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by Rose Marion, Wire-Sculpture.com

Liver of sulfur, also spelled liver of sulphur or just LOS, is a quick and easy (although stinky!) way to patina copper and silver. Last week we discovered a recipe for green verdigris (check it out). Liver of sulfur, though, will give your copper and silver jewelry a beautiful antique look, like these pieces:

Quick Wired Bead Ring by Albina Manning

Quick Wired Bead Ring by Albina Manning

Silver Cotter Pin Link Bracelet by Albina Manning

Silver Cotter Pin Link Bracelet by Albina Manning

Note: there are 2 types of liver of sulfur available on the market: gel and “rock” or solid form. I highly recommend the gel form, available here: Liver of Sulphur Gel, because the gel dissolves in warm water much faster, making the process (and the smell!) faster than ever.

Here’s a little tutorial that will show you how easy it is to use liver of sulfur!

Materials needed:

  • Liver of Sulphur Gel
  • Water in a glass or plastic cup (I recommend disposable)
  • Paintbrush
  • Fine (#0000) Steel Wool and a Dust Mask
  • Paper towels and/or rags
  • Disposable Gloves that will keep your fingers dry
  • and of course, the pieces you want to patina!

Step 1. Clean your piece and set up your equipment. Plan ahead of time where you’ll process your jewelry, and remember that it will smell like eggs.  I set up out on the porch, with the house door closed.

Supplies for a liver of sulfur patina

A cup with water, Liver of Sulfur Gel, #0000 Steel Wool, Gloves, and a Paintbrush.

Step 2. Read the directions on your package. For the gel form of liver of sulfur. Typical directions will ask for warm, not hot water, that you can still put your finger in and not be burned. An easy way to do this is simply place the water in the microwave for 20-30 seconds. The amount of water you’ll need depends on how much jewelry you’ll be patina-ing, but a small cup with about 8 ounces of water will easily do dozens of earrings.

Step 3. Take the water out of the microwave and bring it to your work station. Remember, this should be outside or in a well-ventilated area! Now, put on gloves: you don’t want to touch liver of sulfur to your skin. Add your liver of sulfur to the water (check your directions for how much) and stir with your paintbrush. With just a small cup (about 8oz), about 5 drops of liver of sulfur is strong enough. You can always add more gel. If you aren’t using the gel form, you will have to allow time for the liver of sulfur to dissolve. It will be bright yellow when it’s ready.

Liver of Sulfur solution

Stir the Liver of Sulfur solution to mix it

Step 4. Here’s the fun part: in goes the jewelry!
It’s up to you to use tweezers or tongs, or to simply pull the jewelry out of the liver of sulfur solution with your gloved fingers. If you used a lot of liver of sulfur, the jewelry will turn black almost immediately. If you used less, you may have to let it sit in the solution for up to a minute.

Wire jewelry about to be dipped in liver of sulfur

Hint: If you have items you don’t want the liver of sulfur to touch, such as pearls, use a paintbrush (or even a q-tip) to only apply the liver of sulfur to the area of the piece you want to have patina.

Painting liver of sulfur on copper with a paintbrush

Step 5. Remove the blackened jewelry from the liver of sulfur. Let sit on a towel or rag to dry.

Copper wire jewelry blackened with liver of sulfur

Step 6. When dry, use #0000 fine steel wool to erase some of the blackened finish, revealing a lovely antique look.
Hint: Fine steel wool can “shed,” so do this over a work surface. I use a paper towel to hold the steel wool so I don’t get poked! Safety note: it’s a good idea to wear a dust mask while using steel wool.

Polishing liver of sulfur with steel wool

Step 7. Rinse with clean water, and let your piece dry. Leave as-is, or seal with wax like Renaissance Wax to protect your new patina. Now, admire your work!

Finished copper butterfly necklace with liver of sulfur finish

My finished copper butterfly necklace with a liver of sulfur finish.

To dispose of the liver of sulfur, simply pour it slowly down the drain with lots of running water. An even safer method is to shake baking soda into the liver of sulfur to neutralize it, then pour it down the drain (good for old pipes).

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