Instructables
Picture of Electroforming an Iris Seed Pod
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How to electroform an organic object (iris seed pod). Commonly referred to as "dipping" in metal, think bronze baby shoes!
 
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Step 1: Equipment and Materials

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

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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

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

Step 6: Day Two

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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

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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

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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.

Picture of 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.

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bsommars4 days ago

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?

bsommars4 days ago

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?

sandyq42 years ago
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.
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?
smbarack1 year ago
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....
ty.zardoz1 year ago
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!
XofHope2 years ago
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.
Aureliano6 years ago
Very nice technique! However, what is the chemical composition of the electroforming solution? In my country, I will have to prepare it myself :)
MaggieJs (author)  Aureliano6 years ago
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.
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?
MaggieJs (author)  Aureliano6 years ago
Hmm... this I'm unsure of... Let me check some of my sources and get back to you... maybe Solidification has some knowledge here?
MaggieJs (author)  MaggieJs6 years ago
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!
Thank you so much for the information. But is that the general solution (for copper, bronze, silver, etc) or just when electroplating with copper?
Great, thank you! :)
foobear6 years ago
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.
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How did you get the leaf so shiny? When I try this, the objects come out very dull
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.
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.
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.
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.
foobear foobear6 years ago
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.
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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.
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.
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.
palombo50502 years ago
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.
http://www.instructables.com/id/Electroform-Multi-use-power-source/
joefed624 years ago
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?
paqrat joefed622 years ago
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.
art.makes2 years ago
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?
kirnex2 years ago
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.
mookiechan3 years ago
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!
Okay, nm on the acid solutions... I read below. So just the rectifier and the conductive paint. Thanks!!!
simonad3 years ago
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!
OddBot3 years ago
Great tutorial Maggie!

I've copper plated before but never considered organic objects. Thanks for adding a new facet to my creativity.
Mena1423 years ago
Great instructable! I might try this some day :)
Junophor3 years ago
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;-)))
wd4nka3 years ago
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!
Westie20033 years ago
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
glorybe4 years ago
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..
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.
mhaws3 years ago
This is amazing. I am wondering if the chemicals are safe for pregnant woman to work around.
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