Introduction: Electroforming an Iris Seed Pod

How to electroform an organic object (iris seed pod). Commonly referred to as "dipping" in metal, think bronze baby shoes!

Step 1: Equipment and Materials


18-amp Digital Rectifier
1000mL Pyrex Beaker
Lacquer
Conductive Paint
2-Part Epoxy
1 quart Bright Copper Electroforming Solution
Copper Anode
22ga Copper Wire
Paint Brush
Tweezers
Copper Rod/Tubing
Latex Gloves
Baking Soda
Scotch-Brite Pad
Water
Liver of Sulfur
Brass Brush

Step 2: Day One

First, you need to find an object you wish to electroform. The possibilities are almost endless, from shells, fabric, wax, clay, plastic, paper, seeds and pods, etc. Be creative! For this project, I have selected an iris seed pod from my garden. I have removed the stem and leaves.

Step 3: Add a Bail or Jump Ring

Attach a copper jump-ring to your piece. This will serve 2 purposes - to attach to copper wire to suspend in the electroform solution, and to attach to your finished jewelry piece. Use hot glue or a 2-part epoxy.

Step 4: Lacquer the Object

For porous objects, such as seed pods, they need to be lacquered to seal them. Paint or dip the object in the lacquer, making sure it is completely covered. Hang to dry in a cool, dry place, avoiding dirt and dust.

Step 5: Drying

Let them dry overnight in a cool, dry, and dust-free environment.

Step 6: Day Two

Make sure to avoid touching the lacquered surface of your object. Use gloved hands or tweezers to hold the seed pod, and paint on a thin layer of conductive paint.

Step 7: Paint and Let Dry

Check to make sure areas are covered with an even layer of paint, especially the area where the copper jump-ring meets the seed pod. Paint over the glue and onto the jump-ring. Hang the item to dry overnight

Step 8: Day Three

I use a 22ga sheet of copper with the top bent over so it will hang over the side of the beaker. With gloved hands, scrub it vigorously with a scotch-brite pad to remove any dirt or oils from the surface.

Step 9: Prepare the Electroforming Solution.

Fill the beaker with the electroforming solution, and put the anode in place. With the rectifier turned off, attach the red (positive) lead to the anode with the alligator clip.

Step 10: Preparing the Seed Pod.

Make sure to wear your gloves, as you want to avoid getting any oil or dirt on the painted object. Attach a length of copper wire to the jump ring, secure it by twisting the wire back on itself.

Step 11: Preparing to Electroform.

Attach the wire to a long length of copper tubing. The tube will rest on the edges of the beaker, allowing the seed pod to be suspended into the electroforming solution. Attach the black (negative) lead to the copper tubing with the alligator clip.

Step 12: Begin Electroforming!

Turn the rectifier on, keeping the amp and volt set both below 1. Slowly submerge the seed pod into the solution, making sure it is completely covered. After a few seconds, you should be able to see a light layer of copper forming on the surface!

Step 13: Electroforming

Let the copper tubing rest on the beaker. Make sure there is plenty of space between the anode and the seed pod, they should never touch. You also want to avoid allowing the seed pod to rest against the glass. Check the amp and voltage setting, they should both be at or below 1. You want a very slow and steady build-up of copper to form, otherwise it can flake off.

Step 14: Waiting...

And now, you wait.
The electroforming process can take several hours (4-8) - a slow and even layer is the most durable. It is a good idea to check on your piece every 30-45 minutes, checking the amp and voltage setting, as well as your piece to make sure an even layer is forming.



And wait a little more...

Step 15: Check the Seed Pod

After 4 - 6 hours, remove the seed pod from the electroforming solution. Rinse in a neutralizing bath of baking soda and water, making sure all acid has been rinsed away.

Step 16: Things to Look for on the 45 Minute Check-ups

Pay attention to any points or protrusions on your piece, as they can be prone to a fast build-up, seen here on the tips of the iris pod. If little granules of copper begin forming on your object, turn down the amp/voltage, and make sure the seed pod is at least 2 inches away from the anode.

I often get granules forming on my leadwire before my actual object, but since this is discarded, doesn't pose any problems.

