Copper and torches

I am using copper as my medium as I get better with the torch
because it’s so inexpensive. Of course, every metal is different, I
know. Anyway, do any of you use copper in your designs, and if so,
does the pickle acid clean off the discoloration from the torch?
Also, how do you dispose of it when it gets old or contaminated?

I have pickle acid ready to mix, but I am afraid of it. It’s been in
the box it was shipped in for about a year. I know it’s a necessary
evil, so I am going to Goodwill today to find a little crock pot to
use with it. I have the copper tongs, too.

I got some Black Max last week but it comes right off copper… I
guess I should have noticed that it’s only good on gold or silver.
Has anyone had any success with that? I read on another message
board that it can blacken copper with a torch, but I haven’t tried
that. yet.

Note From Ganoksin Staff:
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Oh yeah I forgot the discoloration comes off when polishing

I use citric acid for pickling it has been talked about and should
show up if you search the Orchid archives for the ratios to use. It
is environmentally safe so it can go down the sink when contaminated
and at the time if my prize show cats got even close it wouldn;t
kill them. It has worked well with copper and sterling silver since
2005. I was in heavy production mode first year made 100’s of pieces
no problem.

I was taught never to use a tool or procedure if you are afraid of
it so my advice is the way I went.



ran out of safety pickle. So I tried salt and white vinegar. Works
great, but it is not clear so have to change containers to get to the
pieces. Not a big problem. Boy is this stuff cheap too.

Only problem LOL my soldering bench smells like a fish and chip
shop. One of my favourite smells.

Looked for ph down can’t find it in the pool shop. But salt and
vinegar works well and safe for the kids.


Hi Denise,

Most of us have used copper at one time or another. Probably today
even. It gets used for all sorts of things around the shop.

So, yes, pickle will clean it. Better than anything else, actually,
since it’s mostly the copper in the other alloys that causes
problems, and thus needs to be dissolved.

Don’t be afraid of the pickle. If you have sparex, it’s just sodium
bisulphate. Same stuff used in swimming pools to adjust the PH. Not
fun if you get it in your eye, but it’s not going to dissolve your
fingers. Fear not, and use it with appropriate safety gear (glasses)
and you’ll be fine.

(Don’t know for sure what the ‘citric’ pickle is, but probably just
citric acid.) (All of this goes out the window if you’re really using
sulphuric acid, but almost nobody’s still doing that these days.) (If
you didn’t have to make a point to seek out sulphuric acid to mix
your pickle, you don’t have it, so you can stop worrying.)

As far as disposal goes, you’ll have to contact the local waste
people wherever you are. You can neutralize the pickle itself with
baking soda. (use baking soda, but put it in a little at a time, as
it’ll foam amazingly.) The real issue for most city water treatment
folks isn’t the pickle, it’s the dissolved copper salts. (the stuff
that makes it turn blue.) How you get rid of that is determined by
where you are, and what they want you to do with it. Whatever you do,
don’t ring them up and ask if you can dump “acid” down the drain.
Not only will they say “NO!”, they’ll likely go into orbit, and
nothing you say after that will matter. If on the other hand you say
that you have a bucket of water with sodium bisulphate pool PH
adjuster in it, that dissolved some copper, and now has dissolved
copper salts in it, and want to know the proper way to dispose of
it, they are much more likely to give you a sensible answer.

I’ve never tried Black Max on copper deliberately, but I know it
works on bronze, so I’d figure it’d work on copper too.

If you leave it on too long, it can create a layer that’s too thick
and flakes off. Try putting it on and then immediately rinsing it
off with water.

See how that works. Failing that, fry it with a torch, and it’ll
turn black. Or use liver of sulfur.


Pickle isn’t all that scary. Just practice good ventilation and
don’t get it on your clothes (it will eat holes in shirts. and
pants). Always add the pickle granules to water. To neutralize it
when you are finished use baking soda. You can take the neutralized
liquid to your local haz-mat disposal. If you are still hesitant on
the chemical pickle, try citric acid. It is stickier but safer.

