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Liver of sulfur tips

I need some tips on using liver of sulfur on silver. Any help will
be greatly appreciated.


A warm-hot solution makes the oxidation go faster Don’t leave it in
too long or it is nearly impossible to clean up afterwards.


Jeanne Rhodes Moen
Kristiansand, Norway

Hit the archives and get the iridescent material for liver of
sulfur. The range of colors depending upon what you use is amazing.

Get your material (either the piece of the los very warm) and have
ice water on hand to stop it. Have very hard felt buffs to highlight
what your want.


I use liver all the time on my silver pieces, so will try to take a
shot at helping.

  1. Temperature matters.

I tend to use the liver warm (not hot, never boiling) and the piece
at room temp to slow down the process, because I aim for intermediate
colors – the golds, reds, blues and purples – rather than black.
When the color I’m looking for is reached, I quickly dunk the piece
in COLD water (or run it under cold water) to stop the action.

If you want to go for black (then polish off the high points), you
can warm the liver and also warm the piece of silver (for example,
have a pot of hot water that you can dunk the silver in to bring it
up in temp before dunking it in the liver.

You can also use the liver solution cold, which slows down the
process even more.

  1. Strength matters.

The solution can be mixed at various strengths, which will yield
different results. Even when going for intermediate colors, I mix
the liver at “normal” strength; however, if I needed extra-fine
control I might mix it a little lighter.

Going TOO strong is just going to make everything really black,
really quickly, with no opportunity for control.

  1. How you apply it matters.

If I were simply going to blacken all the recesses of a piece, I
would dunk the entire piece in the liver, let it blacken, then polish
the piece with a firm buff (which will polish all the high points,
leaving the recesses untouched). You can also use very fine (000 or
0000) steel wool to polish the high areas, depending on the surface
you want.

However, I frequently use a fine pipette or tiny paintbrush to apply
the liver solution to a piece, which affords me much more control
over the application of the patina. Again, it’s my style of
patination that dictates this choice.

  1. You can vary the results chemically.

Liver can be mixed with ammonia and/or salt to yield different
results in color and texture, including wonderful iridescents.
Experimenting with it is the best way to figure out what works for
your style and will produce what you want.

For example, I’ve gotten wonderful results by applying "regular"
liver to the piece and then at specific points in the process (with
the liver still in place), spraying the piece with diluted ammonia;
or sprinkling salt granules onto the mix. It’s a process of trial
and error that you just have to watch and play with until you get the
results you want.

  1. If at first you don’t succeed…

Try, try again. You can always burn off the patina by hitting it
with a torch, then reapplying it. This can be a great way to
practice getting different results on the same piece. Sometimes,
it’s also necessary if you realize you’ve gone “past” a point that
you really liked.

  1. Take note the first several times you do it.

The colors will appear in the same order each time – basically,
gold --> red --> blue --> purple --> black. Note the way that the
colors form and roughly at what point in the process each "develops."
Also note what happens if you add mixtures (ammonia or salt) at
different points in the developing. By taking notes (and it’s great
if you can take pictures to accompany the notes so you can see what
the result was), you can repeat things that you like on subsequent
pieces, even if you haven’t used that particular effect in a while.

Hope this helps!
Karen Goeller
Hand-crafted artisan jewelry

Build it up by many light layers, rather than a single dip into a
strong solution.


Dear Karen,

Your dissertation on “liver” was a really fine essay on jewelry
technique. It goes to show that simple procedures can often be full
of subtleties. My hat is off to you!

Ron at Mills Gem Company, Los Osos, Ca.

Have you used it successfully on fine silver? I cast some pieces in
fine silver with the thought of enamelling them, but I would like to
oxidize some, but I have not been successful… I do well with
sterling oxidation. Marion

I already sent this directly, but thought to mention this in
general. It’s not only how you apply the liver of sulfer, but also
how you remove it that matters. A brush vs buff will have different
results depending on how much texture/patterning you have. Brushes
tend to get deeper into the pattern, while buffs tend to stick to the

Jeanne Rhodes Moen
Kristiansand, Norway

Greetings all, I’ve been following this string and have learned a
lot. I see that Karen Goeller mentions a “normal” strength. Will
someone enlighten me as to what “Normal” is? I’ve only gotten a bare
idea from Tim McCreight’s book of “a piece the size of a pea” to a
cup of water. I tried this out on silver with minimal effect but I
have to admit I was in a hurry. Last night I was trying it out on
copper with widely varying results but mostly very weak ones. Any
advice here would be a help. Thank you! Mike

     I see that Karen Goeller mentions a "normal" strength. Will
someone enlighten me as to what "Normal" is? I've only gotten a
bare idea from Tim McCreight's book of "a piece the size of a pea"
to a cup of water. I tried this out on silver with minimal effect
but I 


Great question – just goes to show that we shouldn’t "assume"

This may vary with others, but to me “Normal” is a chunk about the
size of the first joint on my index finger – so about 1" x 1/2"
square. Or, if your can has little chunks, about a tablespoon. That
gets dissolved into about 1-1/2 cups of water.

It is considerably stronger than Tim McCreight’s recommended mix,
but I’ve never found his concentration of it to work all that well for

I then adjust as necessary, until the mixture (once the liver has
dissolved) is a fairly dark greenish-yellowish color when seen
through the glass. When I draw up that fresh mix into a pipette or
apply it using a brush, the mixture is a dark yellow/gold color, not
muddy or opaque. It may have very small chunks of liver still
floating in it (about the size of pepper grains), which I actually
like in terms of varying the design.

