/600C to 1500F/815C.  In addition to firing to the appropriate temperature, care should be taken to use enamels that approximate the coefficient of expansion (COE) of the glass used. 

 

Major manufacturers of enamels include Paradise Paints, Thompson Enamel, Ferro, and others.  The characteristics of different enamel brands can vary significantly, and will be the subject of future tips.

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Copyright 2005 Brad Walker.  All rights reserved.

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Copyright 2005-2006 by M. Bradley Walker.  All rights reserved.

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