Monday, July 25, 2011

How to Patina your Metals for Jewelry

I was asked to do a tutorial on using Liver of Sulfur, and why anyone would ask me is beyond me - but they did, so here I am.  First of all, I need to tell you that not only am I a self taught metallurgist, but my husband, a retired dentist, also lays claim to that title for my business,  Linda Sudimack, artisan.  Since my college degree was in Chemistry, we constantly bicker over who has more claim to that title. I am also a compulsive reader - I will even read a cereal box occasionally if I am desperate I have read every little thing that I have been able to find about how to patina your metals without using a torch.

I have to say here that I love copper - I love working with it - I love it's consistency when bending it - I love the price as compared to sterling....but I am not an orange person.  I do not like the color of copper, but I do love it with a patina. The first jewelry that I made was with copper wire and it was patineed, not very well, but even then, I knew what I wanted!

The product itself, Liver of Sulfur, comes in both liquid and rock form and although I have purchased the liquid form, we have so far only used the rock form.  There are also some other products out there, Rio has one and  Jodi Bombardier mentions in her book that she uses because it doesn't smell as bad as LOS...but she urges you to take it outside, so we have stuck with LOS, because I really don't need another product to cope with.

I think that every one who writes a book, has their own recipe for the LOS mixture, the more anal ones actually measure their water, John would never do that and he does all my oxidizing for me.  Just to be a little technical - that is actually what you are doing - you are oxidizing (or tarnishing) - the metal that you hope to darken.  Again, lots of opinions on water temperature, we have settled on very hot tap water because the rock melts quickly here. John is a natural conservationist ( he's cheap) so he adds as little LOS as he can get away with. You want your liquid to be darkish brown and it does stink like rotten eggs.  We add 2 to 3 drops of household ammonia to this for better colors. We purchased a plastic rectangular bowl at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, that is only used for LOS and it has it's own lid, it is about 4" x 10" x 5" deep and it works for everything I've done so far.  They say that you must use glass or plastic, not a metal pan and that makes sense to me.

I purchased a flat ladle thingie with holes for fast dipping small things - I also made a similar one from wire that is much smaller.  I also bought a wooden toast lifter (tongs) from B,B, and Beyond which is much cheaper than bamboo tongs for jewelers. We use this to hold the things that are being dipped and to pick fallen goodies off the bottom.

After your piece is oxidized to your liking, you will want two bowls with cold water to stop the process.  We use 2 large cottage cheese containers both filled with cold water.  The first dipping is into the cold water that has a couple of tablespoons of baking soda in it and then they go into plain cold water. The baking soda halts the oxidation process by neutralizing the acid.

Now comes the hard part - taking off what you have just worked so hard to put on - but done artistically, of course.  I use one of two products, either 0000 steel wool, from your local hardware shop, or a 3 M product that I buy at Rio.  I think that I prefer the steel wool, but it does leave little threads on your work that are hard to remove, even in the tumbler. The 3 M product does a great job, but I think that it is more work, they are like sanding pads in 4 grits that are rubbery on one side.  I often use a brass brush, from Rio, to scrub the interior of my pieces. I don't like to tumble after oxidizing because it usually takes off too much.

You can cover your LOS solution and as long as it has color it will work.  It is non toxic, although odiferous, and can be disposed of in a garage sink.  You could put it down your kitchen drain too, if you want a good reason for eating out for the next few nights.

That's about it - we tend to wait until we have several pieces to do, and spend the morning on the patio...oxidizing, and cleaning and cleaning and cleaning.  This is truly a labor of love so don't attempt it unless you really, really want to do it.  I don't oxidize allot of sterling, I spent too much time over the years cleaning my silver, so intentionally tarnishing it is mentally very hard for me to do.  I have read that if you are doing both metals to do your silver first and then do your copper.  I have also read that you can get some great colors like with a torch by putting the copper in a 300 degree oven for a few hours.  Haven't tried that yet, but I will. I do not use a torch - I have this vision of me, in the garage, torch in hand...and the house in flames...I don't even flame creme brulee, so my copper is going to have to wait.

I think that I have tried every lacquer on the market and have not been happy with the results - I've even gone the renaisannce wax route and John bougth a product that was quaranteed for like 27 years on outside cupola's - that other than costing allot did not do the job.  I was using nothing for a while and then I tried  an artist's fixative....meanwhile, I read about a new product in an article by Connie Fox which the jury is still out on...but I will let you know if it works as well as I hope. If the product is half as good as the company is in it's attention to detail, it will be a winner.

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