For oxidizing copper, use liver of sulfur. You will get a nice, dark

Hope that helps some :slight_smile:


I have worked with copper for years and enjoy it. If you leave the
piece in the pickle it will clean off most of the discoloration and
leave it a pinkish color. Pickle is nothing to fear if you use
common sense. The mail ingredient in pickle is the same thing used
to lower the ph in pools and hottubs. Make sure to keep your pickle
pot away from you steel tools as the fumes will cause them to rust.
When my pickle turns a deep blue I pour it into an old plastic
coffee can and let it dry out. Then I add baking soda toit to
neutralize it. As a sometime potter I have considered using the
deepblue pickle as a glaze as it has copper particles in it. Have
fun! Bobbie

Hello Denise,

Standard Sparex pickle is not that dangerous if you are common sense
careful. The small crock pot to warm it is fine, but if you immerse
when the piece is still hot or warm, you can use cold pickle and a
little more time when necessary. You will quickly learn how long you
need in your particular setup. Sparex produces a weak sulfuric acid,
accent on weak. It will irritate skin on contact, but not immediately
eat your skin away ala Phantom of the Opera, so be calm and look at
the MSDS here: [PDF file]

You might want to keep a box of baking soda by the bench in case it
spills and you want to quickly neutralize it on surfaces. As you see
on the MSDS, if you get it on you, only a prolonged water wash is
recommended, no baking soda on you.

Tim McCreight suggests caulking the joints on a small crock pot if
you use it for pickle, to protect the crock pot from fumes getting in
it and corroding it. However, if you don’t have any caulk, don’t
worry a lot, as the crock pots are cheap at the thrift store and are
not destroyed immediately.

If you want to use an alternative pickle, here are some notes on
using citric acid (as in lemon juice) or vinegar and salt. I use
vinegar and salt on my copper bottomed pots and I can tell you it
does work and produces a nice pink shiny surface. I’m sure there is
more info, including proportions to use, elsewhere on the net if you

Don’t stress, just decide which will work for you and follow common
sense precautions and good ecological disposal practices.

Standard Sparex pickle is not that dangerous if you are common
sense careful. 

Standard Sparex is sodium bisulfide. Much better quality is Ph down,
granular pool supply chemical. Less expensive, also…

Yes, salt and vinegar work really well, and if I was only using
copper, that’s what I would use. Liver of sulfur for patina. Just
dip and rinse, dip and rinse, build up coats to get the right color.
Too strong a mix applied all at once will flake off. Then,
finishoff with a soapy, wet, soft brass brush for a really nice
finish. Depending on how many coats you build up, you can produce
anywhere from a lighter multi blue/green, to reddish brown, to
purplish brown to deep brown. Way better than typical, bright,
shiny copper – in my opinion.


Pickle isn't all that scary. 

Till you read the MSDS. Which I did last night, amazed I am still
alive. Have used sparex for decades.

I would use it again but ran out and am using salt and vinegar as of

Looked the the MDDS for salt

Keep locked up. Do not ingest. Do not breathe dust. Avoid contact
with eyes. Wear suitable protective clothing. If ingested, seek
medical advice immediately and show the container or the label. Keep
away from incompatibles such as oxidizing agents, acids.

Special Remarks on other Toxic Effects on Humans: Acute Potential
Health Effects: Skin: May cause skin irritation. Eyes: Causes eye
irritation. Ingestion: Ingestion of large quantities can irritate the
stomach (as in overuse of salt tablets) with nausea and vomiting. May
affect behavior (muscle spasicity/contraction, somnolence), sense
organs, metabolism, and cardiovascular system. Continued exposure may
produce dehydration, internal organ congestion, and coma.
Inhalation: Material is irritating to mucous membranes and upper
respiratory tract.

Guess that means no more swimming in the sea, and not lick sip suck
tequila parties LOL.

In a factory I worked in we were given a big induction, yawn, on the
toxicity of the chemicals used.

I said mate have you looked what’s under your sink. This stuff is no
more dangerous than household chemicals.

Just follow the directions. He had to agree early coffee break.



Acid in a very weak form IE our pickle solutions are used in medical
washes. Now don’t start getting your panties in a twist and bash me.
We all use vinegar as well. the concentration of acid in pickle is
weak. The best antibacterial solution you can get is a 1 to 10
solution of vinegar and water. You use it in a spray bottle. No need
to use all the fancy stuff you buy when the vinegar solution is the
most effective by far. It also doesn’t leech out the natural oils in
your skin like normal antibacterial sprays and gels (yes those hand
santitizers) The copper we work with is not medical grade so we are
not going to be eating it. (that is a joke for those who have
bunched undies) once copper is dissolved like we get in our pickle
pots it is antibaterial by nature. Any one remember copper is
antibaterial on it’s own (again a tongue in cheek remark).