Your best best is to just keep experimenting (start weaker then add
a little bit at a time) until you get a solution that you like and
that fits your style and speed of work.

It’s not an exact science, but with practice you’ll get pretty much
the same strength every time. And the key really is in observing
what your piece is doing, rather than just relying on the liver to be
a specific strength.

Hope this helps!
Karen Goeller

Since the Liver of Sulphur chunks deteriorates with age, the strength
will vary. (keep the material tightly sealed) You may need to use a
bigger piece to get the same desired effect. I usually judge by the
color of the solution. Heat will also degrade the solution over time.
The color should be an amber yellow hue. I keep the solution in a
dark colored glass jar (an old B&M baked bean jar works well, with a
folded sheet of plastic wrap under the lid to prevent reaction to the
metal lid)) to reuse until it is spent. When the solution is spent,
it’s not advisable to just add more granule to
the solution, but make a fresh batch.

    I see that Karen Goeller mentions a "normal" strength. Will
someone enlighten me as to what "Normal" is? 

Ah, well, it’s not an exact science, since the liver-of-sulfur lumps
vary in size. But I can tell you for “normal,” you need to shoot for
a pale yellow color, straw color, or the color of pine wood that is
unstained but varnished. I tend towards a “weak” solution, the color
of pale straw, or barely-there color.

Things that affect the uptake of the solution onto the metal is
dependent on how fresh your liver-of-sulfur is, the minerals present
in your tap water, the addition of mordants to the solution (ammonia,
salt, citric acid, lemon juice, baking soda, epsom salts), how hot
the piece is or how hot the solution is, how quickly you stop the
action with cold water, the surface finish or tooth of the piece, and
the length of time spent in the solution.

When I was recently teaching a class, the last part of it was the
iridescent patina, which is built up in incremental layers using a
weak solution. I would have the piece in the hot water first until it
was uncomfortably warm, then quickly swish it through the
liver-of-sulfur solution, and then on to the cold water dip until the
piece was cold. I was trying to express how brief the time spent in
the los solution was, so as I swished it through the los, I said,
“Doo-ta-doo.” Pretty soon the whole class was swishing their pieces
through the liver-of-sulfur solution to the refrain of "doo-ta-doo,"
like it was some magical mantra. So in other words, it’s about all
of one second.

For someone else’s question as to whether it works on fine silver,
yes, it does. Although, it must have some surface tooth to work the
best. I use a very fine bristle brass brush, because it leaves a
burnished finish without the scratches that might constitute a satin
finish, and it uptakes it fine. In fact, the more “worked” the
surface has been, the better the results. So it works great on
surfaces that have been keum-booed, torch textured or reticulated. It
works great on PMC, since it has a natural tooth in the porosity of
the surface. L-o-s works on silver, copper, brass and other copper

To start over on the patina, in case you didn’t like the colors, you
can either do the heating and pickling thing as another suggested, or
if you want a really quick solution, get an ionic cleaner. This
knocks it off super fast. However, I also recently found out it also
takes off the natural oxidation of copper ore and bismuth crystals.

To all who are interested in the iridescent patina, this is the link
to it put up by Hanuman: No, I didn’t
invent it, or lay claim to it, I just put it down into a formula and
method that was easy to access, mostly for the benefit of my
students. My students get a whole sheet of different formulas that
bring up different colors by using different variations on the basic
l-o-s dip. It’s been around for centuries. Then there’s all the
variations on how to apply it, how to fume it, change the formula a

Katherine Palochak

someone enlighten me as to what "Normal" is? I've only gotten a
bare idea from Tim McCreight's book of "a piece the size of a pea"
to a cup of water. 

I mix to a strength of noticable yellowing of the water with a smell
of hydrogen sulfide being given off. Both the liver of sulfer and
the mixture are perishable. When potassium sulfide mixes with
water, there is a fairly slow reaction which produces hydrogen
sulfide gas. The gas evaporates from the solution leaving potassium
hydroxide remaining in solution. The solid material will absorb
enough water from air over a period of time to eventually decompose
to potassium hydroxide (caustic potash).

What I do to prevent the decomposition of my liver of sulfer is to
coat it with wax. I melt the wax and break up the potassium sulfide
pieces to pea size or less. I dip a toothpick in the wax and
"stick" it to a piece of potassium sulfide. I then dip the sulfide
into the hot wax two or three times until it is thouroughly coated.
When I need a piece of liver of sulfer, I merely take a single edge
razor and chop a wax coated piece into two or three pieces to expose
the soluable interior. I dump the whole thing into a test tube of
water…the wax doesn’t dissolve and doesn’t seem to give me any
problems. The solution is ready to apply. I can put a cork into
the test tube and keep the solution usable for several days.

Chemistry: Water has a slight tendency to autoionize into hydrogen
and hydroxide ions. When liver of sulfer is dissolved it forms
potassium and sulfide ions. Sufide minus ions combine with hydrogen
plus ions to form the gas that passes out of solution into the air.
Sealing the solution will slow the process of the gas passing into
the air because eventually the air becomes so saturated with
hydrogen sulfide that it is dissolving back into the water about as
fast as it is evaporating. Sealing everything up, both solid
material and solution, helps reduce tarnishing of silver stock
around the shop.

Howard Woods
Beating the sun awake in Eagle Idaho on the day after solstice.