Simple Electroforming: Turn Your Favorite Things Into Jewelry

  electroformed seed pod brooch

By Denise Peck, Editor In Chief of Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry

Turning your favorite things into beautiful jewelry is easier than it sounds!

This is the time of year when a walk in the woods yields the best treasures! The hidden frameworks of ordinary plants reveal themselves in all their fascinating glory. Leaf skeletons, pine cones, seed pods–all bursting forth, just asking to be made into jewelry!

What Is Electroforming?

Electroforming is the way to make that happen–turning natural and other materials into metal jewelry components, by building up layers of metal around your forms, preserving them forever. But I'm the first to admit that just the term electroforming sounds daunting. Let's face it, it requires a piece of equipment that is unfamiliar to many of us, and it requires electricity and electrodes! Sounds like a science project. But it really is simpler than you may think.

Rectifiers, that unfamiliar piece of equipment, used to be large, cumbersome, and expensive–with knobs and switches and mysterious gauges. But it's possible now to get a small, simple rectifier for about $150 from jewelry suppliers. And Sherry Haab Designs sells an alternative electric current controller that is pretty much foolproof and smaller than a cell phone.

electroforming supplies
These are the main components in an electroforming setup: the rectifier, the solution, the conductive paint, and a plastic or glass container with a copper coil or sheet.
electroformed flower pod brooch  

Electroforming vs Electroplating

Electroforming and plating are essentially the same, but you build up a much thicker coating of metal when you electroform. Plating can be done in many different metals, however because copper is so inexpensive, that's what we use for forming.

The science part is simple: You use a copper electroforming solution, also available from jewelry suppliers, in a glass or plastic bowl or beaker, and by sending a very low current of electricity between a piece of copper and your conductive object, both submersed in that solution, the copper transfers from the piece of metal to your little treasure, forming a nice strong coating of copper. In my video Easy Electroforming for Jewelry, you can see a 30-second time lapse sequence of this happening over the course of several hours. It's really quite magical!

What Can Be Electroformed?

Almost anything can be electroformed! You're not restricted to nature's treasures. You can plate metal objects, plastic objects, fabric or lace–just about anything. The key, though, is that the object must be able to conduct electricity. So anything that does not start out metal must be coated with conductive paint (available online). And anything from nature must first be covered with a couple layers of lacquer so as not to contaminate the solution. It also gives the piece strength and seals it.

  electroformed seed, leaf and acorn

So here's the process for electroforming a pretty pod you found on your walk. 

1.       Prepare your bowl or beaker by filling it with copper electroforming solution and partially submerging either a coil of heavy-gauge copper wire or strip of sheet copper.

2.       Brush several coats of lacquer over the entire surface, allowing each coat to dry thoroughly between coats.

3.       Glue on a jump ring from which you'll hang the finished piece.

4.       Brush on one coat of conductive paint, covering the entire piece, including the dried glue you used to attach the jump ring.

5.       Attach a fine piece of wire to the jump ring for suspending the piece.

6.       Suspend the piece in the beaker filled with copper electroforming solution and the coil or strip of copper.

7.       Attach the clips from the controller, one to the wire on your piece, the other to the piece of copper coil or sheet, and turn on the controller. The electroforming process will take anywhere from several hours to several days, depending on how thick a coating of copper you want.

electroformed crab claw pendant  

That's the process! Not scary, not dangerous. (The solutions are acid based, so follow the manufacturer's safety instructions.) You are on your way to turning your nature treasures into fabulous jewelry!

Now that you know the basics and see how fun and easy electroforming can be, get the rest of the details and project ideas in Denise's electroforming video workshop, Easy Electroforming for Jewelry. It's on sale now in our Crazy 8 sale, where you can get DVDs and collection CDs for $8.88!


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