My First Experiments with Patina    Sunday, December 14, 2014

A couple of years ago, a friend and I got together to test out some patina recipes.

Elizabeth made a batch of bronze wire spirals that we would be using as testers.  

I had some copper shapes… and a few brass disks.  So we had three metals to experiment with.

This was our work space and set-up. We cleaned the metal two ways. Some pieces were given an alcohol bath (shown) and some pieces were cleaned with Penny Brite (a copper cleaner that is basically citric acid and soap).

We used a Sharpie marker to create resist patterns.

Liver of sulfur recipes with household ingredients was our starting point.

Although I’m sharing with you our methods and results, keep in mind this is not instructions or a tutorial.

That being said, I will still mention some basic warnings. As Elizabeth wisely reminded me, never add water to an acid; always add the acid to the water. And use protective gloves, goggles, respirators, and aprons.

LOS (liver of sulfur) comes in three forms that I know of (and have used).

Premixed liquid (easy to find at bead shops), but it's easy easy to use it up fast.

Solid LOS (dry chunks) that you mix with water as needed.

And premixed gel LOS which I think is the easiest and lasts the longest (a little goes a long way).

Test 1

1 cup of boiled, distilled water
1 tablespoon of distilled white vinegar
1 measure of liver of sulfur (dip a plastic knife or popsicle stick, etc about ½ an inch)

Here the set-up for test 1.

The mixture is opaque so a "dunking basket" could come in handy to be able to find small pieces.  

The paint brush was used to get the LOS gel (using the butt end of the brush to dip)

You can keep the bowl on a heating pad or mug warmer.  Warm LOS works better than cold... or works faster.  But it's not a crucial step.

We immersed our pieces for 1-3 seconds then lifted them out to see the reaction. We ran tap water over the piece to check the progress.  You can also just have a bowl of plain water handy for the same purpose.

Continue dipping to increase the intensity of the patina, but if your reaction goes faster than anticipated, your piece can darken past where you wanted it. Sometimes if you go too fast (if the patina darkens too quickly) you get a coating of dark patina that flakes off.  That's why I prefer to have a weak solution of LOS and just take my time.

We had a bowl of plain water mixed with baking soda as the final dunking place for the pieces. This alkaline bath arrests the patination process. Your pieces can continue to darken if you don't use this step.  Rinsing with water may not be enough to stop the process.

We numbered our paper towels so that the results and the tests could be kept in order and we kept notes along the way (along with photos).

Here are the results of Test 1.  A warm patina with reddish undertones.

After neutralizing, we dipped a q-tip into alcohol (plain household rubbing alcohol) and removed the sharpie marker resist. This ended up being the only piece where the resist left a dark effect.

Here’s a close-up of the rich patina on the spiral. Notice how the shading varies from the outer to the inner spirals.

Test 2 (supposed to produce a blue patina)

1 cup of boiling, distilled water
1 tablespoon of ammonia 
1 measure of LOS

The colors ranged from vibrant reds and yellows to warm browns and cool shades of purple.

In this close-up of the bronze spiral, you can see the rainbow of colors we got.  

Here’s the revers side of the copper piece.

Most sealants will dull bright patina colors (we used Renaissance Wax and you can see the results at the end of the blog).

We determined that the brass disks must have a coating of some sort on one of their sides because we consistently got one side that took to the patina and one side that seemed resistant (which reminds me that, along with clearning your piece prior to patination, sometimes light sanding is in order also).


Test 3

1 cup of hot coffee
1 measure of LOS

We both loved the rich brown colors achieve by test 3. The pieces had an aged vintage bronze tone (except for the brass piece that I think had a coating on it).

We then moved to the garage for the tests that involved the chemicals we had purchased.


Test 4 
(supposed to create apple greens)


A straight LOS/water combination to get a medium brown tone on the pieces first.

Then the pieces were heated to 200 degrees F in a klin.

Test 4 (additional phase A)

Then they were dunked into a mixture of:
236 ml hot, distilled water
1 tablespoon cupric nitrate

It was supposed to create a light green patina, but we didn’t see much effect.

