How to Patina Copper and Brass with Liver of Sulfur

Updated on April 23, 2016
How to Patina with Liver of Sulfur
How to Patina with Liver of Sulfur | Source

The ability to add a deep, rich patina is an important tool in any metalsmith's arsenal. Liver of sulfur smells a little funny, but it is an effective and easy way to patina copper, silver, and even (with a little more work) brass. It is potentially harmful, so you do need to take a few basic precautions when working with liver of sulfur. With these tips and tricks, you can learn how to safely create dependable, beautiful patinas to enhance your jewelry and other creations.

This is the liver of sulfur gel I use. I find it dependable and easy to work with.

Materials Needed to Patina Metals

You need to gather a few items in order to patina with liver of sulfur. The list may seem a little extensive, but most people already have virtually all the needed materials and equipment at home.

You will need self-stable liver of sulfur concentrate (gel or powder), baking soda, water, dish soap, a couple of paper towels, window cleaner or ammonia, three non-metallic containers, some sort of scrubbing brush (even and old toothbrush will work), tongs or some other method of retrieving your item from the solution, a disposable plastic spoon, and, of course, something to patina. You could also use a pair of rubber gloves, but they aren't absolutely necessary. See? It seems like a lot, but most of the items are basic household necessities you probably already have under the kitchen sink.

For my containers, I usually use two pieces of plastic tupperware and a glass mason jar. Whatever you use, make sure you designate them for liver of sulfur use and don't accidentally put food in them in the future!

You will also need a well-ventilated area to work in. Some people even go so far as to work with liver of sulfur outside, but long term exposure is a bigger concern than short term exposure. If you're only doing small projects and have a good AC system or the windows open, you should be fine - just try to avoid sticking your face over the hot liver of sulfur bath and breathing in the fumes!

Clean the Metals

The items must be totally clean and free from fire scale, dirt, debris, and finger oils. Contaminates can prevent the patina from sticking and/or result in an uneven appearance. If you've taken the item directly from a pickle pot, you don't need to worry about additional cleaning. If you haven't, you need to prepare a little cleansing bath.

Put a little dish soap in one of your containers and add hot water. Stir, if necessary, to mix in the soap. Next, pour in a little ammonia or ammonia-containing glass cleaner. Ammonia really cuts through grease! Place a couple of paper towels out on the counter next to the bath. Then, toss your metal items down in the hot, soapy water and let them rest for a minute.

Just add a little window cleaner in - you don't need a whole lot, but the exact amount isn't crucial.
Just add a little window cleaner in - you don't need a whole lot, but the exact amount isn't crucial. | Source

While the metal items are resting, either scrub your hands down thoroughly with hot water and soap or don your gloves. You need to keep your finger oils off the newly-cleaned metals!

Then, reach into the bath and pull out the metal items. Give them a little scrubbing with your brush - I use an old nail brush - and then rinse them under hot running water to remove any soapy residue. Lay them on the paper towels to dry.

Give your metal pieces a light scrubbing to knock free any stubborn grime.
Give your metal pieces a light scrubbing to knock free any stubborn grime. | Source

Prepare a Neutralizing Bath

While your items dry, prepare a neutralizing bath. This neutralizing bath will halt the oxidation, keeping the items from darkening an undesirable amount. Place about two tablespoons of baking soda in your mason jar and add how water. Stir thoroughly to combine.

Prepare the Liver of Sulfur

Liver of sulfur is unstable and basically begins to break down as soon as you make the oxidizing bath. It only works well when it's warm, so make sure to use really hot water. If you have hot tap water, it may work. If not, you should heat water to almost boiling in your microwave, on the stove, or in an ellectric kettle. When working on larger projects, some people choose to keep the liver of sulfur bath over a low heat, like a candle warmer. I have found this isn't necessary for smaller projects and I feel like keeping it warm for an extended period of time just increases the liklihood that I'lll inhale something toxic.

Open a window and turn on a fan to make sure the air is moving or, if you're particularly concerned, set up outside. Place a few drops of liquid liver of sulfur concentrate in your final container. If you are using dry, powdered concentrate, use about a pea-sized amount. Carefully add a cup or two of hot water, depending on how many items you are trying to patina, and stir with the plastic spoon to combine.

A few drops of liquid liver of sulfur.
A few drops of liquid liver of sulfur. | Source
The solution should be a nice, lemony yellow.
The solution should be a nice, lemony yellow. | Source

The solution should be a bright, lemony yellow. If it looks pale, add a little more liver of sulfur.

Patina!

You are finally ready to patina! If desired, (and you haven't already) move your liver of sulfur bath and neutralizing bath outdoors. Then, using a gloved or very clean hand, carefully add your items to the liver of sulfur. Do not lower your hand into the liver of sulfur - the glove or extreme cleanliness is to protect the pieces from becoming oily all over again. Liver of sulfur is very alkaline and it has the potential to burn your skin, so make sure not to splash yourself. I like to simply use an unbent paperclip threaded through a pendant, but non-pendant items I usually just lower in with my plastic spoon. Stir the items around a little bit, especially if there are several things in the bath at once.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Source
Source

Watch your items. If they are copper or silver, they will oxidize pretty quickly! Brass may need to sit for a few minutes. As soon as they look as dark as you'd like, remove the items and drop them immediately in the baking soda bath. The baking soda will fizz violently. When it stops fizzing, the residual liver of sulfur has been neutralized.