Step 17: Almost Finished...

A solid, even layer of copper has been formed on the surface of the seed pod. It has a bright new-penny copper finish, and is easily tarnished. Once you have your desired finish (I prefer a darker patina using liver of sulfur) lacquer the piece to seal the finish. It is now ready to be turned in to jewelry!

Step 18: Finishing

After removing from the leadwire, I dip my objects into liver of sulfur patina, which gives a dark black finish. I then scrub with steel wool which highlights the raised areas, leaving the recesses dark black. I then use a spray-lacquer to seal the finish, and string onto cotton cording for a fun and organic necklace.

Comments

author
Westie2003 (author)2011-08-07

Can anyone please tell me where I can get the battery charger that is controllable with dials to control voltage manually? I live in the UK and want to have a go at electroforming but am struggling with the power supply. Many thanks

author
Sugarimp (author)Westie20032017-09-03

I know this is waaaay late. But for anyone else interested, what they can look for is "regulated dc power supply for cellphone repair". It comes out a lot cheaper than actually looking for an "electroforming rectifier". I got mine off my local ebay, and it cost me about USD 25. There are some even cheaper.

author
millie_odonnell (author)2017-05-30

This is brilliant!

author
theemeraldgypsy (author)2016-01-25

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge about electroforming, I have been researching all day and your insight has been the most informing :) I believe I have gathered most of the information I need to get started but I am unsure of what copper conductor paint to use. What have you found works best and where can I find it? Looking forward to hearing from you, have a beautiful evening!!

author
bsommars (author)2014-10-21

What is the easiest way to seal a leaf? I was painting laquer on and then letting it dry on wax paper but that doesn't really work well. Would you glue a copper jump ring on a leaf as well?

author
ccreswell (author)bsommars2015-10-04

Someone elsewhere suggested applying white glue first. Anything that would coat the leaf and make it stiffer would hold up better than uncoated. Then spray paint as usual.

author
sandyq4 (author)2012-06-07

I have been electroforming for 5 years. You must filter the copper solution from time to time to remove oxides. Aquarium charcoal thru a coffee filter into a clean beaker. I take the natural shape of opals and grow settings around them and then gold plate them.

author
sculptr (author)sandyq42015-07-12

That sounds fascinating. I'm just curious, since opals are porous, are they treated somehow first? I bet they're gorgeous.

author
kotare-weza (author)sandyq42013-11-18

Hey sandyq4, I hope you get this :) and I think you might be able to answer my question. On the part where you paint lacquer on, do you need to do it for everything. Do you do it for all your stones. I'm playing around with some druzy but not sure how natural stone they are or synthetic and also pearls and seashells, do you know if I should lacquer first?

author
tavakodanik (author)2015-04-29

sorry my badenglish,i just want to say, your site is very good,i tried elektroform cones and insects. i used copper anode, varnish from sherri haab,silver conductive paintfrom goldn.uk and bright acidic copper solution from tifoo.de.

my amperage was low,only 0.35, because by higher amperage i got big bubbles on the surface. by 0,35 endured process more than 10 hours,the bubbles was much smaller so the item appeared just velvety. not shiny. another items had cracks too on copper surface.

what i did wrong? can copper solution be wrong?

then i tried silverplating over copper . now i used silver plating solution from tifoo.de (dont know how much silver was in solution)

http://www.tifoo.de/silberelektrolyt ,

one silver anode.

i hang up the copper-object onto silver stick with thin 0,5mm silver wire.

my rectifier shows weird numbers. amperage was almost 0. if i tried raise amperage,then voltage raised heavily , but amperage very slowly. by 0,4 amperage was voltage already 4 and my object was getting quickly black. silver anode was now muddy too.i did anode clean and lower amperage/voltage. my muddy object get back little bit lighter,but stays still muddy.

my clear silver solution become more and more blue. my first pretty muddy object was pretty nice in proportion to anothers. my silver solution is now same color as copper solution,alltough i used inbetween coffee filters and so on.. is this solution now useless?

i tried now enamel the objects. because they was so ugly. i prefer always silver.but the silver coat stays so thin, that after burning out the original object was silver surface more dirty as before-it was black-seems that its copper oxide. i put object after annealing into acid.no betterment.

