Introduction: How to Copper Electroform a Ring

Picture of 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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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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

Picture of 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

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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!

Comments

Knorman8890 (author)2017-11-14

Hello! Thank you for this!! So helpful as thee isn't a whole lot of electroforming info online specific to jewelry. Anyway, I wanted to ask what you think about this situation.. my copper coil (anode) has developed large blue crystals at the bottom of the coil! Idk what it means! They start at the end and grow up the cool about 5 inches. Looks like rock candy. Advice/comments?? Thank you!!

Hey Knormal8890,

Not to worry, these blue crystals are just dehydrated copper sulfate, which is what the electroforming solution is made up of. Simply pour your solution into another jar, take your anode out and break them off into a separate jar. Add some distilled water to the crystals and once they have dissolved in the water just add that mixture back into your bath.

Here's a post I wrote explaining further: https://makermonologues.com/blog/blue-crystals-at-the-bottom-of-my-bath

Hope this helps!

Great, thank you! One more question, I keep having an issue with the tops of my pieces being burned while the bottoms come out shiny, do you know how I can fix this? Thank you

COOPER SULFATE AT 99.99% GIVES AN EXCELLENT NICE LOOKS TOO, EVEN BETTER... TRY IT!!!

susytarquini (author)2017-01-24

Hi, thank you for Sharing, very interesting and I would like to try. I live in the U.K. All the product listed are mainly from US, and the electro forming acid solution is not shippable. Can you recommend a similar product I can buy in the UK?
Thank you for your time

Hey susytarquini, I would like to suggest you join the Facebook group, linked at the bottom of the post. We have this question a lot in the group so I think you'd be able to find what you're looking for, just be sure to use the Search function when you get there.

weownthesky3712 (author)2017-01-16

Hey!

I was wondering if there was any kind of protective coating you would use over the crystals itself so the blue of the acid didn't have a color effect on them, I'm also working with seashells and they just soak up that blue color! . Its the only thing I'm dealing with and I havent found anything that works for me yet! I was also wondering how often should someone filter there electroforming solution?!

Thanks, Kim

Hey weownthesky3712!

For protective sealants to use IN the bath: clear nail polish, Fisket (masking fluid), Modge Podge and even liquid latex. I don't use protective coatings, I just try to stay away from stones that need it, just a personal preference, less hassle.

You most definitely want to coat shells, bones + fossils very well because they're so porous making sure there are no weak spots that the acid solution can seep into. I'd do about 3 coats, letting it cure in between each coating, before applying epoxy or conductive paint.

Hope this helps! Be sure to visit my blog: MakerMonologues.com for more tutorials and where to get supplies! I'd also love to see your finished piece! Share with me on Instagram or Facebook (@makermonologues), I want to start sharing everyone's pieces on my website!

Brittany

JoanaR6 (author)2016-11-09

Hi :))

I don't have that machine that you use to conect the lead wire... Can you explain to me how i can electroform without that?

( Sincerely ,I don't understand nothing of electricity :( )

Thank you!

Maker Monologues (author)JoanaR62016-11-28

Hi Joana,

Here's a video that may help. I'm not familiar with using anything other than a power supply to electroform with. I know some people have had success using batteries, like shown in this video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoCyRQsDNco

Hope this helps you out Joana!
Brittany

peanutparty (author)2016-03-05

I feel like I'm ready to throw my rectifier out the window. Please tell me this- when you turn on your rectifier should both amps and voltage be turned all the way to left? Then do you only turn your amps to read .30 leaving your voltage knob alone? Then adjusting the amps according to color ( salmon or dark )? No one seems to explain this part please help me! Thanks in advance!

Hey PeanutParty,

It will depend on the rectifier you're using. The one I used in the tutorial is a TekPower 3-amp so it needed to be adjusted to .30. I also have a 10-amp of a different brand that needs completely different settings for the same project.

What brand of rectifier are you using and what's the amperage?

If you're piece is coming out salmon color then it needs to be turned up, there's no specific number for them but I would suggest turning it up .1 amp and checking it in about 30 minutes. It's going to take a bit of adjusting and trial and error for you to get a feel for your rectifier. You'll get there, promise. Everyone goes through issues, especially just starting out.

Hey PeanutParty,

It will depend on the rectifier you're using. The one I used in the tutorial is a TekPower 3-amp so it needed to be adjusted to .30. I also have a 10-amp of a different brand that needs completely different settings for the same project.

What brand of rectifier are you using and what's the amperage?

If you're piece is coming out salmon color then it needs to be turned up, there's no specific number for them but I would suggest turning it up .1 amp and checking it in about 30 minutes. It's going to take a bit of adjusting and trial and error for you to get a feel for your rectifier. You'll get there, promise. Everyone goes through issues, especially just starting out.

aaronlow (author)peanutparty2016-07-28

I don't know very much about electroplating, but I know a fair bit about power supplies. To use a power supply in a constant current mode, the supply will adjust its voltage until the desired current is met. To do this you will set the max voltage to some high value and set the current to the value you desire.

doer_1 (author)2016-07-28

"PATIENTS" = are clients of a doctor.

