3 Easy Ways to Patina Metal

Jean Campbell is the senior editor of Beadwork and a
contributing editor to Beading Daily

My dad always called me a creature of habit. I never knew what he was talking about until I got older and noticed myself eat breakfast (bananas, walnuts, figs), go on walks in the neighborhood (down 7th Avenue, up Main Street to 20th, down 3rd Street), or even buy socks (black Gold Toes). I suppose this type of regularity creates a sense of calm in certain sectors of my life, but it jars me a bit when I realize I'm not only stuck in habits in my everyday life, but also in my creative life.

So, when I recently set out to alter the color of a piece of wirework and went, for the umpteenth time, to my can of liver of sulfur nuggets, I thought, "Hey! Why don't I see if there's a different way?" It's times like these that I go to books and magazines to see what I can dig up. Happily for me this day, I was able to go right to the source–Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist's Managing Editor Helen Driggs–to see if she had any ideas for me.


Here's what I wrote:

Dear Helen, oh, fellow editor of making stuff. I am stuck in a liver of sulfur rut. Do you have any other ideas for me for coloring my wirework?

And Helen, being the gentlewoman and scholar that she is, responded:

Well, Jean, I'm happy to help! Some days that oh-so-smelly smell of LOS is too much to stand, so I tend to gravitate toward other patinas whenever I can. Here are three popular ones we use in traditional metalsmithing, but they'd work just as well on bronze, copper or silver wire, and probably metal clay as well:

Blue Patina from Household Ammonia

This process, called fuming, will create a bright blue color on silver after about two days. Use a lidded deli container and create a "stand" to raise the piece off the bottom of the container. Pour household ammonia in the bottom of container and cover it tightly. Allow the patina to fester for a day or two. Remove the piece, rinse it well in the sink, and then selectively polish the raised areas where you want silver to show through the patina. This patina works best in deep recesses that will not be exposed to wear. You can spray a few thin coats of Krylon to seal your work.

Commercial Green Patina Solution

I love the Jax-brand patinas, because you can apply the solution with a paintbrush and only use exactly what you need without disposal or waste issues. The green patina for copper is just gorgeous and one of my favorites. All you have to do is scrub your piece well with dish liquid and a brass brush, dry it well, and brush on the patina. You will get a very nice verdigris green after letting the piece rest for an hour or two to develop the patina. I'd also suggest sealing with Krylon because the colored patinas have a tendency to flake off.

Hard-Boiled Egg

I've demonstrated this popular non-toxic patina in my newsletter, workshops, and in my "Cool Tools and Hip Tips" column in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine. All you need is a peeled warm hard-cooked egg, your piece, and a ziplock bag. Put the warm egg and the piece in the bag, seal it tight, and let the bag sit on the countertop for a few hours. You'll get a gentle, subtle patina from the sulfur of the egg yolk. Throw the egg away once you've got a color you like. Again, seal your patina with Krylon or wax (Renaissance, Butchers, or floor wax all work well, and a tiny dab will protect a large pendant or brooch).

Thanks for those fantastic tips, Helen! I think you may have so thoroughly snapped me out of my creative rut that I might have to make oatmeal for breakfast tomorrow, just to start my day outside the box.

Do you have any other tips for adding a patina to metal? Please share your thoughts on Beading Daily.

Happy beading!


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