So we decided to heat (Blazer micro-torch) the copper piece and re-dunk it in the test solution. 

The torch removed most of the Sharpie resist and concentrated one dot of it on each place where it had been (which couldn’t be removed with alcohol).

We continued heating the copper piece and redunking but never achieved a green patina.  

The bronze spiral didn’t seem to be having any effect from the solution so we left it in for a total of 8 minutes. When we removed it, there was a coating on it that easily flaked off when touched.

We did notice two small spots on the bronze spiral that looked like the green/blue of naturally weathered copper and bronze.  We concluded that even though our directions stated "dunking" rather than "prolonged saturation, an overnight soak might be advisable if we wanted to achieve the promised colors.

The only effect to the brass disk in test 4 was that it removed the original LOS patina we’d put on it.

So then we moved to additoinal phase B of test 4…

Additional Phase B of Test 4

A second bowl with:
236 ml of hot, distilled water
1 teaspoon of Ferric Nitrate

The results were not dramatic, but were interesting enough to try with variations in the future.

Test 5
(supposed to create blue)

236 ml hot, distilled water
50 grams Ammonium Chloride
4 grams LOS

Since we weren’t using LOS in solid form, we just guessed at the amount of LOS needed.

The black coating on the bronze spiraled wire flaked off when rubbed gently, but underneath the flakes was an amazing vintage bronze tone that we both fell immediately in love with.

Instead of dunking the brass disk into the solution, we brushed some of the solution onto it and let it sit. The other two pieces (the copper and bronze) were dunked.

The piece where we brushed the solution on and left it does seem to have created a nice patina. We just needed to be patient.

We decided that if the solutions were left on the pieces for a much longer period of time they would probably have a richer patina. So then we painted some of the solution on the copper and bronze pieces too (the two pieces that had previously only been dunked).

Test 6

A bed of salt and ammonia
A closed container
A way to suspend your piece(s) in the fumes of the mixture

We used regular rock salt (available in grocery or drug stores) mixed with the same lemon-scented ammonia from before. Equal-ish parts.

We then taped a piece of thread across the top opening, placed our pieces on the thread, and closed the lid.

Some say you get a nice patina after 15 minutes, but we checked the results and decided they were pretty faint so we went back to lunch and left the fumes to do more work.

After 45 minutes, the results were more noticeable. Here we’ve lifted the copper piece up so you can see the patina on the back of it. Notice the wild shades of green and yellow on the bronze spiral holding the copper piece.

So that's it for now.

We both found it interesting that some of the patinas we had the most success with were the “kitchen ingredients” solutions, rather than the specially purchased chemicals. We also discussed that within each recipe there is still room for experimenting by altering things such as dunking time, temperature of liquids, the application of torch, etc.

Here's Elizabeth's write-up of our experiments:

Leather Clasp Ends    Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The other day, we were discussing something in the SRAJD forum. Someone casually mentioned they were looking to purchase the kind of finding that goes on the end of those necklaces like those multistrand Native American chokers.

I cut a circle(ish) from a piece of scrap leather that I already had in my workshop. I use pieces of scrap leather and suede between things like my jewelry and my vise or my jewelry and my anvil… to keep tool marks to a minimum.  Like this.

The piece I used seems to be about 1½ mm.

I folded it in half and cut a sort of half circle.

Then I marked five dots on the inside along the center crease and used my hole punch to punch 1/32” holes. That’s where you would end your strands. The knotting, crimping, or headpin ends get hidden once you fold the leather over.

Then I used the 1/8th hole punch to go through near the top of the leather (still folded so the holes are even). That hole is for the leather/suede thong/string.

Then I took a piece of leather thong and strung it through the 1/8th holes.

I put headpins into the five stringing holes so you could see how it works, but if your necklace/bracelet ends with string, you just put the end through the holes in the leather and crimp or knot as usual… those parts don’t show.

If I were doing this for real, I’d clean up the edges of my cutting a bit better.

Perfection in Jewelry Making    Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I was working on a piece of jewelry yesterday and noticed that the metal curved a bit. My intention was for it to be straight. We’re talking about a curve of maybe ½ a millimeter. But do you know where my brain went immediately?

