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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About jeancampbell

Jean Campbell is the founding editor (and currently the senior editor) of Beadwork magazine and has written and edited more than 45 beading books. She has written for Beading Daily and has appeared on the DIY Jewelry Making show, The Shay Pendray Show, and PBS' Beads, Baubles, and Jewels where she gives how-to instructions, provides inspiration, and lends crafting advice. Jean teaches jewelry-making workshops throughout the United States and calls Minneapolis home.

11 thoughts on “3 Easy Ways to Patina Metal

  1. Regarding adding a patina. I use a lot of brass, both bezels and charms, and I like to antique them. I use ‘Birchwood Casey’ Brass Black. I wash my pieces and dry them thoroughly, then soak them for a few minutes in the Brass Black. I then rinse them, re-dry them and buff them up with very fine steel wool. I find it works great, it’s easy to use and no smells or long waiting periods. The product says it also works on copper and bronze, but I haven’t tried that yet. It’s not easy to find in my area, but our local gun shop carries it, as well as Brass Blue (which I haven’t tried).

  2. On my copper pieces, I clean them and spray them with a 50/50 solution of Miracle Grow (or generic) and water. It takes about 24 hours but a beautiful blue appears. I spray them with a sealant of some sort. You can control it somewhat and I have used stickers on the pieces to get patina and non-patina areas.

  3. Hi,
    I love the results I get with Liver of Sulfur because you can still see the etched design underneath. Have you tried a little ammonia and salt in your liver of sulfur? it produces gold and burnt orange and brown on copper and once I got lucky and it produced dark magenta with iridescence! Wish I knew how it did that!I believe I got that info from one of the jewelry artist or art jewelry mags.

    Have you tried the color pencils that Debra Weld uses so well? How about Shannon LeVart’s beautiful patinas? And the newest thought on cleaning your metal is not ivory liquid soap with a brush, but to sprinkle baking soda on your piece and cover it with vinegar, wait til it stops fizzing, them use scotchbrite or steel wool and it gets super clean!
    Hope this helps,

  4. When I was wearing my Argentum Silver ring the fumes for the pool clorine ( pucks) would turn it black almost instantly. It does the same with my Sterling and copper ring as well.
    I have started useing Turtle wax for cars on my copper. I figured if it is suppose to last a year in the weather it should do well on jewelry and it doesn’t LOOK like it has anything on it to protect it like a spray-on does.
    I would be interested in any professional thoughts on this.

  5. Try the shell bits from the hard boiled egg. It gives a very light patina. As for this next suggestion, well, I’ve not tried it, but my metal artist friend Cristina Leonard has, and said she’s gotten some nice color…

    Ready? Used cat litter. UGH, I know! (As a joke I asked if she wore gloves! The look I got in response was interesting!) The ammonia smell kills me when I’ve not scooped often enough, so there must be something going on in there…maybe this could make something good come of a yucky job?? Personally, I think this method makes using LOS less painful!

  6. With the price of silver why is it popular to “mess up” the shiny finish. I work like the dickens to keep my silver shiny!

    Is there a less expensive alternative like using silver-plated beads or pewter beads when we want to get a verdigris, antiqued or blue finish?

  7. Thanks for all the suggestion. One question though. Which Kralon product does your friend use to seal the patina with. They have a range of different products, so it would help if she could be more specific. Thanks!

  8. Amy W – Yes, I like shiny silver too. However when I was doing lost-wax jewelry designing, I discovered that without a little darkening in the crevices of a ring or pendant, the design details will not show up. 😉

    When a piece was finished and we didn’t have time to do the LOS treatment [sometimes moments before the customer was due to arrive!], we would resort to something quick and effective: black model-airplane paint and a teensy brush. Dab the paint into the lines and crevices and immediately wipe off with a soft paper towel.

    Many jewelers who do the craft-fair circuit use a liquid wax treatment on rings and pendants because it protects the silver while it is packed, unpacked and tried on over and over. We heated it on low in a crock pot and dumped in a batch at a time, then wiped the pieces dry with a bath towel. Tricks of the trade!

  9. I’m always confused about how LOS affects the glass or stones. I have seen it used on items with freshwater pearls, too. Does it ever harm the other components of the pieces?

  10. I’m using Jax black to blacken steel wire and then an artist wax to seal it (it has resins in it) however I’m still seeing some black rub off. I’ve heard that Johnson floor wax works but can’t find any. Turtle wax works well?

  11. I’m using Jax black to blacken steel wire and then an artist wax to seal it (it has resins in it) however I’m still seeing some black rub off. I’ve heard that Johnson floor wax works but can’t find any. Turtle wax works well?