This has already been neutralized! Don't bare hand touch something covered in liver of sulfur, just to be safe.
This has already been neutralized! Don't bare hand touch something covered in liver of sulfur, just to be safe. | Source

It is a lot easier to add more oxidation than get just a little cleaned off. I like to patina in stages. You can always re-dunk the items as many times as needed! Make sure to dry off anything that's been placed in the neutralizing bath to avoid introducing baking soda into the liver of sulfur because this will damage its efficacy.

See how this is darker than in the previous picture? It has been re-dunked.
See how this is darker than in the previous picture? It has been re-dunked. | Source

Disposing of Liver of Sulfur

As soon as you are finished with your liver of sulfur solution, you need to dispose of it properly. You have two choices.

  1. Cover the container tightly, place it outdoors and out of reach of children and/or pets and wait for it to degrade. It will turn clear instead of yellow. Then, you can safely pour it down a drain or flush it.
  2. Add baking soda. Lots of baking soda until it stops fizzing. This means it is neutralized and is safe to pour or flush.

Source

Finish your Metal Items

Now that your items are patina'd, you can do with them whatever you'd like! If you want to make the details really pop on etched or embossed items, I recommend polishing the raised areas a little. You can use a buffing block, like the Vintaj block shown to the right, or you can wet the item a little and carefully polished the raised areas with some baking soda. Other options exist, too, but these two are my favorite. For items like findings and chains, the easiest way to polish them a little is with a simple polishing cloth. No matter what you use, make sure not to remove all your patina.

To lock the patina in place and ensure any buffed areas don't lose their shine, seal the items with Renaissance Wax or a matte finish spray sealant, like Mod Podge or Krylon. This is not mandatory, but it ensures your items stay looking exactly the way you want them!

I hope you enjoy this tutorial and find it useful. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask - I'm happy to help out to the best of my ability.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • profile image

        Amanda Thompson 

        10 months ago

        Great tutorial! I have been searching online everywhere to find out the best way to polish and I'm going to order one of the Vintaj Metal Relief Blocks. I have Renaissance Wax, but wasn't sure how to use it, so your information was most helpful.

      • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR

        Natasha 

        3 years ago from Hawaii

        Sorry to be unhelpful, but I've never used this technique on large objects! I'd think you'd need to scale up the whole operation, and I wouldn't try to patina an already mounted backsplash using this method. Maybe try one of the "patina" paints to get the effect you want without splashing dangerous chemicals all around the kitchen?

      • profile image

        Mary 

        3 years ago

        Wish article went into the best way to use LOS on larger objects that cannot be dipped into the solution. And what is the correct amount of baking soda to water for best neutralization, mason jar does not tell amount as is it a quart jar, 2 quart jar, or pint jar, etc…. per 2 tbs soda? Looking to patina copper backsplash and then seal it.

      • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR

        Natasha 

        4 years ago from Hawaii

        Thank you!

      • grand old lady profile image

        Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

        4 years ago from Philippines

        It looks so pretty when it's done. Very useful hub:).

      • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR

        Natasha 

        5 years ago from Hawaii

        I probably didn't really know it this time last year, either! Thanks for the votes and pin.

      • rajan jolly profile image

        Rajan Singh Jolly 

        5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

        Very interesting, Natashalh. I'd no idea this process was called patina. Thanks for an excellent tutorial.

        Voted up, interesting and awesome. Pinned.

      • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR

        Natasha 

        5 years ago from Hawaii

        Thank you, ThelmaC!

      • ThelmaC profile image

        Thelma Raker Coffone 

        5 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

        Thanks for the excellent step by step directions. I will save this for future use.

      • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR

        Natasha 

        5 years ago from Hawaii

        Thank you! I happen to like it =)

        I hope you enjoy the technique. It's pretty easy, once you get the hang of it!

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 

        5 years ago from the short journey

        Thanks for this tutorial on giving metals a patina. Your tree medallion is beautiful and I'll be looking for a chance to practice what I've learned here. :)

      • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR

        Natasha 

        5 years ago from Hawaii

        Metal is so much fun! And it makes me feel really cool to change something as permanent-seeming as metal =)

        Thanks for stopping in and I hope you decide to take the metal plunge one day!

      • randomcreative profile image

        Rose Clearfield 

        5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        I am fascinated by this process! I don't play with metal much, but if I ever do, I'll keep this tutorial in mind. Thanks for the detailed overview.

      • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR

        Natasha 

        5 years ago from Hawaii

        Thank you! Your comments always have a way of making me smile. If you ever need to remove oxidation from something again, try a jeweler's pickle. I just wrote about it today on my blog! Basically you just make a hot vinegar and salt bath:

        http://www.natashalh.com/tutorial-thursday-recipe-...

        Thanks for stopping in!

      • hawaiianodysseus profile image

        Hawaiian Odysseus 

        5 years ago from Southeast Washington state

        Hi, Natasha!

        It's interesting. Here you are, adding patina to your beautiful item...and, not too long ago, I was doing my best to remove patina from an old copper wall plate for presentation on eBay. : )

        You've done a marvelous job of explaining this process, Natasha. And the pictures are excellent!

        Thank you for sharing, my friend! Aloha, and have a wonderful feeling!

        Joe

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