Introduction: How to Copper Electroform a Ring
Along with this tutorial I wrote a post that talked about the supplies you will need to get started so if you're new to this you should check that out. If you already have your supplies then just ignore it or use it as a reference guide on where you can get some good supplies. I will be adding to it periodically the more I discover places & supplies.
(Update: I have a new electroforming tutorial up on my site!)
For this experiment the supplies I'm using are as follows (visit my supplies list to find out where you can get these items):
- 3-Amp rectifier (you can use any amp rectifier)
- Midas Bright copper electroplating solution (from Rio Grande
- Copper conductive paint (from Rio Grande)
- Wood filler epoxy (you can use a different epoxy clay)
- Renaissance wax (from Rio Grande)
- Super glue
- Mason jar
- Paint brush
- Copper coil
- Thin copper wire
- Copper bus bar
- Distilled water
- Crystals (or whatever you want to electroform)
Step 1: Glue
Take your super glue & glue your crystal to your ring shank. I feel it's easiest to dab a bit of glue on your ring shank first then place your crystal on top, wait for it to dry a bit then add another drop of glue to the bottom end to secure it even more. Wait for it to dry completely then move on to Step 2.
(I glued 3 beautiful raw rhodonite crystals to my shank.)
Step 2: Epoxy
Next, you want to take your epoxy & apply it to your ring. You want to create filler between the stone and metal so you have a strong, durable base. After the epoxy dries completely, which should take a few hours, you want to take a filer & smooth it out & create a nice shape. Or you can use a Dremel with a soft sanding bit & be easy on it as to not break up the clay. (It would save on the work out of filing if you're doing multiple pieces production style!)
[UPDATE: It's better to file all the epoxy away leaving it only to fill the empty crevasses between the stone and metal. I did not know this when I wrote this tutorial but the inside of your ring should be perfectly circle and the epoxy filed down to the metal. See my How To Get An Accurate Size Reading On Electroformed Rings tutorial)
Step 3: Paint
After filing down my epoxy I like to take my dremel & use the nylon brush to get all the dust off my ring. I don't want it to get in my paint & contaminate it. Then I take my copper conductive paint & paint over the epoxy. I like to paint a little past the epoxy so the copper hugs my crystals nicely. Some paints need a bit of water to dilute it so you can use distilled water for this. The reason you want to use distilled as opposed to tap or purified since purified water can have, well, impurities in them, go figure. So you don't want that to contaminate your paint which would in turn contaminate your solution. No bueno. I like to put 2 coats of paint making sure the first coat is completely dry before adding the second. Let dry completely before moving on. This takes a few hours.
Step 4: Wire Up
Next you are going to loop your thin gauge wire around your ring shank & twist it back into itself. Some like to make sure the wire actually touches the paint so if you do that you need to make sure your wire doesn't stick to your piece so adjusting it every hour or so is needed.
You also want to create a bus bar to suspend your ring in the bath. I like to make a curve in the middle & angles on either side so it stays put over my mason jar. Make sure yours fits your tub, jar, or whatever you're using. (me being Captain Obvious) Then wrap your thin wire around the thick wire like shown below. Set it in place in your bath. I've seen others use chopsticks for a bus bar so you can go in that direction as well.
Step 5: Preparing Your Bath
Next you want to prepare your electroforming bath. First you need to create a copper coil. I prefer a coil over a sheet anode because the coil will give you an even plate all the way around your piece. I've read that those using a copper sheet have to keep flipping their piece around to get each side nicely plated. Work with whatever you have, there is no right or wrong way as long as you're getting your desired results. That's all we really want, right? Right!
I like to create my coil by wrapping a large vitamin bottle with my wire which creates a perfect coil to fit my mason jar. You want to create a little "hook" that will come out of the top of your beaker to attach your positive (red) lead wire clip to. I would say a good inch would suffice. Side note: Your coil doesn't have to be as "beefed up" as mine. I usually do about 4-5 coils but I figured this one would last a lot longer before having to switch it out..
After your coil is in place you want to pour in your solution. Make sure you pour enough that will keep your piece submerged.
Step 6: Attach Your Wires
With your rectifier off you want to attach your negative (black) lead wire to your cathode & your positive (red) lead wire to your anode. Make sure your cathode is not touching your anode so try to keep your cathode suspended on the middle of your bath.
Step 7: Electroform!
Now it's time to get electric! The standard measurement is 30 square inches of plating per 3-amp so that would be 10 square inches per 1-amp. I like to set my amperage on 0.30 at first for one ring then check after 30 minutes to see if I need to turn it up or down.
[UPDATE: It's been brought to my attention that most power supplies are different from the one I'm using in this tutorial. Most folks say that .1 is a better setting for single ring. (check out my latest tutorial where I'm using a 10-amp power supply and .2 is the norm for that one) This power supply did just fine at .30, so I would create a test piece and start out at the lowest setting and make adjustments from there and create a measurement sheet to keep on hand.]
A good indication for knowing whether you should turn it up or down is if it has a pink (salmon-like) color then your amperage is too low. So turn it up a tad & check again in 30 minutes. If you are getting tiny bumps, knots or a browning color then it's too high. Turn it down a bit & check again in 30 minutes.
If you got really big bumps & it just looks all chopped & screwed then you can take your dremel & use the hard stone sanding bits & grind it back to a semi-smooth surface & try again on a lower setting. Keep in mind you don't want your ring shank to be too thick.
You can create your own measurement sheet to help you remember what amps you need based on the size & shape of the pieces you will be doing on a regular basis. I like to keep a single ring in the bath for about 6-8 hours. A good tip is slow & steady wins the race. Don't try to rush the process cause you'll either burn it or get a really uneven coat which may flake off. So patients is key.
I also like to put a lid over my bath just to slow the evaporation process. We all know how costly this solution is! When it does start to evaporate just re-fill with distilled water and copper brightener. In case you're wondering, my voltage dropped a bit in this second photo. Sometimes the numbers will jump back & forth if you're dial is right on the line of two volumes even though the amp is the same. That's totally normal, it ended up jumping back up to 00.6.
Step 8: Take Your Piece Out
This was after taking the ring out of the bath. Your piece should be nice a shiney like this. But after a while your solution will deplete its acid so that's when you'll need to add some copper brightener to it to bring that shine right back. If you do get a dull result then take your brass brush & give it a good scrub & it should shine it up really nice. Then rinse it in distilled water after to get any solution off. You can use tap or other water for this but the reason people use distilled is because it doesn't have impurities like tap water so it won't oxidize you piece as fast, or so I've read. I have used both & have seen no difference.
Step 9: Finishing Touches
You can either patina it with some liver of sulfur or you can leave it as is & seal it with your choice of sealer. I will be keeping this one as is so I just apply my renaissance wax & viola!
What a beauty if I may say so myself! I never get tired of seeing these beautiful copper electroformed pieces with raw crystals! I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Please let me know how your piece(s) came out! If you have any questions just post below & I'll try to answer the best I can or I'll find some resources for you.
Be sure to check out my other Instructables:
How to Make a Copper Electroformed Gemstone Open Ring
Textured Copper Electroformed Ring with Gemstone
More copper electroforming + silversmithing tutorial plus handmade business tips at MakerMonologues.com!
Come join my Facebook group 'Electroforming - Artists & Jewelry Designers.' A place for artists to come together & share tips, tricks or ask questions. Hope to see you there!