The Science Behind the Magic: Jewelry Making with Electroforming

Jan 31, 2012

Denise Peck is the editor of Step By Step Wire Jewelry magazine.

A few summers ago while browsing at Bead Fest Philadelphia, I came across an artist who made gorgeous lampwork glass acorn pendants with copper electroformed caps. I bought one of her pendants, and it quickly became one of my favorite pieces of jewelry. At the time, I knew very little about the process of electroforming, but it was fascinating to me. With my background in science and laboratory work, I was eager to learn more about this amazing jewelry making process.

Denise Peck, editor of Step by Step Wire Jewelry and our resident metal jewelry making maven answered four of my questions about electroforming!

Q: Electroforming always seemed a bit like mystical alchemy to me - turning mercury into gold and things like that. Can you give me a simple explanation of what the process of electroforming actually is?

A: Ha! It is sort of like magic! Electroforming is the process of plating an item with copper in an electrolytic solution. It requires a small rectifier, which converts AC house current to very low direct current, the solution, and an anode, or piece of copper. The very small electrical charge breaks down the copper anode and deposits it onto your suspended piece, covering it with a layer of  copper. It's not the same as electroplating where you must plate over a piece of metal. In electroforming, you deposit the copper onto most anything. And you can build up the metal quite thick, so that you could actually remove the original form and maintain the shape in metal.

Q: Besides natural objects like twigs and acorns, what else can you use?

A: You can electroform over glass, metal, organic items - as I mentioned, almost anything. However, if the piece is not metal, it must first be coated with a special conductive paint so that it will work in the charged electrolytic solution.

Q: Are there any safety precautions one needs to take when electroforming?

A: The copper electroforming solution is not as harsh or caustic as other plating solutions, but standard safety measures should be taken so you don't splash it into your eyes or have prolonged contact with your skin.

Q: How would you recommend getting started with electroforming?

Rectifiers were once very large, very expensive pieces of equipment. However you can find quite a few inexpensive ones on the market, and some are no larger than a small battery pack! It still requires an investment of a couple hundred dollars but you can buy complete electroforming kits with everything you need to get started! Once you get started, be careful: it's kind of addictive. Soon you'll be covering everything you find in copper!

Are you ready to learn more about electroforming and how you can use these beautiful natural pieces in your jewelry making projects? Check out Denise's new DVD, Easy Electroforming for Jewelry. You'll learn about basic setups for electroforming, preparing your pieces, finishing techniques and troubleshooting to help you create one-of-a-kind copper components! Get your copy of Easy Electroforming for Jewelry and add a natural touch to your favorite jewelry making projects!

Have you ever tried electroforming? Do you have any tips and hints to share with us? Leave a comment on the blog and share your tips or questions with us!

Bead Happy,

Jennifer


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Comments

pomskie wrote
on Feb 1, 2012 9:30 AM

where do you get a electroforming kit?

pomskie wrote
on Feb 1, 2012 9:30 AM

where do you get a electroforming kit?

KimF@35 wrote
on Feb 1, 2012 10:30 AM

I bought two of those lampwork acorn pendants at BeadFest Philly 2 years ago also, one for my mom's 70th birthday & one for me.  I thought they were so cool & a bit symbolic.  I took an electroforming class at this year's BeadFest Philly & felt like I could go a little crazy covering stuff in copper.  Shells, plastic insects from the Dollar Store, Barbie boots, rattlesnake rattles, leaves, seed pods - nothing was safe from the electroforming bath in our class.  It was a hoot to see everyone's projects!

JessicaJ@16 wrote
on Feb 4, 2012 7:18 AM

I am interested in directions on how to patina copper (without paint).  I don't object to sealing or cating to maintain the patina.  I have looked up various formulas with chemicals to get a certain color, but the results are not the same as I see in your elctroforming.  

Does Beadling daily have any advice or a guide or a past article?

Thank you.