Lead free niello

I am looking to try and make some lead free niello, and I was
wondering if any one had any experience with making this or what
proportions to use since I am not using one of the common
ingredients. I have read through some material on how to make it but
thought I would check here about making it lead free because of the
previous posts. Thanks for the help.

I am looking to try and make some lead free niello, and I was
wondering if any one had any experience with making this or what
proportions to use since I am not using one of the common

There are some niello that is just copper silver and sulfur but my
understanding is it must be ground up sort of like enamel to apply
it and it has a very high melting point compared to the leaded
varieties. I did find a reference to this formula for a lead free
niello alloy used in Thailand 32% tin-14% silver-34% copper-20%
sulfur. It sounded like it was still applied by pressing a stick of
it onto the heated workpiece like with leaded niello and the comment
was that it was “stiffer” than the leaded type niello. If you try to
make it remember to do it outside and wear a chemical vapor
respirator, those sulfur fumes are very bad to breathe.

If you do make it I would be interested to hear how it works.

Hope this helps.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


first its a dangerous process that must be done outdoors. If you are
a novice i don’t recommend your trying it- AT ALL-.I’m all for
self-teaching and learning however when a centuries old practice is
proven toxic i stop at that point and consistently make that
statement ! As you are asking for a recipe I’m presuming you don’t
have any books that contain recipe nor instructions - and deduce you
are a novice. So why not try just oxidizing the metal rather than
packing the amalgam into an incised design in fine or sterling
silver? But I will make you a deal. If you can tell me you have* a
fume hood, an assistant*, 3 separate crucibles -one for (as niello
can’t be made without it), the lead and crystalline sulphur (as
flowers of sulphur give an inconsistent result frequently having a
spotty or mottled effect) another crucible for the copper, silver and
borax (crystalline borax (,as come in a cone or bulk. Not the washing
type in this case), and a third prepared crucible for more crystalline
sulphur, a separate lead ladle, a good respirator with cartridges for
both people, two torches, a long carbon stirring rod, if not 2, : 1
carbon and one quartz), a block of sal ammoniac ( ammonium chloride)
and a tall-ish steel vessel as heavy a gauge as your lead pouring
ladle. and feel like you have a good grasp of alloying metals,
melting and pouring metals into moulds, controlling heat with torches
and if you have no fume hood, you will do the making of the Niello
outdoors wind at your backs, then I will tell you how to proceed.

Truly think about this! It’s nothing to play around with - the
sulphur alone when combusting releases a huge cloud of noxious smoke
that constricts your throat not to mention the smell,- far worse than
pouring metal into a cuttlebone mould!, Lead, as you know is
DANGEROUS. for anyone to even handle so gloves (nitrile preferably-
no definitely, latex aren’t good enough), then there’s the safety
equipment you’ll need in or outdoors to put out the fire if the
molten metal spills on the flooring ( which could be a foam based
product adding to the fumes already inevitable, fire extinguishers,
an eyewash set-up,…there are so many things to consider that i
could list I’ll stop here hoping you are getting the picture. Then
there is handling the niello after its made into granules, or a mass,
and getting it to adhere to the incised design in your work (which is
actually the easiest part of the process)! And what about your
assistant- how much experience does that potential person have?Are
you willing to be responsible for both your health’s and what is
your back-up plan should anything go wrong? If you are planning on
doing it for a design with gold I would like to know that too…(as
its a bit harder to get it to “stick” to gold alloys and definitely
cannot be done with white gold. or any alloy containing nickel. So,
once you have considered all the risks and the processes involved and
the equipment for making the preparation and the gathering of the
alloy once made and application once gathered. i hope you’ll decide
not to proceed without an experienced person present (not to sound
condescending at all) but their experience can come in handy if, say
the metals aren’t fully amalgamated when you go to forge/smash it and
it may not be black all the way through the mass, you will need to
remelt the entire amount again- This is where that experience comes
in! It’s not a project to begin late in the day and definitely not at
night (in fact early and out doors is best) so some planning beyond
the supplies and equipment and coordinating, preferably 3 person’s
schedules is necessary at least. If you still want to go on with this
project. and no one else just posts a recipe for a niello like
material, or the recipe and instructions using lead without
precautionary then write me off list as there are some
things that you must get absolutely right in the process or the mass
you yield will have problems from mottling, to not adhering, to
application problems, respiratory and first-aid issues, etc…

In a word: if you are at least intermediate or better, experienced
then OK, but otherwise, perhaps learning to inlay two different
metals as colour contrast will suffice for a first time project. Or
Oxidation that is flush with the entire design (all the colours
appear of the same gauge) rather than just the recesses blackened as
with most silver oxidation, or application of patinas, Jax black or
other solutions would be a more reasonable experiment with tonal

Thank you for your concern. I am far from a novice and posted the
question to the forum because I was looking for some one with
experience in this technique. I have read several recipes and own and
have read most of the relevant smithing books and as I tell people
you are only a novice if you don’t ask about something your not
familiar with.

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