Having "PATIENCE" = The art of taking ones time,

and not rushing thru an endeavor.

Their usage is often confused.

When I was in High School science class,

(*way back in 1492, when Columbus was setting sail )

I used Copper sulphate in a saturated solution for

electroplating a "Zippo" Lighter case.

**GracieM9... Try sealing with clear nail polish. (It's lacquer based.)

**Lisa246... keep the part of the shell you do not want plated, from coming

in contact with the plating solution. Thickly coat, the areas you don't want

plated with some rubber cement. Peel it off when done.

(* yep I'm an old codger!)

**Hope this helps you!

Maker Monologues (author)doer_12016-07-29

Thanks for helping with the tips doer!

Rowan_Winterhaven (author)2016-07-28

Clear, concise, and so much easier than I ever thought! I'm going to be giving this a shot, for sure!

Thank you Rowan!

LisaS246 (author)2016-05-03

Thanks for the information! Very helpful! Do you have steps on what to do if I wanted to gold plate a copper electroformed item afterwards?

Also, if I wanted to electroform only a portion of a seashell (the top part), how would I keep the rest of the shell from being faded or damaged in the electroforming process?

Hey Lisa,

After you copper electroform you'll need to plate over it with nickle before you plate with gold or silver because the copper likes to mix with those more precious metals. Nickle acts as a barrier so you get a more pure gold plating. Here's a video that may help you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckP6Fkvzdzw

Whoops, forgot your second question. Only paint (using the copper conductive or graphite paint) where you want the copper to form. So if you don't paint certain areas of the seashell the copper won't form over that area. The copper will over form over metallic surfaces.

GracieM9 (author)2016-06-07

Hi! Love the tutorial. Quick question. Is there something other than lacquer that you use on your gemstones? I feel that some of my stones look a little dull.

Hey Gracie,

You can use clear nail polish. Other than that I have a list of products I know others have had success with in my supplies list under Sealants & Varnishes here: makermonologues.com/blog/2016/7/9/copper-electroforming-and-what-you-need-to-get-started

larngray (author)2016-07-23

Thanks so much for the tutorial! I have been wanting to try this for a long time, and plan on buying the supplies soon. I have seen many people do electroforming on natural elements (leaves, twigs, acorns, etc.). Would your list of supplies still be what was primarily needed for that as well, or do you think there would need to be adjustments?

For twigs and acorns you can follow this same tutorial. But for thinner, more delicate things like leaves, even leaf skeletons, and maybe even more delicate twigs, there's an extra step before applying the conductive paint. I just added a new product to my supplies list (http://makermonologues.com/blog/2016/7/9/copper-electroforming-and-what-you-need-to-get-started) under Sealants & Varnishes > Sealing Delicate's that I know a few people have had success with.

GPa Rich (author)2016-07-29

you can make your own plating solution cheaply by combining equal parts hydrogen peroxide and white vinegar. then add scrap copper to the mix. let stand and it will desolve the copper. You mow have Copper Acetate! as you use it the solution will fade from the blue color, simply add more copper to refresh your solution.

Alpherion (author)2016-05-01

Just wanted to let you know that on your blog you have yet to go back in and use your touchscreen to add the "d"s to the words as mentioned in comment below! Lots. Feel free to delete this after reading, if possible!

gschoppe (author)2015-07-14

I've never tried Electroforming, but it seems like it would be the same process as Electroplating, which is essentially Galvanic Etching in reverse. If so, it seems like you could simply use Copper Sulfate as your electrolyte, without any issues. Copper Sulfate is sold as a root killer in most Home & Garden centers, and costs next to nothing. You'd simply grind the crystals a bit, to make them easier to dissolve, and mix with distilled water.

Correct! I believe my solution is copper sulfate, sulfuric acid & brightener. I plan on making my own soon so I can build a bigger tank to do more pieces. I may have to upgrade my rectifier, too. Root killer works great alone for electroplating/forming.

It's definitely the same as electroplating. The only difference is when you electro"form" you are making a non-conductive surface conductive, in my case it's the wood epoxy that I'm using to form a base for my ring. Thanks for tuning in gschoppe!

I realize this is an old comment, but I thought you'd like to know that even cheaper than Root Kill, is this stuff here.

http://www.amazon.com/Copper-Sulfate-Pentahydrate-...

