If you're new to jewellery making or even if you're a long-time metalsmith, you might have heard some conflicting information on how to use liver of sulfur. So here we'll break it down into our top 8 tips.
For this post we are talking entirely and only about working with liver of sulfur. So please do not assume that the techniques here work with all patinas. Assuming anything can be exceptionally dangerous, so always read instructions!
Alrighty, let's do this!
1. Always make sure you are putting safety first, this goes for everything when making jewellery
- My best advice here, and I am not a chemist, is DON’T work with a super saturated solution. You’ll have more control of the colouring process, and it’s just a lot safer that way. Super saturated liver of sulfur can cause burns – we don’t want that.
- Do not get this stuff in your eyes! I’m not the best at wearing safety glasses (very naughty), but please wear them and do as I say, not as I do. I will try to be better I promise. If it does get in your eyes, get your head under the tap and rinse well for a good 15 minutes.
- Don’t get this on your skin. As above, rinse well if this occurs.
- Don’t eat it, drink it or in any other way digest it – if you do, seek the proper medical advice.
- Work in a well-ventilated area – you’re doing that anyway right?
- Finally, if you aren’t a chemist, I don’t suggest mixing your own versions of this stuff, or mixing it with any other chemicals. If you can’t tell me what gasses are released during the process, don’t do it! Do you know how many people die annually from mixing bleach and ammonia? Google it, it’s quite shocking!
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2 - How to get an even finish when using liver of sulfur? Make sure your metal is clean
If we want a shiny finish to our metal once it’s been patinated, we generally need to start with a shiny finish. And the metal must be clean! When I say clean, I mean spotless. Free from grease, fingerprints, bits of your lunch, etc. If you want an even finish, you need to start with clean metal. The easiest way to do this is with a soft toothbrush and warm soapy water. Make sure you clean it thoroughly, get in all the nooks and crannies and then rinse well. If you have dodgy water supplies in your area, rinsing in distilled or bottled water will help! Once it’s rinsed, dry it and do not touch it. Hold it in a clean paper towel or tissue, not a dirty old towel!
3 - I prefer to buy my liver of sulfur in lump form. I find I get a stronger colour for my jewellery
I prefer to use Midas liver of sulfur in lump form. You can get a direct link to my favorite from Rio Grande, by clicking the image.
When mixing this, don’t make it too strong. A weaker solution gives more control over the final colour and is much safer to work with. I generally use 1 small lump, say 1.5cm square (ish) to half a litre of water.
4 - You can get creative in how you apply liver of sulfur to handmade jewellery - after all being a little different is what it's all about
simply dunk the entire piece and then remove the liver of sulfur afterwards in
the areas where I don’t want it with mild abrasives. But of course, that’s not the only way. Using a paint brush is a great way to darken certain elements without affecting the surrounding area. And using a sharpie to protect areas you don’t want to patinate is a neat little trick.
5 - Baking soda is not necessary to stop the liver of sulfur from reacting - water works just fine
Water works just as well. We did find however that rinsing in water with baking soda did leave a slightly different colour to the finish.
6 - Which stones can be used safely with liver of sulfur? Actually there's plenty that can be set prior to patination with liver of sulfur.
Now before we go any further, please note this is for educational purposes, and I would like to say that no stones were hurt during the process, but that would be a bare arsed lie. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices in life, and I am willing to sacrifice all these gems just so you don’t have to.
So, in reasonably sound scientific experiment, I took the following gemstones and threw them in a container of pretty strong and damn hot (technical term for water just out of a boiled kettle) liver of sulfur (in a very well ventilated area). Surprisingly, only the malachite and chrysocolla were affected.
7. Protecting the patina finish
Unfortunately, nothing can permanently protect the colour. The colour will change and most likely darken even more over time in the recesses and wear off on spots that get abraded during use. However, we can at least prolong the effect by creating some sort of barrier between the metal and the air…. Abrasion, we are kind of stuck with.
I personally use the spray silver polish pictured, you spray it on, wait for it to dry for 10 minutes and then wipe it off, It basically leaves a thin film behind and I find that works as well as anything. But renaissance wax is a firm favourite amongst those working in copper.
Whatever you use however, I’m not going to make you promises it’s a permanent solution. As far as I can see, there isn’t one.
8. Safe disposal for liver of sulfur
This is easy but again I am no chemist, and you should check with local authorities to make sure. But the general consensus is that once the solution has turned a milky white colour (usually within a few hours of mixing), it’s generally pretty useless and is safe to pour down the drain. I have also heard of many people using it for plant fertilizer – but I’m certainly no gardener either.
Want the full 13-page report?
We compiled over 13 pages jam packed with information, tips and tricks on how to use liver of sulfur effectively to get the best possible finish on your metalsmithing projects.
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If you’ve had any experiences yourself good, bad or freekin terrible, we’d love to hear about them! Just comment below. We read everything, and really appreciate all the feedback we get! We have to keep learning too!
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