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Tarnished copper

Hello everyone. I am new to metalsmithing and I just began taking a
class. The first night of class the teacher showed some slides of
her jewelry. She uses different precious metals. One of the
pendants was made using sterling and gold with small pieces of
copper. I would like to use copper to start out with while
learning. So I asked her how she kept the copper from tarnishing.
She did not say what it was called, but she said she brushed it on
the copper. She said some people use a spray but she thought this
didn’t last as long and would wear off. Several students asked her
questions about the colored metals she was using. She said they
were Japanese. She didn’t seem to want to give specific answers to
our questions, like giving away her ‘secrets’? Does anybody know
what she could be talking about that keeps copper from tarnishing?
Thanks, Lynn.

Hi Lynn,

Welcome to the wonderful world of metalsmithing… Be prepared to
fall in love with it!

Copper can be a wonderful material to work with, but it does have
issues with tarnishing and coloring as it is very reactive to pretty
much everything.

It’s likely that she used simply clear nail polish to seal the piece.
Depending on the design, when I work with copper I do use clear
acrylic spray (Klear Koat or RustOleum brands) in the desired finish

  • gloss, matte, or satin. Occasionally, I will use nail polish, but
    only on a piece where I’m sure that brush strokes in the polish won’t
    be visible.

With most copper projects I do, however, I use patinas (heat or
chemical) because the colors can be so wonderful.

P.S. - You mentioned a concern that your teacher seemed “evasive"
about some of the materials she was using. It is, of course,
possible that she doesn’t want to share her secrets…But it’s early
in the class so it’s more likely she just doesn’t want to confuse you
with you’re not ready for. For example, referring to
"japanese” metals refers to a range of usually custom alloys like
shibuishi (there are tons of them) with specific properties of
melting, reticulation, coloring, etc. She likely won’t get into
making and using those alloys until much later in the course (or in
an advanced course) when you have the foundation of fabrication that
will help you understand and work with them.

Best of luck to you!
Karen Goeller

Handcrafted and Unique Artisan Jewelry

Hey Lynn, If I were you, I would quit the class, demand my money
back, order some books and start working. Keep away from people like
this. Teachers are there to teach. If they don’t answer questions
from studens, then they are not teachers. There are good books out
there - basically everything you need to know. For the rest, you can
make friends here :-). Best, Will

HI Lynn, it really bugs me when a teacher is evasive when asked a
question by a student. Don’t let her get you discouraged. I am no
expert but I will try to help. Not having seen her work, I can only
try as best I can. To keep the copper from tarnishing she may be
brushing on some clear nail polish, or some high grade metal
lacquer. Both hold up pretty well. If not, they can be cleaned off
with polish, or lacquer remover, and redone.

As far as the colored metal, She may have been using some of the
Japanese alloys,or some patinas. There is a lot of on
patinas in the Orchid Archives, and some of the more knowledgeable
orchidians can brief you on the alloys and even how to make them.
Again, don’t let her discourage you. People who are going to be
secretive about techniques etc.

have no business teaching. They do a disservice to all the
dedicated teachers,. she wasn’t born knowing all she knows,but owes
it to some dedicated teachers.

If you have questions just send them in to Orchid.
The wonderful helpful people here will be glad to help.


Lynn- There are many ways to seal metal. I have my students use
paste wax or rennaisance wax, clear satin finish acrylic spray
paint, or clear lacquer spray. Your choice of finish will probably
depend on the look you want. The wax is probably the most
professional in the end–it protects your piece from finger prints
and doesn’t change the overall finish (matte or high polish) much.
However, spray paints work well for sculptural pieces which won’t see
much wear. I have my students use a spray on pieces with powdery
patinas that waxing will ruin. I know there are professional
lacquers available for this purpose as well, but they tend to be more
expensive. Also, make sure your piece is clean. If you have any
fingerprints on the metal surface, they will still oxidize under a sealant.
Good luck! Erica

    If I were you, I would quit the class, demand my money back,
order some books and start working. Keep away from people like
this. Teachers are there to teach. 

Boy do I agree with that. I had one of those when I was first
learning. She never had anything positive to say about my work
either. I have recently started teaching metalsmithing myself and
have told my students that I will not keep any secrets from them
about how to do something. I also told them if I didn’t know how to
do something they want to learn I would try to find out. I hope I
turn out to be a good teacher and have students that thrive! As for
the copper, Several months ago I did a piece with a beautiful green
patina from just heating the metal. Following advice from Orchid
participants I coated it with a thin layer of beeswax and polished it
with a soft cloth. So far it looks the same as the day I finished
it. I haven’t tried lacquer yet but I know other recommend
that. Stick with it if you love it. It is worth the struggle. Mary Barnes

I have used Krylon Crystal Clear acrylic coating #1303 on copper
sculptures and, so far, about 7 years, it has held up remarkable
well. Joel Joel Schwalb @Joel_Schwalb