then i put the ultrasound machine. vibration makes silver surface partially broken. bad idea.

my purpose was enamelling. copper is not the best choice, because heating will make copper allways black .i thought,that if i overcoat the cheap copper with silver, is not problem.

then i tried electroform just in case silver conducted surface directly in silver solution with silveranode,silver wire and so on... but my electroformed insect comes out peeled and crusted.

i have same rectifier

http://schmuckwerkzeug.de/bilder/produkte/gross/1416_Tischgalvanik-Kleingalvanisieranlage-Wieland-Wilaplat-Junior.jpg

there is only one volume button. is that problem? Must i buy different rectifier with separately adjustable voltage/amperage?

in summary: i saw, that electroforming is possible, but :

i never catch bright and smooth copper surface,alltough i used so low amperage as possible.

silversolution was getting blue

fast all objects was more or less dirty and rough

and i have no idea, what i was doing wrong. the insructables seems after all so easy.

author
Aureliano (author)2008-06-13

Very nice technique! However, what is the chemical composition of the electroforming solution? In my country, I will have to prepare it myself :)

author
MaggieJs (author)Aureliano2008-06-13

Honestly, I do not know the exact chemical composition of the solution. It is always something I have purchased/used pre-made. I do know it contains Cupric sulfate, sulfuric acid, sodium potassium tartate, and benzidine compound. what country are you in? I may be able to help you find local suppliers.

author
Aureliano (author)MaggieJs2008-06-13

I am in Bulgaria. I can freely find Cupric sulfate here. Do you think it will work as good alone? And: what do the indications on the electric device mean? The first is voltage (should be less than 1 volt, as far as I got you), but what is the second one?

author
MaggieJs (author)Aureliano2008-06-13

Hmm... this I'm unsure of... Let me check some of my sources and get back to you... maybe Solidification has some knowledge here?

author
MaggieJs (author)MaggieJs2008-06-13

Are you familiar with the book "the complete metalsmith" by Tim McCreight? I found this information on how to mix your own solution. "Prepare enough electrolyte to completely submerge the object. Using protective clothing and ventilation, mix one pound of copper sulfate with 100cc of sulfuric acid and a half gallon of distilled water. Stir gently until the copper sulfate dissolves. This solution is used at room temperature." Hope this helps!

author
XofHope (author)MaggieJs2012-10-16

Thank you so much for the information. But is that the general solution (for copper, bronze, silver, etc) or just when electroplating with copper?

author
tinkglobally (author)XofHope2015-04-16

This solution will only work for copper (the copper sulfate is a salt of copper, and gives up its copper to the object, while pulling more copper ions from the feed-stock to maintain the balance in the solution).

Most electroplating/forming is done with a solution that is specific for the metal being plated. However, there are a few general-purpose solutions. From what I can tell, they normally aren't liquids you'd want to have in your kitchen.

The one notable exception I've seen recently is in this patent by Richard Lacey (http://www.google.com/patents/US20050230264). I don't know of a commercial supplier of it (I've looked - if you find one, let me know!), even though the ingredients are widely available.

author
Aureliano (author)MaggieJs2008-06-14

Great, thank you! :)

author
biomorphics (author)2014-12-23

Thanks for the info!

author
bsommars (author)2014-10-21

What is the easiest way to seal a leaf? I was painting laquer on and then letting it dry on wax paper but that doesn't really work well. Would you glue a copper jump ring on a leaf as well?

author
smbarack (author)2013-08-30

This looks excellent-- I coordinate and teach an art materials/manufacture class and this would be a great exercise for the group. Quick question- can multiple pieces be electroformed at once? I can't imagine why it wouldn't by reading this, other than depleting the anode or electrolytic solution, etc....

author
ty.zardoz (author)2013-03-10

Excellent instructable! I have a project coming up that requires a number of copper plated items ... among them a copper plated shark jaw (complete with teeth) and I had no idea how to accomplish this. Now I know I can do it myself with only a small list of materials and equipment. Thanks so much for the simple explanation of how to do this at home!

