Introduction: Blue Patina on Copper

About: I've been making jewellery for 22 years and teaching jewellery making classes for 13 years. Recently I've started an online jewellery magazine packed full of free tutorials and interviews with jewellery artist…

Colour plays a large role in design esthetics.  There are many ways to add colour into Jewellery work,  applying patinas are one of the simplest methods; requiring very little equipment or in some kinds expense.  Copper takes a patina especially well. Every metal has its own personality; I like to think of Copper as an Old, Smelly, Dirty, Drunk, Homeless Man; if you've worked with it, you understand why.  Because Copper is such a dirty Metal it likes to oxidize; in simple terms: put it next to a chemical and it will react by changing colours.  This process is called Patination.

There are hundreds of Chemical Patina Recipes; many requiring expensive, hard to find and potentially dangerous Chemicals, all things I like to avoid whenever possible.  Instead, my favorite Patinas are made by more common household chemicals.  My current favorite household patina, is a brilliant blue made by using:  

1. Clear Ammonia (found in the cleaning aisle of your local grocery store)
2. Table salt
3. Water

Step 1: Making a Fume Chamber

First you will need to construct a fume chamber.  Find a plastic container with a lid (clear if possible), large enough to hold your Copper in.  The Copper will need to be suspended in the container; drill or poke holes in the sides of the container large enough to slide a bit of wire through (any type of wire will do).  Depending on what you wish to patina, you will have to customize the hanging mechanism; I used two wires to support the sheet evenly.

At the bottom of the fume chamber place a bit of paper towel.  Dribble some Ammonia on it; you want it moist but do not soak it. Warning - inhaling Ammonia fumes can be harmful.

The Fume chamber is now ready for use.

Step 2: Preparing the Copper

It is essential the Copper be free of Oxides, Grease and Dirt; otherwise the Patina will not work.  There are many ways to prepare metal for Patination.  In the case of my simple Flower, emerying with 220 grit will do the trick.  Other methods that work: scrubbing with a past mixture of pumice  powder and water or heating and pickling followed by cleaning with soap and water; will also work. Which ever method you choose, always handle carefully during and after; hold by the edges so as not to transfer grease from your fingers.

Step 3: Adding Water and Table Salt

Run the Copper under water and sprinkle a small amount of table salt onto the side or sides you wish to patina.  The resulting patina will vary depending on how much salt you use; do some experimenting and see what the results are.

Step 4: Going Through the Stages

Carefully place your copper in the fume chamber and close the lid; again avoid touching the the copper, hold by the edges only.  Your Patina is finished when you are happy with the colour; it may take an hour or two or a day or two.

Step 5: Sealing the Patina

Once you are happy with the patina, remove the copper from the fume chamber.  The patina will be very fragile so handle delicately. Allow to thoroughly dry.  Most patinas are a surface treatment which can be rubbed off and must be sealed with a lacquer or wax of some kind. My favorite is Pro-craft Lacquer (available at most Jewellery supply stores), applied in 4 or 5 thin layers. Warning - When using Lacquers always have adequate ventilation; the fumes can be harmful.

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