Add Interest to Your Jewelry Designs: Texturing and Etching Copper

Copper has been a hot topic in jewelry-making circles for many months now. The price of silver (and don't get me started on gold) has many jewelry makers looking for alternative metals, so copper's rise in popularity has been attributed to that . . . but I don't think that's all there is to it.

As more people are lead to copper for monetary reasons, they invariably discover (or remember) the many other great qualities copper has. I've written on Jewelry Making Daily before about my love of copper, and Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist senior editor and master goldsmith Helen Driggs is mad about copper, too. In addition to its affordability, copper is readily available, it's easy to work with, and it creates a beautiful patina. Copper also takes a texture beautifully, thanks to its relative softness.  

In one of my favorite posts on Jewelry Making Daily, Helen shared her seven favorite ways to texture metal (copper sheet in particular), as well as ideas for using textured metal in your jewelry designs. Below are the ones that I like best and use most.

This series of texture samples shows (from left to right) copper and NuGold (a mostly copper alloy) that Helen hammered, nailed, patterned with a blunt screwdriver, scratched with a scribe, hammered on a concrete pavement, folded and hammered with a cross-peen hammer, and textured with a dull diamond bur in a flex-shaft hand piece.
textured metals hammered copper  

Hammered Copper
Helen says: My all-time favorite texture is a simple dimpled hammered surface. I have a fantastic selection of forging hammers to create dimpled surfaces, but you don't need expensive hammers to get the same surface. Sand the ball face of an inexpensive garage sale or hardware store ball-peen hammer to a very smooth surface. Then, polish the hammer face shiny with Fabulustre compound and a felt wheel (or by hand if you don't have a polishing arbor). That dressed hammer face will work almost as well as an expensive forging hammer for creating a dimpled surface on copper. 

  textured metals nail stamped copper

Nail-Stamped Copper
Helen says: Ordinary steel construction nails make great metal stamps. I use an old file I bought at a garage sale to file the nail tips smooth and to remove any seams or pits. When the tip is smooth and rounded, use the nail as a stamp; a chasing or ball-peen hammer is the perfect tool to strike the nail. Make sure you've got steel under the copper sheet, either an anvil or a bench block, so you don't dent the metal as you stamp it. I like to draw a design on the metal and use the "stamp" to create a dotted line. Try making different-size "stamps" to vary the diameter of the stamped dots. If you have a torch, anneal the copper first to make sure it is very soft.

textured metals diamond bur flexshaft copper  

Diamond-Burred Copper
Helen says: Don't throw out those dull or disfigured diamond burs! You can still use them on sheet instead of stone and can create a neat satin finish on metal or even draw designs with them. My sample shows some circles I burred and textured on polished sheet. I think the contrast between shiny and satin is very cool.


Etching on Copper: New DVD
Another favorite way to add texture and interest to copper is etching, which I recently learned to do thanks to my friend and metalsmithing teacher Lexi Erickson's newest DVD, Metalsmith Essentials: Jewelry Etching on Copper.

I get so excited when Lexi has a new DVD coming out, because I know that it will allow you to have one-to-one instruction with her similar to what I had–and she's the best! Her new etching DVD is full of great tips and masterful techniques that she has developed through years of being an artisan jeweler and teaching hundreds of lucky students. In it, you'll learn how to:

  • etch on copper (as well as red and yellow brass) using rubber stamps or transfers;
  • create and print the transfers yourself, using just about any design you like;
  • choose which gauge of copper sheet to use for cuffs, pendants, pins/brooches, and earrings;
  • etch from drawings, family photos, copies from magazines, or downloaded photos from the Web;
  • make a resist using ink, nail polish, markers, and more; and
  • add dimension to etched copper sheets and create finished jewelry.

Lexi is a funny, generous, and knowledgeable instructor–a perfect blend for teaching, in my opinion–and she has twenty-five years of experience, the fruits of which she freely shares as she teaches in the form of great tips. If you've ever had an interest in etching on copper, pre-order your copy of Lexi's newest DVD, Jewelry Etching on Copper, and you'll enjoy the same fun and educational kind of one-to-one instruction that I had with her. How lucky are we?

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