author
XofHope (author)2012-10-16

What a great and useful instructable! Thank you so much! I was wondering, the forming solution you use is always the same no mater the metal you're plating with or is it a different one if you need to plate with silver? I know where I live it won't be easy to get these materials and that sort of info would be very helpful.

author
foobear (author)2008-07-10

Well, I did it. I electroformed some flowers and leaves and a quarter. I really like this technique, but I seem to be inordinantly sensitive to the copper sulfate. Just being in the same room with it, I start to get a metallic taste in my mouth on the tip of my tongue. The first time I did it, I spilled some on my skin and was sick for like 2 or 3 days afterwards. The second time I did it I used chemical protection gloves, an organic vapor gas mask and goggles, but somehow I got sick again, though only for half a day. I'm going to have to find a way to do this and not get sick. I've developed a fear of the blue stuff now. But I do like the results. It is fun.

IMG_1333.JPGIMG_1334.JPG
author
Maps2012 (author)foobear2012-07-05

How did you get the leaf so shiny? When I try this, the objects come out very dull

author
foobear (author)Maps20122012-07-05

I think the leaf came out shiny because copper sulfate solution was very fresh and brand new. The more things I electroformed, the duller they came out.

author
TheChemist (author)foobear2008-07-14

How odd! I've worked with copper II Sulfate a lot: burning it, electroplating, crystallizing it. Seeing someone with this reaction to it is very rare.

author
foobear (author)TheChemist2008-07-22

I have a lot of problems with chemical sensitivity. I can't tolerate perfumes in restaurants or movie theaters or hotel rooms or at work. I smell things way before anyone else notices them. I think I may have some liver damage or something from a reckless past. Anyway, I think if I'm diligent enough I can avoid exposure.

author
TheChemist (author)foobear2008-07-30

maybe you can reduce the vapors by sticking it in a new type of beaker. (compare a dinner plate with 100 mL of water on it, to a test tube with 100mL of water: which will turn to vapor faster? The dinner plate water has more surface area, and therefore more area to vaporize.) Use beakers or long tubes that minimize the surface area of the liquid. Use your protective gear and if possible, think about covering the experiment to keep any evaporated solution from floating around... since this isn't a straight Cu II S04 solution, maybe keep it out of sunlight, as the sun's rays can make some chemicals break down and react.

author
foobear (author)foobear2008-07-10

I don't know how this happened, but this is what the copper sulfate solution did to my chemical protection gloves. I don't remember any splashing at all, but the gloves look like hell. That stuff is weird.

IMG_1330.JPG
author
TheChemist (author)foobear2008-07-14

Are you sure your solution was Copper II Sulfate? What the hell was on your gloves before this project? When I work with copper II sulfate, its almost always without gloves, and if it gets on my skin, I just wash it off with just water.

author
foobear (author)TheChemist2008-07-22

Yeah, those were brand new chemical protection gloves from the hardware store, never used before. Any time I was done handling the stuff, I would go into the bathroom and wash the gloves with soap and water. The copper sulfate solution is the one from Rio Grande which contains Copper Sulfate, Sulphuric Acid, Benzidine and some other trace amounts of chemicals. I looked up on Wikipedia about copper sulfate and it says that it readily absorbs through the skin. Also, the benzidine is evidently *really nasty* stuff, I don't know why they put it in, it's not supposed to be used anymore. At any rate, I have developed a fear of this stuff, I won't be too casual with it ever again.

author
TheChemist (author)foobear2008-07-30

absorbs through the skin? I used the stuff in school, and we ALL sloshed that stuff around. On the labels I don't believe it said use gloves, I know for sure that it said use some sort of safety goggles, but to be honest we never did. Regardless of wikipedia, that stuff isn't bad, you're not going to drop dead from metal poisoning or something, but this Rio Grande stuff sounds like its pretty nasty stuff. I'd be extra careful. If Copper sulfate in the eye is something to freak out about, I'd be in panic now if the Rio Grande mix got into my face.