Thanks for your content, It's been quite useful!

preeti_k (author)2016-01-26

hi there, thanks for the instructions. I just experimented and found that my object with conductive paint wasn't conducting. But the copper wire I used to wrap the piece connected to the negative charge appeared to be electroforming. My amp was set to 0.4 and i let it sit for 1.5 hrs with nothing forming on the areas with conductive paint? Was my layer of conductive paint too light? Or should I have waited longer, changed my voltage, etc? Any tips would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Hi Preeti_k

I've seen this happen a lot with other electroforming artists. There are a few factors that come into play; did you add 2-3 coats of paint? Make sure your wires aren't touching (I doubt this is it is the wire plated that the piece was hanging on). I would like to refer you to my Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/ElectroformingArti... and ask some of the people there.

Sorry I couldn't be of more direct help.

What's the gauge of the wire you use? :)

CropdustA (author)2015-11-22

Hey brittney, great tutorial. I purchased all the items you suggested and I have followed all your steps to electroform BUT my rectifier wont read anything but 0.00 Amp. Everytime I mess with the knobs, I can only get the volt to change, not the Amp... do you think this is a defective item or am i missing something? Thanks in advance!

BerryCraftyFox (author)CropdustA2016-04-02

Heya, I know this was posted 4 months ago but what type of conductive paint are you using? I heard from several people they have trouble getting rio's copper paint to conduct properly all the time. I use a copper paint by safer solutions that works wonderfully. http://www.nachoriesco.com/#!en-blanco/c78g

Not to say rios stuff is all bad because I do use their blue copper solution.

Hi,

I have the same power supply & it's a nice one so it shouldn't be defective. I see you have your positive hooked up to you anode & your negative to you cathode. My next step would to see if your wires (anode & cathode) are touching. Make sure they're not. What solution are you using? Did you make your own or did you but it pre-made?

My doubts are not in the power supply but maybe somewhere in the set up. Check & re-check everything to make sure you have things set up properly. There are a number of things that could cause this.

Thanks for the reply! I wish i would have seen this earlier... They do not touch, my copper solution is the Midas Rio Grande...I have investigated everything throughly to match your exact set up and I tried changing my cathode to a copper bar (instead of chopstick). Still cant get my Amps to change... i will not give up! If you have anymore advice to offer, im all ears! Thanks again.

Minne_Sunshine (author)2016-01-30

Thank you for the tutorial!

What do you use for the actually ring base?

Also, do you cover the crystals completely in the wood filler and then sand off? Or do you leave the tops untouched like the look of the finished product?

Hi Minnie,

I use regular copper wire for my ring shakes. I take the wire and wrap it around my steel ring mandrel then cut the individual ring shanks.

I only use the epoxy to add extra strength to hold the ring shank and crystal together. I just shave away at it becuase it goes on in a clump and I like for it to have a smooth base. It's just for aesthetic reason.

Hope that helps!
Britt

crushjewels (author)2016-01-14

Hey i tried it and it worked fabulously!!!.

Question: do you seal your opals? my turned green,UGH!!

thanks so much

Kym

Hi Kym,

It depends on the opal. I notice that with Ethiopian opals they always lose their color even if you seal them with a varnish because they don't do well when they get wet. They're also so soft that they can crack easily as the copper forms around it and it will still lose it's color. Sometimes, if you leave it out to dry it will gain it's color back, if you didn't crack it. It's possible to do Ethiopian opals but it's just hard.

My advice is to always go with Australian opals, you don't need to seal them. Any opal that can be stored in water will usually do well with this medium. Also, a trick to really saturate the color in opal after your electroform them is to add a coat of ProtectaClear over them. ;)

Hope that helps!
Britt

CharaP (author)2016-01-01

hi,great tutorial! i do have a question though! the only thing i didn't get is the part with the epoxy! do you apply the epoxy on the entire crystals? and then with a tool you dremmel the top of the crystal so it will show? sorry..very new in this...:)

Maker Monologues (author)CharaP2016-02-29

Hi CharaP,

You only use the epoxy to add strength to holdd the ring shank and crystal together. I only use the dremel to shapr the base so the epoxy isn't sticking out past the crystal. Just for aesthetic reason.

Hope I explained that well!

CropdustA (author)2015-12-07

Here is a pocture of my latest attempt. Using Midas Copper Solution. Still unable to change my Amps

Sorry for the late reply Crop! I sure hope you were able to get everything figured out!

Sorry for the late reply Crop! I sure hope you were able to get everything figured out!

Sorry for the late reply Crop! I sure hope you were able to get everything figured out!

YDandAss (author)2016-02-02

Very cool! Just the sort of thing I would play with. ;)

JonathanG59 (author)2015-12-01

Awesome tutorial! Do you make your shanks, or do you have a source for those? I can't seem to find them anywhere.

MeaganB7 (author)2015-11-16

what provider of conductive paint/plating solution do you use? I looked at midas but it had poor reviews for copper. also, can you conversely use a sheet of stirling and plate something with silver conductive plain/plating solution? I have some sheets of stirling and wondering if they would work as well. any advice is appreciated thanks!

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Bio: My name is Brittany and I'm a metalsmith working primarily in copper and moving into silver. Come visit my maker blog to see more ... More »
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