Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Metal Alloys

I have so many people come to me with questions about what metal works under patinas and what doesn't, I thought it might be helpful to compile information and post sources I can refer them to for their own learning.

With authentic patinas (ie; not a paint but a reaction forced by heat and moisture) you need to know what metal you are trying to alter.
Metal alloys are numerous, complex and a lot of them do not suit my purposes for jewelry design and patina application.
Here is a list from Wikipedia;

But let me break down the most relevant info;
ferrous and non-ferrous.
Ferrous metal refers to iron; this rusts. Which is cool and artsy but I feel is unsafe to wear, although others have pointed out that there is no harm, unless under very specific circumstances.
(Steel is also ferrous metal and will rust under traditional acid based patinas.)

Non-ferrous is not iron.
Simple enough, right?
These are the 3 main, easily accessible, treatable and wearable metals to apply traditional patinas to; 
Copper = Pure
Brass = Copper and Zinc
Bronze =  Copper and Tin

But why do the traditional patina solutions work so well on some brass pieces and not so great on others?
Because many manufactures are trying to save money and include more zinc in their brass alloy than copper,which doesn't develop natural pigmentation like the sublime copper does and is a ferrous metal.

The dye oxides will work over any metal that can be heated to 200 degrees;
Dye oxide is a different solution altogether. Think of it like liver of sulfur with a dye colorant added.
It changes your metals appearance through heat and moisture but can be removed through heavy sanding.
Pewter works under the dye oxides but it can melt easily so you must have good concentration as you apply your heat in the form of fire (craft embossing guns are good alternatives to butane and propane heat sources).

I personally prefer to not use the Universal patinas on metals other than copper, bronze or brass because they are very thick and coat the metal rather than bond to it like heating the 3 metal types named above. 
But the manufacture states that the Universal patinas CAN be used over ANY metal.

 There is a big to-do about nickel and I do not work with it so I can say I do not work with it.
Here is a short paragraph on nickel metal and toxicity;

To the customers asking if I sell Toxic and Lead Based items;
Absolutely not! 
Perhaps you are thinking about snippets of things you have heard about mass produced re-fined metal components.
Please reference the article listed above to better inform yourself of what you should be on the look out for.
(Each of my listings state what type of metal is used, once you have a better understanding of metal and toxicity, you will see I work with metals that do not have any concern.)

Thank you for letting me go on about some of the more boring things to do with patina work.
If this has confused or overwhelmed you, there is always a cheaper, faster, easier way to add color to metal than to use authentic patinas. We can be sure there is always a big name company looking to profit off the latest artisan based trends that makes the result we want all that much easier to attain.
Much Love & Respect,


  1. Not boring at all and a very good discussion of the base metals. Thank you.

  2. Funny that you should mention this today. I had a big stash of brass chain that I salvaged from some old jewelry of my grandmothers. At first I tried liver of sulpher and then I remembered it doesn't work on brass. So I got out my torch and have been trying that. Although it is tough to get the color even. Plus red hot seems to be the key.

    I did not know that about the iron and the botulism.

    Great post today and thanks again.

    1. Roberta, I should have done more research before stating rust causes botulism, it was something I thought of as fact but had never looked up the information myself only trusting the health inspector who stated you should never let rust form on toilet seats because it can cause botulism.

      My main point was to NOT use traditional patinas over steel or iron as they create rust, which I do not feel is safe to suggest to people to wear or sell.

  3. Wow Shannon this is so timely for me. I am just starting to play with patinas on some copper and I think brass discs. Since I don't know what I am doing with metal I'm starting out the easiest way possible. This is good information. I am wanting to patina some focal pieces for my jewelry and adding some patina was one the things I wanted to learn how to do. I payed around yesterday with some chemical and got okay results but Melina Orr suggested some patinas that you sold in your etsy shop. I went out to investigate but didn't see any currently for sale. Is this something that you will be putting back in your shop? I used some "patinas" that I purchased but I think they are more like paint than an actual patina - see I don't know what I'm talking about. Enjoy your videos and appreciate the information that you share. I do love your Etsy shop and will be adding some of those great chains and toggles when I get a little extra bead money.

    1. Hi Linda, I'm sorry. I am having trouble getting the manufacture to re-ship a large order that was sent to a wrong address. I am not able to sell any patinas right now, but if you contact me privately, I am happy to share other sources you may be able to purchase patinas from faster.
      Thank you!

  4. Hi, Shannon! I'm a grad student involved in public health, and I was wondering if you may have meant "tetanus" rather than "botulism." I've done a search through the scientific literature and haven't found any reference to wound botulism through rust (it's an extremely rare disease as well, usually suffered only by heroin addicts.)
    Because both diseases are anaerobic and can't grow in the presence of oxygen, it would take a deep wound for either organism to sporulate and cause infection.

    1. Thank you, Chelsea! I appreciate your correction. This was something I should have looked into myself before stating it as fact and I am so sorry to cause confusion.

  5. Excellent posting, thanks!

    I knew it wasn't a good idea to use ferrous metals in jewellry but botulism, I didn't know that - shudder!

    Glad you don't use nickel, it is illegal in the EU to sell jewellery/jewelry containing it, I do wonder why it isn't the case in the US also. It's really difficult to try to compete against people selling items made from cheap alloys containing a high quantity of nickel when I only work with sterling, fine silver and copper. I have seen BANGLES made of nickel on Etsy, those poor people who buy these items will get a horrible reaction. :-(

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  7. Thanks for all the info :)
    Those big companies you mention, they may produce something that will make the product resemble patinas, but there is nothing like the real thing! <3

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    1. Thank you, Keirsten. I am having trouble translating what you are saying into usable information for jewelry makers though. Perhaps you could dumb it down for me and tell me whether you would use nickel in your jewelry?
      And if so, why? Because there is no reason to fear nickel silver in normal everyday use?

  9. S-worth going on about; informative post - thanks. B

  10. Great post Shannon. Again, justification for my personal fussiness about the quality of materials I buy for my jewelry designs. I refuse to buy stuff (mostly low quality crap) from the big craft stores. I want pure metals, not plated junk. Like you, I want my customers to know exactly what they are buyng in my work, and I want to know where the materials came from.
    I had a vendor who sells some rather expensive bezeled components switch from using sterling to nickel silver due to ss prices, yet insisted that nicklel silver contained silver!! Buyer beware is everywhere today.

    I do work with the dark annealed steel wire. Of course the patinas don't work on this wire, but once steel wooled to remove residue, the clear guard spray is great to prevent rust and so much easier and longer lasting than the ren wax.

    Hope your patina order gets straightened out soon!

  11. I don't know much about the use of nickel in jewelry but I know that if it is in there is should be indicated somehow. My daughter is allergic to nickel due to an ear piercing infection and she gets a nasty rash. She loves, loves, loves jewelry so it's really important that people indicate that the items contain nickel or if it does that there is some sort of sealer on it.

  12. Great post, thanks for the information.

  13. thanks Shan! have been nervous to use the patina (hot) that I bought from you over my etchings because I thought it would cover it up like paint. I guess not right? and I only use copper and brass so I should be good :-)

    1. Yes, they will cover the surface, like liver of sulfur can turn opaque black if left to develop, but when you sand, or even just wipe away some of the dye oxides, the color stays in the recessed space and lets the raised surface of the etching show through. I will email you a photo....

  14. This was very helpful, thanks. I do love your patina work.


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