Add a Little Color to Your Copper: How to Patina, Part 1

Are you looking for a way to add a little more dimension to your pieces of handmade jewelry? There are more options for finishing your jewelry than just matte, shiny or brushed. Outside of the world of simple silver and gold lies an incredible landscape of color ready for your experimentation: patina! Let’s take a closer look at how to patina copper.

Patina Copper Bracelet

How to patina copper

First and foremost, you’ll want to prep your pieces to be free from dirt and oil in order to achieve the best results. That means no fingerprints, no oil. If you have access to a pickle pot, now is a great time to use it. If you don’t, not to worry, grab some Scotch-Brite and gently scuff the surface. Note that this will give your piece more of a satin finish, but will make sure that the patina has a lot of area to cling to. After it’s clean, handle by the edges so you don’t transfer any oils back on to it.

Heat patina:

If you’ve ever done any work in the studio with copper, you may have noticed that as you heat it, your metal will start to change color. As copper is heated, some really beautiful colors can be brought out of the metal. Bright reds, purples and blues are all common. The key is to try to stop before you’ve gone too far. Try not to be too attached to a particular color until you get the hang of this, as it can sometimes get frustrating.

I’ve found that as I remove heat from metal that is a red I might just love, that color can quickly fade to blues and cooler hues. Pull the torch away slowly and you might not get huge color shocks. The picture below was quite bright until it began to cool. The best thing to do here is experiment and see what you love and what you can get to stay. When you’ve found that, a sealant is recommended. Acrylic clear coats, beeswax or renaissance waxes can help protect your surface and the color.

Copper heat patina

Vinegar and salt:

The ingredients for this patina are easily found in your kitchen cupboard. Vinegar and salt, about 3 tablespoons of each. Stir until the salt dissolves into the vinegar. This will be enough for a small pendant but you’ll want enough to completely cover any piece that you’re working on so if need be, use this same ratio to create the amount that works for you, with a 1:1 ratio.

The joy with this patina is that you never quite know what color you’ll end up with. Most commonly, turquoise, blue and green are the ones that show up to the party. Keep in mind that this isn’t a quick patina, so allot some time for experimentation.

Once in the patina, allow the piece to soak for at least a half an hour. Then remove and without too much fussing, place on a paper towel and allow to air dry. You can sprinkle a little more salt on the top if you’d like to speed things along. Allow to sit and check back every few hours or so. You should start to get some pretty colors developing.

I recommend allowing your piece to go a little past what you might like, as this stuff has a tendency to flake off. Likewise, if you’d rather have less, feel free to use Scotch-Brite or steel wool to remove some of the patina. Wash your piece and allow it to air dry. Seal it with one of the above mentioned products and you’re good to go. Remember that not being able to predict the outcome is part of the fun!

Vinegar and Salt Patina

Liver of sulfur:

This is a great all-around patina and you may have already experienced something close. Ever jump into a hot spring wearing silver only to emerge with dark metal that once was shiny and bright? Likely, the sulfur in the water plus the heat was enough to change the color of the metal.

Liver of sulfur is one of my all-time favorite patinas, as it helps add dimension and interest to pieces that include recessed areas.

When using this patina at its suggested amount, you’ll likely end up with dark/black metal. It comes in a few different forms, small nuggets or a gel-like liquid. The gel is supposed to help cut down on harmful inhalations and has a longer shelf life. If you’re going the nugget route, be sure to keep moisture away from the container! One little drop of liquid and you can ruin your whole batch.

This works best when added to warm water, so I start the process with my piece soaking in a cup of warm water. By the time I’ve added a small amount of liver of sulfur, my piece should be heated through and that will help it darken quickly.

Important: Note that the fumes can be harmful, so use in a well ventilated area and don’t just dump this down the drain. When finished, store the remainder in a closed container and dispose of properly. You can read more about that here.

Add highlights to raised areas by polishing or scuffing while the recessed areas remain dark. Beautiful and mysterious accents galore!

Liver of Sulfur

If none of the above patinas suit your fancy, there are many over-the-counter patinasa. They offer a little bit of everything under the sun, from an easy verdigris for copper to brown for brass. Make sure to read the info about each one so that you’re sure to be handling it properly and in the most non-toxic way possible.

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