In this Instructable you will learn how to make copper plated turquoise earrings with a process called electroforming.
Electroforming is a 4-24 hour metal-forming process that forms a layer of copper onto a conductive surface. This method will allow you to create beautiful pieces that highlight the natural qualities of each stone, keeping true to an entirely organic look and feel. Allowing the copper to form around the curvature of each gemstone makes each piece completely one of a kind.
Step 1: Gather All of Your Supplies
Things you will need:
- 2 stones of your choice
- earring posts and backings (you can get these at a craft supply store)
- electroforming solution (http://www.RioGrande.com)
- Rectifier (I am using the Sherri Haab rectifier which you can buy online http://www.sherrihaab.com)
- Conductive paint (http://www.safer-solutions.com)
- Paint Brush
- Electroforming container (I am using a glass vase from IKEA)
- 10 gauge copper wire (mine is from the electrical section at Home Depot)
- Thin copper wire (I stripped down some speaker wire for this)
- E6000 adhesive
- PlastiDip (you can use clay, or something you know won't dissolve in the acid. I like the PlastiDip because it's easy to apply and easy to peel off in the end)
- Liver of Sulfur for oxidizing (optional)
- Baking Soda
- Distilled Water
- Dremel with finishing abrasive buff attachment or very fine grit sandpaper.
- Jewelers Wax
Step 2: Glue on Your Posts
Attach your posts to the stones using E6000 adhesive. Just a little drop will do the trick!
Step 3: Dip Your Posts in PlastDip
Since the posts of these earrings are conductive, you'll want to dip them in PlastiDip to ensure that the copper doesn't form around the posts. This will make it so the earring posts are kept at the proper gauge. Be careful not to get any of the PlastiDip on your stones, and allow to dry completely before the next step.
Step 4: Paint on Conductive Paint
There are many different brands of conductive paint, and I swear I have tried them all! This one seems to work best for me.
Shake well before opening the container of paint. Since my paint is water based, I like to thin it with a little water before coating the earrings. Wherever the paint goes is where the copper will form, so make sure that you get a smooth and even layer.
Let dry THOROUGHLY. I usually let mine dry for a full day just to be safe.
Step 5: Prepare the Bath
Bend your copper coil to fit in your electroforming container . Make sure you have a little exposed out of the top to connect your alligator clamp onto. Pour in your solution, and make sure it's high enough to fully submerge your earrings.
Be VERY careful with this solution. It can burn your skin and etch your counter tops. (I know this from personal experience.)
Step 6: Wrap Wire Around Earrings
Using the thin gauged wire, wrap it around your earrings making sure that the wire is coming in contact with the conductive paint. You'll want the wire loose enough that it won't become a part of your the earrings and tight enough to get a nice secure connection.
Step 7: Submerge the Earrings
Bend a short piece of the 10 gauge copper wire across the top of your container to hang your earrings onto. Tape the ends down so it doesn't move. Place your earrings in the bath one at a time, wrapping the thin wire around the 10 gauge wire.
You don't want your earrings to touch each other OR the copper coiled around the container.
Step 8: Attach the Clamps and Turn on the Rectifier
Attach the red(+) clamp onto the exposed part of the copper coil, and the black(-) clamp onto the wire bent across the top of the container. Make sure that your clamps are tightly connected, to ensure a complete circuit.
A general rule of thumb for electroforming is to deliver 100mA of current per square inch. The rectifier I am using is 50mA to 400 mA. I am starting out on the lower end since I am only electroforming a small area.
Double check that you have a solid connection, and turn your rectifier on. I am going to go grab a cheeseburger and check on it in an hour.
Step 9: Check on Your Piece After an Hour
It has now been an hour since the earrings have been electroforming. A good way to gauge how much copper has been deposited onto your piece is to look at the thin copper wire.
If your copper is dark red, or crumbly you'll want to turn your rectifier down. If it's a salmon/pink color, turn your rectifier up. If your copper is like a shiny new penny, you have it right where you want it to be. Since there is a little bit of crumble on my wire I chose to turn it down a hair.
After you have checked on your earrings and adjusted your rectifier as needed, place your earrings back in the solution and grab another cheeseburger.
Step 10: Remove and Rinse Your Earrings
The earrings have been electroforming for 5 hours, and I am satisfied with the amount of copper build up. Remove them from the bath, rinse them in a neutralizing solution of distilled water and baking soda, then a rinse in just distilled water. Now you can remove the wire and PlastiDip.
Step 11: Oxidize Your Piece (Optional)
Your earrings will eventually oxidize over time, but I like the raw look of oxidation so much that i'm going to expedite that process. I am using a few drops of Liver of Sulfur mixed with hot distilled water. BEWARE OF THE SMELL! This seriously smells likes farts, so be sure to use it in a well ventilated area. I like to let mine soak until they are almost black. Take them out of the Liver of Sulphur, rinse them in the baking soda water solution, then water, and then let dry.
Step 12: Polish Your Earrings
I am using a Dremel with an abrasive buffing attachment. If you don't have a Dremel you can use sandpaper with a fine grit. I like to go over the copper areas to give it a more raw and dimensional look.
Step 13: Waxing Your Earrings
Seal your earrings with a jewelers wax to slow further oxidation. You can use your finger to massage a small amount of wax onto the copper, and then go over with a paper towel to remove excess wax. A little goes a long way, so use sparingly!
Step 14: You're Finished!
Ta-Duh! You're all finished!
Show off your one-of-a-kind copper and stone earrings. :)
The possibilities are endless when it comes to electroforming. You can electroform just about anything you can fit into your electroforming container!
Some porous stones and materials may need a varnish to protect them from dissolving in the acidic solution. So make sure to do your research, or you may end up with a ruined project.