author
palombo5050 (author)2012-01-17

I have been looking into the electroforming process and saw a need for a device that is smal, efficient, and easy to operate. Check this out. This does not use a whole lot of energy. I saw some of the other devices used in this process and their prices. Let me know if you are interested or know some who might be trying to get started. This custom unit is made for small applications.
https://www.instructables.com/id/Electroform-Multi-use-power-source/

author
joefed62 (author)2009-11-15

Excellent instructable!  I was wondering what you do if this extra buildup happens.  You talk about adjusting the voltage, but do you have to sand or file the excess down?

author
paqrat (author)joefed622011-11-26

I remember reading an article on electroforming and they suggested if one area of your piece is forming too quickly you could use some sort of laquer (sp?) or paint over the area that is forming too quickly. After the rest has "caught up" you can remove the paint and continue electroforming.

author
art.makes (author)2011-10-31

Thanks for your instructable, I'm going to try it.

Have you electroformed anything larger ? I'm looking at a 6"x6"x6" plastic bowl I'd like to try out. Do you need to use a glass beaker, will a plastic bucket do?

author
kirnex (author)2011-10-30

This is incredible! I've been doing simple plating with gold, various other metals, but had never considered trying this out. Thanks so much for the instructable--now I know what to do with all the pretty weeds that keep popping up in my garden haha.

author
mookiechan (author)2011-10-25

What brand rectifier is this? and what types/brands of materials do you use and is there a site you can order them from? Thanks!

author
mookiechan (author)mookiechan2011-10-25

Okay, nm on the acid solutions... I read below. So just the rectifier and the conductive paint. Thanks!!!

author
simonad (author)2011-10-19

Hi Maggie, great instructable, thank you! Saw your shop on etsy, very nice... But your pieces there appear in color - do you paint them after the metal is applied, or is that a different method? For example, your blue rose ring appears kind of transparent, so I am not sure if that the same method.
Thanks!

author
OddBot (author)2011-10-07

Great tutorial Maggie!

I've copper plated before but never considered organic objects. Thanks for adding a new facet to my creativity.

author
Mena142 (author)2011-09-29

Great instructable! I might try this some day :)

author
Junophor (author)2011-08-23

Hi MaggieJs
Great Job. Somtimes I need for my objects copper parts but I find them only in other materials like plastic.

I will try to copper them as you showed it.

Thanks to your instructable;-)))

author
wd4nka (author)2011-08-23

Good comment, DallasDecker! It is what perpetuates avocations such as Ham Radio, chemical photography, and just about any art. And younger folks today, the college crowd in particular, are dying to learn how to use their hands to create something useful, besides dragging and dropping and left-clicking. And as has been seen in many industries, when the craft goes away, or what Germans call "das Handwerk", that industry begins to die. There is no digital substitute for das Handwerk. Even technical cultures like Germany celebrate the hand craft arts and industries with "Handwerksfest" events. They even issue stamps to commemorate them!

author
glorybe (author)2010-09-17

I think electro forming is the wrong terminology. In an electro forming process their is nothing underneath the object at all when completed. It is as if plating is applied until structural thickness is reached and the original object is desolved or removed from the item..

author
jengland3 (author)glorybe2011-08-06

The terminology is correct. It is my understanding that for commercial jewelry applications the core is only removed for advertisement purposes and a it has a little to do with weight. Basically places like Tiffany can't sell an electro formed gold shell and still call it pure 24 karat gold if the positive form is still inside. They remove the core to make more money.

author
mhaws (author)2011-02-24

This is amazing. I am wondering if the chemicals are safe for pregnant woman to work around.

author
rossnzwpi (author)mhaws2011-06-17

Hi, I'm not a chemist but all the chemicals used in this process are not safe. Personally I wouldn't go near it while pregnant or breast feeding.

author
NoPegs (author)rossnzwpi2011-07-07

I wouldn't go as far as the phrase "not safe" myself... The actual electro-forming solution itself is just an aqueous copper sulfate solution. It is an "irritant", but unless you're bathing in it or drinking in it the actual hazard is minimal(so close to zero it may as well be.). Heck, you'd have a bigger hazard scrubbing the bathroom from the cleaning products used than this procedure. Toilet bowl cleaner is 20% hydrochloric acid, you know.