Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Little bit about Liver of Sulfur

by Staci L. Smith

Liver of Sulfur was the first chemical I used when I leaned PMC. It can be used to darken your metals for an antiqued look, or you can get color results with it too. Today I am going to show you a couple ways that I use it for antiquing.
First of all, even though I mostly use it to blacken my metal, I prefer it over Black Max, because its not as toxic or harsh. I try to keep my studio chemicals to a minimum to keep it better for the environment and my family. It may take a little longer to blacken then using Black Max, but for me, it’s worth it.

Liver of Sulfur comes in two forms.

 Lump form

Which come in pressed, concentrated dried lumps of the product.

And Gel form

First I will talk a little about the lump form.

1.  Preparing your Liver of sulfur :  It needs to be dissolved in water.  It works best with HOT water. 
I like to use a giant lump, because it gives faster and darker results.  So I do a whole bunch at ones to justify using such a large hunk.
When you get out your lump, do not get any water or moisture in your container at all.  Even the tiniest amount will ruin your entire container.  I really like working with the dry form of the product, but this is the downfall to it.   I have lost a couple of containers this way, and I am very careful.

So, using a tweezers I take a lump, place it in a plastic or glass container (that needs to designated solely for this purpose- do not ever wash and use for food purposes) and fill it with super hot, can’t touch it hot, water.

2.  Preparing your metal:  I give my metal a quick sanding with some steel wool, just the help the surface take the chemical treatment better. However, don’t do this if you are going for high shine.  Clean, non-greasy metal will take the patina better.  Metal that is shiny and very dense won’t take the patina as well.  And each metal reacts differently.

3.  Place your objects in the solution:  Here is my tub of goodies soaking.  (did I mention this is stinky stuff- you will want to use it in a well ventilated area…I do it in my bathroom and run the fan)

4. How long to soak them:   I use my tweezers to check on the progress of my pieces, it can take from 2 minutes to 15 minutes depending on how saturated your solution is, the temperature of your metal (hot metal takes the patina faster) and the density of your metal. 
I have found that there are issues when I mix metals in my solution.  So I try to do all bronze, all copper or all silver.  It doesn’t seem to get as dark when there is a mix of metals.
I have also found that bronze clay won’t patina well if it is tumbled to a high shine.  I also find that it needs to soak a bit longer, and will develop mostly after it is out of the solution.

5.  After your metal is done, rinse it well.  Some people use baking soda and water to stop the patination from continuing to develop, but since I seal my items afterward, I just rinse very well.  If it is a piece of jewelry, I usually wash it with soap and water too.

Here is that same pile of bronze after its rinsed.

After this I buff the high spots and or polish it and seal it to preserve the finish. This part is very messy.  When I do big batches like this, I often wear a mask while buffing so I don’t breathe in the dust.

6.  Liver of Sulfur can be disposed of in your septic system.  You can add baking soda to neutralize it, but it neutralizes itself fairly quickly anyway.

Ok, now for how you can use the gel version.  First, what I like about gel version is there is no risk of ruining the solution, since it is already mixed.  It also lasts for years.
You can use the gel the same way I outlined above, by adding the gel to hot water.  When I do it that way, I usually add just a little at a time until the solution seems saturated and nice and yellow.
Here is another method of using the gel. I use this often because I love the color you can get on your copper.

1.  Dip a Q-tip into the gel

2.  Rub the Q-tip onto your metal. I push down hard on it, like I am trying to rub it in.


3. Wipe off the gel from the metal.  I use a paper towel, and as it gets yellow, I use a new spot until it rubs off clean.  As I rub off the liver of sulfur, and am pressing down.  It gives the metal a nice warm brown tone to it.  I seal it soon after with either a spray lacquer or wax or both.  Please note this is messy, and you may want to wear latex gloves so it doesn’t get all over your hands.

4.  Here is what it looks like when it’s done.  The bottom photo shows two, the one on the left is antiqued and the one on the right is not.


5. There are also ways to apply liver of sulfur to create a rainbow effect, though I have never had success with these.

So there you go, just a little information on something I use ALL the time.  When you antique your pieces, and buff away the high spots, it accentuates your textures.  You can easily remove the patination by polishing or pickling your piece. 


Karin Slaton said...

Thanks for a very timely post. I just purchased my first can of liver of sulphur, and you've saved me some costly experimentation!

Artisan Beads Plus said...

Thanks for the info. I have never tried it in lump form. Is one less expensive? I try to make my gel last as long as possible because I think it is a little pricey!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Staci. A great tutorial to encourage folks to give this a try. I also read that preheating pieces in a bowl of hot water before the LOS bath will speed up the process. And it does!

stacilouise said...

lump may be cheaper, but you run the risk of it getting damp and then the whole thing is ruined!

Meridy said...

Thanks for this post, Staci! I've never used LOS in lump form either--I was always afraid I'd just ruin it with dampness, but it sounds like it might be really useful too. Also, I've never tried putting the gel directly on copper--I love the brown you got! I definitely will try that SOON. xoxo

stacilouise said...

oh yes- hot hot hot- speeds it up

Jenny said...

Hot, but never boiling. I was always told the fumes, is water was boiling, were toxic.

Barbara said...

Staci, I love to see how different people do this!!!! Your way is MUCH different from my way which is super interesting! I've never been able to get the q-tip with the gel method to work for always ends up making too thick of a patina that doesn't seem to adhere, despite different methods....could be the type of gel I'm using too....and I don't actually do a soak...I do a dip method. I'm definitely going to have to start messing around to see what different results I can achieve....I don't use the lump form though, always the gel from RIO which I like a lot. It is just too humid here in FL....I'm afraid just opening the can would be enough to ruin it!

Unknown said...

awesome tutorial...I also wear a mask when taking it off with 0000 steel wool....I've had black boogies before and it showed me that you can breath in the dust if you don't mask up...

Gaia Copia said...

Perfect post! I have found an inexpensive way to make gel patina at home. Working on a post about it this week. I love reading everybody's tips and techniques. Great photo journey, Staci.

TesoriTrovati said...

Good info Miss Staci! I am working with some LOS right now. I don't use it much but I do like the gel from Rio Grande a lot. I like to paint it on, this time I used an actual disposable paintbrush. Since I was using it straight up it wasn't heated, but I did hit it with a heat tool while it dried and that seemed to help a lot. Do you tumble your pieces? I would like to do that but I can never remember if you tumble before or after doing the LOS. My tumbler has some contamination anyway, and I just read that flat Coke will remove that, so that is what I will be trying tonight. Enjoy the day. Erin

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