Do not fear the Liver of Sulfur.
I repeat: do not fear the Liver of Sulfur!
Oxidization is a science experiment for metal addicts and can prove entertaining, challenging and inspiring all wrapped up in the guise of jewelry fun, creating an antique look to modern art jewelry.
And you know what? It’s easy to fix if you don’t like it, so the only thing left to do is enjoy yourself and prepare to take your jewelry or metal work to a defining new level with a product both easy to master and essential for the antique look popular in the metal work and jewelry worlds.
Settle in and enjoy!
- A small glass container. I recommend a good Pyrex dish with a corresponding lid. Though plastic containers, such as Tupperware, are widely considered acceptable, I find glass a little more resilient. A container with the ability to hold at least one cup of water is more than sufficient for most jewelry projects. Designate this dish for use with Liver of Sulfur only.
- Gloves & well-ventilated work space. Liver of Sulfur is a skin irritant and can burn, so care should be taken to protect exposed areas of the body. The fumes are considered toxic so wear a disposable mask or use in a well-ventilated work space. For most small projects, a fan or open window with good airflow is perfectly fine, as long as you avoid direct exposure to fumes. Open window: good. Leaning directly over a steaming bowl of Liver of Sulfur: bad.
- Disposable plastic spoons. Items should be placed into, and taken from, the Liver of Sulfur solution only with designated tools, such as tongs or disposable plastic spoons.
- Liver of Sulfur Gel. Though Liver of Sulfur is also available in rock form, the gel is easier to use, longer lasting and with a smell slightly less odious. Since I am a creature of convenience and am apt to chose the product both easy and effective, the gel wins hands down.
- A second bowl for a neutralizing bath. This bowl doesn’t have to be glass, however, due to the toxic nature of Liver of Sulfur, should still be designated for use with this product or process only.
- A third bowl of any variety.
- Fine Steel Wool Pads.
- Dish-washing liquid.
- Baking Soda.
Let’s Get Started
First begin by preparing a neutralizing bath for pieces dipped in the Liver of Sulfur solution. This will prevent the oxidizing process from continuing once the piece has reached the desired color. In the second bowl, pour a cup of lukewarm water. Into the water, stir two tablespoons of baking soda, until dissolved, and set aside.
Next, it is important to clean your jewelry items before oxidizing. Oils from the skin can lay a film over metal to which the Liver of Sulfur solution cannot adhere, causing uneven discoloration. To prevent this, add a few drops of dish-washing liquid to a third bowl, fill with hot water and swish the jewelry many times. Rinse beneath a tap as the water turns from lukewarm to hot. Wearing gloves during this process will help prevent new prints from marking the jewelry once clean.
Note: Using hot tap water during this process helps warm delicate stones gradually, which are otherwise susceptible to sudden temperature changes. However, with that said, I caution against using hot water on very delicate stones such as opals.
Now it’s time to oxidize! In the primary glass bowl, pour one cup of hot water. This water should be steaming, but pre-boil. I find water through a clean coffee pot is the perfect temperature for oxidizing. In lieu of a coffee pot, microwave the water for one minute. Dip the tip of a disposable plastic spoon into your Liver of Sulfur gel to collect a few drops. It has a thick consistency and a sufficient amount of gel will stick to the spoon tip without the need to scoop. If your gel comes in a container that administers the product in drops, use two or three drops to start. This may be added to as necessary. Stir the gel into the water until it turns a vibrant yellow, but still transparent. If the water is pale, add another drop. Since the Liver of Sulfur solution works best in hot water, do not wait once the solution is prepared. Using the spoon with which the solution was stirred, add the jewelry items. If the water is hot enough, the metal should immediately begin to turn dark. The metal will oxidize in stages, often presenting themselves in colors: usually green, brown, blue then black. The metals may be removed at any time during this process if it has reached the desired color, though I recommend black for optimal results.
Once your jewelry or metal items have reached the desired color, use the previously mentioned spoon to remove the item from the solution. Drop the jewelry or metal items gently into the neutralizing bath, and let sit for a few minutes.
Remove your jewelry or metal items from the neutralizing bath. At this point, they are safe to handle without gloves or spoon.
Turn the tap on lukewarm and rinse your jewelry or metal items. While the water runs, begin to scrub the metal with a fine steel wool pad (readily available at hardware stores), careful of any delicate stones. By scrubbing with a steel wool pad, the oxidization is removed from raised surfaces, which are then emphasized by the oxidization left in the crevices. This is a time-consuming process, due to the special attention needed on cracks, crevices or folds of heavily woven or worked metal jewelry. Fine steel wool will often leave fibers imbedded in these crevices, which can easily be removed by gently brushing the piece with a soft-bristle toothbrush dedicated for jewelry or metal work.
Pat the piece dry as thoroughly possible, and allow to air dry completely before storing.
And that’s it. The steps seem plentiful and sometimes complicated, but once you organize your own system, the entire process can move along in a handful of minutes.
You can dispose of the neutralizing bath and soapy wash water down a sink drain, but the Liver of Sulfur solution needs more care in its disposal. Because of its toxic nature, this solution should not be disposed of down a drain, as it can eat away at plumbing. If you have a dedicated work space, place a lid over the solution and allow to sit for up to three days, until the solution is clear. you will notice a white film gather on the bottom of the bowl. Once the water is clear, it has neutralized naturally and is now safe to dispose down any drain with running water. If you do not have a dedicated work space and need to dispose of the solution quickly, add a large amount of baking soda directly to the solution. The baking soda will begin to fizz. Once the fizzing stops, the solution is then safe to dispose, though I still recommend waiting at least an hour before disposal.
Though the solution can be reused (usually within a 24 hour period), I have had very limited success with it working quickly and oxidizing evenly beyond its initial use, so I suggest gathering jewelry or metal projects through the week, oxidizing at once, and then disposing the solution afterwards.
Now let’s say you just dipped your piece, scrubbed with the steel wool, and are horrified by the results! Never fear, the oxidization can be removed. That’s right. It doesn’t have to be permanent.
- Baking Soda.
- Glass or plastic bowl.
Next, line a glass or plastic bowl with tin foil (shiny side up). If using plastic, please be sure the container or bowl can accommodate boiling water.
Lay your piece inside the bowl, pour boiling water on top (enough to cover) and sprinkle with baking soda. The baking soda should bubble and the tarnish should fall to the tinfoil.
Remove the piece and allow it to cool natural, then rinse beneath lukewarm water. Pat dry and allow to air dry completely before storing.
Pretty easy, right?
Wondering what you were so worried about, right?
Liver of Sulfur is a great way to add antique appeal to modern work. Have fun experimenting with various degrees of oxidization to see what best compliments your style. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll do my best to find it for you.
Happy weaving, everyone!