Don’t fear the pickle. For nuetralizing it, dump in baking soda until
it no longer bubbles. As far as what is left, It is not going to harm
the plumbing, but it will harm the septic tank because it kills the
bateria in the tank that breaks everything down. Where it is best
dumped (you don’t have to worry about haz mat places (yes I know
everything should go through haz mat, so we should all pee in a jar,
Joking on that statement) is sparingly on our acid loving flowers.
You should see what azealeas (sp) look like. DO not do it on food
plants. The copper that is dissloved in the pickle again, is not
hazardous. Once it is cool it is great to clean out minor cuts, just
rinse it off after sticking your finger in it. I’m the first one to
shout safety. I’m also the first one to shake my head at some of the
craziness people have goten themse4lves all twisted into knots over.
Hand santizers at markets to wipe off the handles of carts I laugh
at. Your walking around and touching things that others have touched
comparing the products. You buy them and they are touched by at least
one other person, Sometimes two. How many people handled it before it
was put on the shelves? But your hands are protected from other
peoples germs because you wiped the handle off. Sanitizers and such
are big business.

We are bombarded with media about fearing germs. We have to fear so
many things. Relax. Enjoy making jewelry. Learn proper handling of
the tools.

Aggie the old lady in Fl, who gets the flu maybe once in every 10
years, (mild case)

The pool stuff is called Sodium Bisulfate I believe.

Thanks for the encouragement. I finally mixed the acid that’s been
in a boxfor a year. I picked up a mini crock pot at Goodwill and I
have to say I was impressed with the way it completely cleaned off
the firescale from pieces I thought were ruined. I can’t believe I
waited so long. Well, I can, actually, knowing me.

When I thought I wouldn’t be able to clean off thecopper, I just
torched it even more to see what colors I could come up with. I was
able to make one earring an orange color, but the other earring was
more purple. Now, if only I can make both pieces relatively the SAME
color of burnt, I’ll be very pleased.

The rhyme I learned went like this:

"Pickle to water is the way the you oughta…

“Cause water to acid ain’t to placid…”

That holds true for strong acids. But I almost always add water to a
heap of granules (pH Down) when mixing new pickle.


Hi Andy,

My nemonic was “Do it alphabetically”. “A-To-W”. As in: Add Acid to

YMMV, but it’s worked for me.


"Pickle to water is the way the you oughta... 
"Cause water to acid ain't to placid..." 

And for our international friends :

“Erst das Wasser, dann die Sure, sonst geschieht das Ungeheure.”

“Acide dans l’eau : bravo. Eau dans l’acide : suicide.” (French)

I haven’t read the MSDS. I figured it would say something that would
freak me out!

I’ve found that using a pickle pot after all this time of being
afraid of it has been a good thing. I keep it in the garage. The
comparison between pickle acid and the tequila ritual is pretty

  • agree Richard. Follow directions, but don’t fear it. I had one
    Organic chem professor, he was actually the department head. He
    spilled some toulene once on a table, and was so amazed at how well
    it cleaned the surface, he started cleaning his desk regularly with
    it. We stupid students wondered about it since we were to use nitrile
    gloves, and avoid inhaling it. Even the other prof’s were leary of
    his actions. Within three months he was dead. At the funeral, we
    heard from his wife that he had been given a clean bill of health at
    his last full check up just three months earlier. The cancer he
    developed was linked back to the toulene.

It was rapid and *matasticated to all parts of his body. Not a fun
object lesson. For those who don’t know what it is, we as jewelers
won’t be coming in contact with it. It is a solvent. a very dangerous

Besides salt, look up oxygen. It is a poison, and can cause death.

Questions about concerns are not stupid. Ask. The chemicals we use
are just another tool in our workshop. learn them and understand
them. The acid for pickle we use, is more of a concern when hot. You
might get heat related burns. Rinse your skin off after a splash or
accidently sticking your fingers in it. The copper once again why it
should not be put into the septic systems is a good one, but the
reason is it kills the bacteria that breaks all that goes into the
system. Along the way people forget the original reasons, and start
to fear. Have good ventilation when working.

be cautious. Have fun.

Note From Ganoksin Staff:
Looking for a jeweler’s torch for your jewelry projects? We recommend:

“May his rest be long and placid,
he poured the water in the acid”

Jerry in Kodiak