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Substitute to lead Niello


#1

I am currently leaning the craft of meatlsmithing and I have a
desire to learn more abut the art. I want to do inlay work, but do
not have the necessary tools to accomplish anything other than a
simple design. While do some research regarding the older
techniques I found relating to the use of an alloy known
as niello.

Having seen some examples I became quite exited about possibilities
of its application. After doing a bit of more research I found it
can also be every toxic if not prepared properly. In regards to
this problem I have two questions. 1) Is there another technique or
material that can be used in the same manner as niello. 2) Can the
lead be substituted with another less toxic metal or alloy?

William


#2
  After doing a bit of more research I found it  (NIELLO) can also
be very toxic if not prepared properly.  In regards to this problem
I have two questions. 1) Is there another technique or material
that can be used in the same manner as niello.  2) Can the lead be
substituted with another less toxic metal or alloy? 

G’day William; I have used and made niello.

  1. You can use an epoxy resin coloured black - or any colour you
    like with suitable pigments. I have successfully used tempera
    powder, which is sold in all art shops. Simply mix enough of the
    powder in to good quality, two part epoxy to get the colour opaque.
    You can mix any two colours to get a shade you want.

  2. There is no substitute for the lead in the
    silver/lead/copper/sulphur alloy which is Niello, that I am aware of.
    It isn’t really the lead that is so nasty, so long as you don’t eat
    it[!] wash your hands after handling it and keep it away from your
    jewellery bench. What makes niello so unpleasant is the preparation
    of the alloy. The copper, silver and lead are no problem to alloy,
    but the problem arrives as soon as you add sulphur to the hot mix of
    molten metals. Large volumes of choking and toxic fumes are given
    off in the form of the gas sulphur dioxide, and that is extremely
    nasty. It really needs to be done in the open air whilst standing up
    wind, while wearing a close fitting respirator properly rated against
    toxic fumes. I guarantee that if you breathe only one little part
    breath, you will be coughing for a long time after. The recipe and
    use can be found in many books including “The Complete Metalsmith” by
    Tim McCreight. I have changed to using the coloured epoxy resin.
    Apply it to cover the part to be coloured, then wait 24 hours at
    least before sanding the job with finer and finer papers, finally
    polishing. It wears very well. – Cheers for now, John Burgess;
    @John_Burgess2 of Mapua, Nelson NZ


#3
 After doing a bit of more research I found it can also be every
toxic if not prepared properly.  In regards to this problem I have
two questions. 1) Is there another technique or material that can
be used in the same manner as niello.  2) Can the lead be
substituted with another less toxic metal or alloy? 

It’s not really the lead that makes Niello preparation nasty, it’s
the sulphur. Just make it outside, when there’s a breeze, and stand
upwind. Not as hard as it seems. As to eliminating the lead, there
are many formulas for niello, all with copper, silver, lead (usually)
and sulphur, in vary proportions of the metals. You can, actually,
make it with just the copper and silver, but the resulting niello is
higher melting, and much stiffer and harder to apply, and difficult to
burnish. The lead makes it “plastic” and easier to apply, and
though I’ve seen a couple published historical recipies for the
stuff without lead, I’ve never seen it actually used, in practice,
this way. Note too, that it’s really just the preparation phase where
the stuff is nasty. Once made, it’s easy enough to apply and use
without undue concerns. Obviously, after it’s applied, normal
cautions can be used when sanding or grinding so you don’t breath the
dust, but these are cautions you’d want to take with the rest of the
metals too, not just the lead in niello.

Peter


#4

Hi While making niello with a lead content might not kill you or your
customers, it possible that it would be illegal to sell it. The
’lead free’ product legislation is constantly changing and I am not
sure of the various national rulings now relating to lead in jewelry
around the globe (For example, the United States Congress banned the
use of lead solder containing more than 0.2% lead for some purposes
in 1986). The presence of lead in some costume jewelry alloys has
caused some alarm (and lots of lurid internet reading).

Presumably the commercially available niello (as noted on Orchid a
few days ago - from Fischer in Pforzheim Germany.
http://www.fischer-pforzheim.de part number 7625.)is lead free (is
it?).

The other good news is that prior to sometime around the 9th or 10th
century all (or at least much) niello was lead free - just silver+
sulphur or silver + copper + sulphur. The bad news is that this lead
free stuff needs a different application approach - doesn’t flow the
same way. (A recent reference to all this ancient stuff is Karen
Stemann Petersen: Danish niello inlays from the iron age. I: Journal
of Danish Archaeology, nr. 12, Odense University Press, 1998, s.
133-149.)

So perhaps stick with the commercial available stuff. But even then
it might be tricky to avoid hallmarking hassle (applying niello after
hallmarking might well avoid Assay Office rejection, but could still
be illegal, at least under UK legislation - the UK rule of thumb is
that you really can’t do anything to a precious metal object after
Hallmarking that would have prevented it being Hallmarked if you had
done it before submitting it. If you see what I mean).

Or, of course, use some other blackish mixture - I’ve seen a good
imitation made with ground-up pencil ‘lead’ and crazy glue (pencil
’lead’ is, of course. ‘lead free’ – phew…)

Jack Ogden
www.striptwist.com


#5

OK folks Of my over 40 niello recipes, five are without lead: (The
first three you burnish warm rather than fuse)

                          SILVER        COPPER         SULPHER     OTHER
PLINY                    3...................1....................2
PLINY                    3...................2....................1
PLINY                    3...................1....................3

Braun-Feldwig         

2…1…5…4
sal ammoniac
Untracht 2…1…3

Haven’t used these. Be happy to hear how it goes. For those of you
who use the lead, USE A FUME CUPBOARD!!!

By the way, nothing without the metals (e.g., enamel, etc) has the
exquisite metallic sheen of niello…!

Good luck!
Janet in Jerusalem


#6

I almost fainted when I saw how erratic the spacing in my niello
post came out in the Digest! Hope you could see the Braun-Feldwig
formula is supposed to read: 2 silver, 1 copper, 5 sulphur, 4 sal
ammoniac.

Janet in Jerusalem