“Okay, here’s one for the garbage pile.”

Then I stopped myself and realized I was going against everything I believe in…. and I’d been GOING there for awhile now.

Here’s what I tell OTHER jewelry artists, “It’s not SUPPOSED to be perfect. You don’t WANT it to look like it came out of a machine. So long as the piece has structural integrity, and that any ‘flaws’ do not limit its intended use, it is a perfectly good piece of jewelry… perfectly good, if not better.”

And here I was, ready to toss out a perfectly good ring because there was a slight curve where I’d intended things to be ruler straight.


It’s a fine line I walk.

I think part of the problem with my mentality is that my design aesthetic is usually for very stark and minimalist pieces with precise lines and shapes. Sometimes it’s much easier to spot flaws in minimalist jewelry than in more elaborate pieces.

Then serendipitously, a framed piece of wall art fell off my workshop wall today and as I was putting it back, I read the artist’s statement printed on the back of the painting. Here’s an excerpt:

“[Katsumi Sugita] was trained in a variety of media, but he settle on brush painting because of its directness and immediacy. Because it is not correctable, it expresses a feeling directly to paper.

“”It is deceiving in its simplicity and its apparent ease. When a painting is simple, it is easier to see the errors. The simpler the painting, the more flawless it must be. My paintings express a feeling of simplicity. This comes through the expression of one feeling, not conflicting feelings, in each painting.””

It suddenly dawned on me that I’m betting one of the reasons I love minimalist art work is because my inner me is always striving for simplicity of life.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what I look for when admiring jewelry in a store, at a show, or online.  And if I think about it, that's all I have to do to my jewelry too.

Here are the things I look for:

  1. It must not look machine made.  It must look/feel like something that someone used their hands to make.
  2. It must look high quality.  Just because something is made by hand rather than spewed out by a machine does not mean it should look like a third-grade art project.  I must be able to discern a certain level of technical skill from the artist.  Quality materials usually play into that too.
  3. It must be unique.  I want something that resonates with my personal aesthetic and not be the latest trend on the block.  A piece of jewelry I would have something to say about if asked... a story behind the piece whether that story is the inspiration or meaning behind the design or if it's a sharing of the technique involved in the making... or maybe even just information about the artist.  My jewelry has to have a story of some sort.

If that's what I look for when *I* want jewelry, it makes sense that that's the kind of jewelry I should be making too.

Adding An Etsy Link To Your Etsy Listings    Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sound crazy?  Turns out there’s actually some good reasoning for do this.  I’ll let my good friend Tammy Adamsexplain in her blog post: Etsy Quick Tip: faux breadcrumbs

What Is Metal Clay    Sunday, March 23, 2014

What is Metal Clay?

(a non-technical introduction to the medium)

by Laura Bracken


Here are the basic steps involved when I create a piece of jewelry from metal clay.

First I’d like you to know that “metal clay” is solid metal that has been powderized.  Added to that are small particles of an organic binder so that when mixed with water, a clay-like substance is formed.  There is no “clay” in metal clay.  Metal clay is pure metal and an organic binder.  During the firing process, the organic binder burns off and you are left with only pure metal again.  So here’s how it works.

Metal clay is a form of powder metallurgy.  This is what the powderized metal and organic binder look like before you add water to it (this happens to be powderized Bronze, which is an alloy of copper and tin). 

You add water and mix it up to a clay-like consistency.

Then you use this clay-like substance to form your piece. 

You can roll the clay into flat sheets, roll it into balls, press textures into it, sculpt, build, carve, etc.

You can mix certain metals in certain ways for really cool effects.  The main metals I work with are Bronze, Copper, Steel, a lighter colored Steel Alloy, and very rarely Silver.

You can also embed certain stones into your designs so long as you check first to be sure they’ll survive the firing temperature.  Most of the stones I use are natural Rubies and Cubic Zirconia.

When you have your pieces the way you want them, you let them dry.  Here are five pieces that are dried but not yet fired.  The metals on each piece are Bronze, Steel, and Copper.

