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Using Niello

I’ve got this odd desire to try niello. Has anyone out there made
and used it before? Is it cut and dry or more complicated?

My thanks, A-

Hi Angela,

I have done it, I wouldn’t say it is hard, I followed the
instructions in Metals Technic. It is however possibly the most
unpleasant thing I hve done in the way of jewellery. Do it outdoors
on a windy day, stand upwind, do you have neighbours? they WONT like
it. I did not find it easy to grind up afterwards, it seems to be
sticky, the only way I can describe it. If anyone has a suggestion
for producing fine powder I would be interested.

regards Tim.

Hello Angela;

I've got this odd desire to try niello. Has anyone out there made
and used it before? Is it cut and dry or more complicated? 

I’ve been working with niello 35 years or so. It’s not terribly
complicated, but it is what I’d call a subtle art. There is also a
certain amount of risk to working with it due to the lead content. I
can email you my favorite formula for making it, and some basic
instructions for application. Email me off forum if you’re still
interested. There is also considerable literature on it, including
Oppi Untracht’s books and others.

David L. Huffman


I’m really interested in using niello, however because allot of
Niello recipe’s contain lead,I wonder if there is a health risk to
the customer. ie; would niello be dangerous if in contact with the
skin for many years?

Regards, Joe.

Hi Angela,

Not as hard to do as some projects, and harder than others. If you
can follow a recipe, you can do it. Main thing to remember is it is
dangerous and deadly in the fumes department - LOTS of sulphurous
fumes (I wouldn’t want to make it in my studio), and best suited
for making outside. ALSO: you need to take precautions with
protective clothing. I used a full face respirator years back when
we made some - not sure if

a partial would work as well - change your filter cartridges if you
haven’t done so in the past few months prior to an attempt.

Good Luck,
Chris Ploof Studio
508.886.6200 (EST)

Hi Angela!

Niello is a bit like enamel in terms of whether it’s easy or
complicated—enamels can be done with young children at summer
camps, but for a serious professional, it’s a whole world…!

I have collected over forty niello formulas from sources spanning a
period of 2000 years. The different formulas have VERY different
working properties! In the niello course I developed for the Bezalel
Academy of Art and Design in Israel back in the early 80’s, students
were required to make up several different formulas and run
experiments to test the differences. Some are sticky and need to be
spread while hot (Theophilus, Cellini) which is great for spherical
objects (like goblets), while others liquefy quickly and flow rapidly
(Persian and 16th c. Russian) which is good for engravings. We went
over thirteen different techniques for making and applying niello.
This was a semester course which gave the students an excellent
starting point from which to explore the potential of this unusual
material… A shortened version of the course can be done as a
workshop, but it is advisable to teach it only at facilities which
have proper fume cupboards…

Janet in Jerusalem

Check the archives, there was a large discussion about this a few
years ago. Including a potential source of where to buy the stuff.

Have been offline for a while so if someone has already posted this
info, Sorry! Mickey Lippe in Seattle teaches a class at Pratt Art
Institute in using Niello in jewelry making. I believe she buys the
Niello material already made. She told me that it is really easy to
use and I think she told me that this particular formula doesn’t have
lead in it. You might contact her for more She has
always been really helpful about sharing If you were
ever in Seattle, her classes are the best!

Regards, Kitti deLong

I’m a bit behind in my orchid posts. Anyway, there have been some
posts on this subject, but as someone who has successfully used
niello rather extensively there are a couple of things that I’d like
to suggest.

Although it’s already been mentioned, safety is key. Be very, very
careful when making niello. It can do a lot of long term damage to
your lungs and eyes, even if it doesn’t outright kill you, which can
also happen.

When using niello, keep your bench clean. Have a special area
dedicated to niello. Use dedicated tools. Avoid grinding niello off
the surface of your work as this flings fine powder indiscriminately
all over you and your shop. This type of care is needed if you wish
to avoid contaminating your other work. If you get the tiniest amount
of niello in an area where you hard solder, the work will be ruined.
I wear latex gloves when I’m filing niello from a piece. Just to be
on the safe side.

As far as creating a fine powder is concerned: When I first started
I always crushed niello with a mortar and pestle. One way to get good
results in crushing niello is to use niello that is very well mixed.
Sometimes there can be inconsistencies in the mix and these areas
aren’t as brittle. I’ve found that after the initial crushing I’d use
an extra fine strainer to separate out the larger, more difficult to
crush pieces, then continue crushing until you have the consistency
you need. I can get niello very fine with this method but there’s no
fast way to do it that I’ve found.

Once, when I needed a lot of niello powder I wrapped it in heavy
stainless steel foil and used a hammer to break it up on my anvil to
get things started. Now I mostly use niello in stick form.