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
1 quart Bright Copper Electroforming Solution
22ga Copper Wire
Liver of Sulfur
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.