Then you place the piece(s) in a bowl filled with carbon (made from coconut shell or husk) and fire it in a very hot kiln.  The firing temperature ranges from about 1400-1850 degrees Fahrenheit and it takes about 3 hours for one firing in the kiln.  Some of the metals require two separate phases of firing, with a cooling down period in between.  Metal clay is not an instant process.

During the firing of the piece of metal clay, two things must happen.  First, the organic binder must thoroughly burn out.  After that, the remaining metal must sinter.  Sintering is where powderized metal is heated to a temperature below its melting point.  Then the particles of metal begin to fuse together into one solid piece.  A finished piece of metal clay jewelry is more porous than jewelry made from sheet metal, but it is still strong, solid metal.

Once your pieces are out of the kiln, if no repairs are necessary (repairs can be made with fresh clay and re-firing) it is time to clean the metal.

Sometimes the metal pieces get a really neat color patina from the firing.  These vibrant colors usually fade with time.

For textured pieces of metal, I clean my piece with a radial disk tool on my dremel. 

If the piece needs a smoother finish, I sand aggressively with increasingly finer grits of sandpaper, usually starting out at 120 and working my way up to 1000.  

I created a cheap contraption to keep the ensuing metal dust contained.  Two holes cut into a lidless box with cut-off kitchen gloves taped into the holes.  Two lengths of Saran/plastic wrap across the top of the box, overlapping so they touch but you can separate them to slip things (like your dremel) into the compartment.

After the piece has been sanded and polished, I can give it a patina with liver of sulfur if I want to emphasize any color contrast.  This works well between copper and bronze as the copper darkens and the bronze stays bright.  This is a speeded up process of the natural oxidation that would occur if we just left the piece alone, exposed to the air, for months and/or years.

The final step, adding a sealant, is optional and there can be different reasons to choose this.  These reasons include:

  • If I want the piece to be preserved with the colors it has at that moment.
  • If the customer reacts to copper and wants a barrier between the copper and their skin.
  • If the piece is steel, I often add protection since the iron in steel can cause rust when it gets wet.

I hope this explanation helps anyone who wanted to become more familiar with the process of metal clay.

I am accredited to teach both Hadar’s Clays and PMC.  


Are You Wasting Your Energy Worrying About Your Competition?    Saturday, March 22, 2014

Warning…. I’m going to do that soapbox thing now.

Wasted Energy

Stop spending time and energy worrying about competing with other jewelry makers.  Spend your time and energy on improving your work, your store, your listings, your audience.

First of all, it is a turn off to potential customers if you bad-mouth the competition… snarky, bitchy, whiny… all of it.  And guess what?  You NEVER KNOW where a potential customer is.  Anyone and everyone who sees your written words on the internet is a potential customer.

Secondly, it’s a waste of energy.  You will rarely see a focused professional jewelry maker whining and carrying on about their competition. 

And by “competition”, I don’t just mean other self-representing jewelry makers.  I mean don’t bitch non-stop about Chinese mass-produced imports.  Just don’t. 

Don’t bitch about people copying your work. 

Don’t bitch about nasty customers who approach you in your show booth. 

Don’t bitch about how much the price of silver has gone up.

If you simply MUST bitch, do it only occasionally and in a private setting with a few people.

When you are whiny/complaining/negative often and in public, I can guarantee you are turning people away from your business.

Spend more time practicing your workroom skills and less time worrying about things you have no control over.

Invaluable Tools    Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Okay, these aren’t really tools, but they are two things in my workshop I’d hate to live without… and both recommended to me by the same person.  Thanks Elizabeth Dauch.  And thanks for gifting one of them to me.  You rock!
So the two tools (or items, really) are…
A cup bur for my dremel.  I love this so much better than using the hand tool.  Sorry traditionalists.
And a universal chuck for my dremel.  This thing saves me HOURS each week, I'm sure.  Ha ha ha!  All the dremel bits I need in any given jewelry making session seem to alternate in shank size so I used to have to change the collet out constantly.  Ugh!  Now, it's SOOOOO easy to use any bit size I want.  Yay, universal!
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