Intro: How to Make a Copper Electroformed Gemstone Open Ring
Hey Makers! Today's jewelry tutorial is going to show you how copper electroform a ring style; the gemstone open ring. One of my favorite and best selling ring styles! I've listed the tools and materials I'll be using but feel free to substitute these tools for what you have on hand. Be sure to visit this tutorial on my site to get links to all these supplies plus learn more about electroforming!
- 18g copper wire (for my ring shank)
- 22g copper wire (to connect my ring to my bus bar)
- 10g copper wire (for my bus bar)
- Copper conductive paint
- Elmer's wood epoxy
- Super glue (I use and love Loctite brand)
- Midas Bright copper electroforming solution
- Raw aquamarine gemstones (use whatever your heart desires)
- Flush cutters
- Diamond grit needle files (these things may be small but they are powerful, and have multi uses)
- 10-amp DC power supply
- Stainless steel mixed shot
- Super Sunsheen burnishing compound
- Half round metal file
Step 1: Cut Your Ring Shank
Take your flush cutters and cut a notch out of your ring shank. It can be as open or as closed as you'd like it to be. Hold your stones in place to gauge whether or not you like the placement of them before gluing them down.
Step 2: Select Your Gemstones
Select the gemstones you'd like to use. For this tutorial I'm going with longer gemstones so I can copper electroform sort of a "bar" going horizontally around them. If you choose more round stones you can create a full backing like a traditional bezel setting.
These two raw aquamarine are perfect.
Step 3: Attach Your Gemstones
Apply a dab of super glue onto each end. (Tip: file your ends flat for a stronger hold before you apply the glue.) Place your gemstone on top and hold in place a few seconds before moving onto the next stone.
Let dry for 5 minutes before applying the epoxy.
Step 4: Apply the Epoxy
I like to take one of my needle files to apply the epoxy. It allows me to be precise it get it in all the crevasses. You can use a toothpick as well. You want to apply the epoxy as a connector from your ring shank to your gemstone. It helps to give it more strength.
Allow to dry anywhere from 6-24 hours, depending on the brand of epoxy you use.
Step 5: File the Epoxy
File down the epoxy. I used to leave some epoxy around the copper ring shank which would leave a bump making the ring a smaller size than what I was anticipating. So now I file the epoxy all the way down to the copper ring shank on the inside leaving the epoxy to just fill in the space between the stone and ring shank.
Step 6: Copper Conductive Paint
Paint on your copper conductive paint covering the epoxy and also going around the stone. Let dry for 2-3 hours depending on humidity, then apply a second coat. Depending on the type of conductive paint you're using you may need up to 3-4 coats.
Let dry completely before electroforming.
Step 7: Prep Your Cathode
Take your 22g copper wire and make a hook at one end. Wrap it around your bus bar 2-3 times. I like to make a dip in my bus bar then make some sharp bends on either end so it stays on top my mason jar and doesn't roll off. Hang your ring on the end and place it in your bath.
Step 8: Create Your Anode
Create your anode, weather you use a copper sheet or a coil like myself. Place it inside your jar, or whatever else you're using. Pour in your copper electroforming solution, enough to completely cover your piece.
I prefer a coil anode over a sheet anode because the coil will give you an even plate all the way around your piece. I've read that those who use 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.
I like to create my coil by wrapping a large vitamin bottle (use whatever you have) 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. You can also get pre-made coils from Rio Grande.
Step 9: Electroform Your Piece
Lay your bus bar, with your piece hanging from the cathode, over your jar. While your power supply is off, attach the black negative lead to your cathode (your piece) and the red positive lead to your anode. Set your rectifier to your recommended setting. I'm using a 10-amp power supply.
For my settings, I put it on the very lowest setting for 1-3 rings at 00.1 amps (my volts goto 00.4). I tried taking a photo of my settings but there's some slight blinking in the number's digital display so my camera can't catch the entire number. I leave one ring in there for about 4 hours. (Edit: Funnily this ring only took about 1 hour, that was oddly fast.)
NOTE: Most power supplies are different from the one I'm using in this tutorial. So the settings you choose my be slightly lower or slightly higher so always do a test piece so you can learn which settings are best for you and your own setup.
Step 10: Check Your Piece
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 and 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 and check again in 30 minutes.
You can create your own measurement sheet to help you remember what amps you need based on the size and shape of the pieces you will be doing on a regular basis. Slow and steady wins the race. Don't try to rush the process because 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.
Step 11: Polish Your Piece
If your piece has bumps on the inside of the ring from electroforming, take your half round metal file and file it down. If it has any other bumps (that you don't aesthetically like) then go ahead and file those down. Once you're happy with the texture go ahead and throw it in your tumbler.
Take 1lb of stainless steel mixed shot and pour it into your barrel. Drop the ring in. Mix 2 1/2 to 3oz. of the Super Sunsheen with 1 gallon of water (regular water is ok). Pour it in your barrel so it covers about 1/4" to 1/2" over the shot. Put the lid on and tumble for about 1 hour.
After the tumbler, if you want a super high shine, take your rotary tool, use a felt polishing tip (like these) and red rouge polishing compound (like this). Spin the felt tip on your red rouge and use it to polish your ring. It gives such an amazing high shine.
This last step is completely optional, you can use just the tumbler to polish your piece or just the Dremel/flex shaft, or you can get those polishing cloths and polish them by hand.
Next you can oxidize your piece, I'm choosing to not oxidize this piece but if you'd like to here's a great LOS to use.
Step 12: Seal Your Copper
Final step! I've used both Renaissance Wax and ProtetaClear, hands down ProtectaClear is MUCH better. While there's no product out there that will keep copper sealed forever, I think ProtectaClear is the longest lasting.
So, assuming you have ProtectaClear, paint on your first layer over your copper piece. Don't paint over your stones. Hang your piece to dry from a tiny S hook (you can make this with your 22g wire) and hang it on something (I often use my third hand).
The first layer should be dry enough for the second layer to go on within 30mins to an hour. Apply your second layer. Let dry for the same time. Apply your third layer then let cure over night (or 6-8 hours).
Step 13: Your Piece Is Finished!
You're piece is now finished! Hurray! All you have to do now is fix up those pretty nails you just ruined from making your ring so you can wear it and show it off to your friends! Or sell it, let's be honest, that's what we're really trying to do here. ;)
If you need me to explain anything further let me know in the comments. I'm happy to help in any way!
More copper electroforming + silversmithing tutorial plus handmade business tips at MakerMonologues.com!