Electroforming an Iris Seed Pod

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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
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

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.

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    202 Discussions

    1
    foobear
    foobear

    12 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    IMG_1333.JPGIMG_1334.JPG
    1
    foobear
    foobear

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    IMG_1330.JPG
    0
    TheChemist
    TheChemist

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    1
    foobear
    foobear

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    0
    TammyO20
    TammyO20

    Reply 9 months ago

    I know this is a really old post but I'm glad I read it. I've never messed around with harsh chemicals. I'm sensitive to many things... even soaps! I can't imagine going through what you went through. Thanks for sharing your experience! I hope you found a better way. 🙂

    1
    TheChemist
    TheChemist

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    0
    Maps2012
    Maps2012

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    How did you get the leaf so shiny? When I try this, the objects come out very dull

    0
    foobear
    foobear

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    0
    TheChemist
    TheChemist

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    1
    foobear
    foobear

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    1
    TheChemist
    TheChemist

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    0
    Westie2003
    Westie2003

    9 years ago on Introduction

    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

    1
    Sugarimp
    Sugarimp

    Reply 3 years ago

    I know this is waaaay late. But for anyone else interested, what they can look for is "regulated dc power supply for cellphone repair". It comes out a lot cheaper than actually looking for an "electroforming rectifier". I got mine off my local ebay, and it cost me about USD 25. There are some even cheaper.

    0
    theemeraldgypsy
    theemeraldgypsy

    4 years ago

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge about electroforming, I have been researching all day and your insight has been the most informing :) I believe I have gathered most of the information I need to get started but I am unsure of what copper conductor paint to use. What have you found works best and where can I find it? Looking forward to hearing from you, have a beautiful evening!!

    0
    bsommars
    bsommars

    5 years ago on Introduction

    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?

    0
    ccreswell
    ccreswell

    Reply 4 years ago

    Someone elsewhere suggested applying white glue first. Anything that would coat the leaf and make it stiffer would hold up better than uncoated. Then spray paint as usual.

    1
    sandyq4
    sandyq4

    8 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    1
    sculptr
    sculptr

    Reply 5 years ago

    That sounds fascinating. I'm just curious, since opals are porous, are they treated somehow first? I bet they're gorgeous.