Thursday, January 24, 2008

Electroforming Tutorial: Iris Seed Pod

Equipment and Materials

18-amp Digital Rectifier
1000mL Pyrex Beaker
Conductive Paint
2-Part Epoxy
1 quart Bright Copper Electroforming Solution
Copper Anode
22ga Copper Wire
Paint Brush
Copper Rod/Tubing
Latex Gloves
Baking Soda
Scotch-Brite Pad
Liver of Sulfur
Brass Brush

Day One

First, you need to find an object you wish to electroform. The possibilities are almost endless, from shells, fabric, wax, clay, plastic, paper, seeds and pods, etc. Be creative! For this project, I have selected an iris seed pod from my garden. I have removed the stem and leaves.

Attach a copper jump-ring to your piece. This will serve 2 purposes - to attach to copper wire to suspend in the electroform solution, and to attach to your finished jewelry piece. Use hot glue or a 2-part epoxy.

For porous objects, such as seed pods, they need to be lacquered to seal them. Paint or dip the object in the lacquer, making sure it is completely covered. Hang to dry in a cool, dry place, avoiding dirt and dust. Let them dry overnight.

Day Two

Make sure to avoid touching the lacquered surface of your object. Use gloved hands or tweezers to hold the seed pod, and paint on a thin layer of conductive paint.

Check to make sure areas are covered with an even layer of paint, especially the area where the copper jump-ring meets the seed pod. Paint over the glue and onto the jump-ring. Hang the item to dry overnight.

Day Three

Prepare the copper anode. I use a 22ga sheet of copper with the top bent over so it will hang over the side of the beaker. With gloved hands, scrub it vigorously with a scotch-brite pad to remove any dirt or oils from the surface. Fill the beaker with the electroforming solution, and put the anode in place. With the rectifier turned off, attach the red (positive) lead to the anode with the alligator clip.

Next, prepare the seed pod. Make sure to wear your gloves, as you want to avoid getting any oil or dirt on the painted object. Attach a length of copper wire to the jump ring, secure it by twisting the wire back on itself.

Attach the wire to a long length of copper tubing. The tube will rest on the edges of the beaker, allowing the seed pod to be suspended into the electroforming solution. Attach the black (negative) lead to the copper tubing with the alligator clip.

Turn the rectifier on, keeping the amp and volt set both below 1. Slowly submerge the seed pod into the solution, making sure it is completely covered. After a few seconds, you should be able to see a light layer of copper forming on the surface!

Let the copper tubing rest on the beaker. Make sure there is plenty of space between the anode and the seed pod, they should never touch. You also want to avoid allowing the seed pod to rest against the glass. Check the amp and voltage setting, they should both be at or below 1. You want a very slow and steady build-up of copper to form, otherwise it can flake off.

And now, you wait.
The electroforming process can take several hours - a slow and even layer is the most durable. It is a good idea to check on your piece every 30-45 minutes, checking the amp and voltage setting, as well as your piece to make sure an even layer is forming.

And wait a little more...

After 4 -5 hours, remove the seed pod from the electroforming solution. Rinse in a neutralizing bath of baking soda and water, making sure all acid has been rinsed away.

A solid, even layer of copper has been formed on the surface of the seed pod. It has a bright new-penny copper finish, and is easily tarnished. Once you have your desired finish (I prefer a darker patina using liver of sulfur) lacquer the piece to seal the finish. It is now ready to be turned in to jewelry!

The copper builds up the fastest on thinner areas. You can see how little beads of copper have formed on the wire attached to the seed pod. While this is an interesting texture, they flake off very easily.

Also pay attention to any points or protrusions on your piece, as they can be prone to a fast build-up, seen here on the tips of the iris pod.

Here are some electroformed seed pods in contrast to their original form.


rubygirl said...

Great tutorial, Maggie! I have all of the equipment to do this, but have been a little intimidated... you have inspired me!

MaggieJs said...

Don't be intimidated! It's fun! It takes a few practice runs to get it right, but once the kinks are worked out, it's better!

I have lots of ideas running through my head for future projects this winter...

Danielle said...

wow this is great! i've always wanted to try this.

NinaGibsonDesigns said...

Wonderful and clear tutorial. Very inspiring. For the finished product; can they be treated like metal or are they fragile?

Clare said...

This is a fantastic tutorial!

What do you do about the build up on the thinner parts? Do you remove it during the process or afterwards.

I *really* want to give this a try.

MaggieJs said...

I haven't done much experimenting with manipulation after the electroforming is complete. I think it also depends on what the material is inside. If you are electroforming over wax, it is often melted out after electroforming is complete. Then, you can solder it. You can't do much forming, as it is still a relatively thin layer of metal.

MaggieJs said...

For the build-up on thinner parts, it can often be brushed off if caught early on(using a paint brush or gloved hand). Then adjust the amp/voltage accordingly. You may also need to adjust the distance between the anode and your workpiece. If the pieces don't flake off, and isn't too unsightly, they don't bother me, as it is handmade, afterall! But i've had a few that flake so horribly, there is no saving them. It's trial and error.

Elizabeth & Shannon said...

Great information, thanks for sharing. I was wondering what brand of lacquer do you use?
(new member, erosasjewelry)

mettle design studio said...

wow, what a great tutorial. rally clear pics & instructions. have you thought of ppublishing a 'how to book" ?
i'd buy it!

Wendy said...


KimmChi said...

That is so cool

Kitty said...

hey, this is really awesome to learn!
i'll have to try it one day.

Jamy said...

I was recommended this tutorial by someone at Etsy and I must say that it was VERY helpful. When she first said "electroplate it" I felt very intimidated, but I feel a bit more confident, seeing the step by step instructions. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with others!

Jamy Hillis

Anonymous said...

Very informative and clear tutorial - well done! I do have a question though: what is the difference between electroforming and electroplating? Can this type of effect be achieved with an electroplating pen?

Anonymous said...

I love the tutorial! Very clear and informative - thank you! I have a question, though: what's the difference between electroforming and electroplating, say, with an electroplating pen?

jane said...

great job!
where do you find the electrical equipment to do this?

Unknown said...

This is a great tutorial. Thanks so much for sharing. I've been having a lot of fun electroforming things. I do have one question, however...

How do you get your seed pods to remain submerged? The seeds and flowers I've tried to electroform have floated in the solution and will not remain submerged.

MaggieJs said...

Some great questions here! Sorry for my slow response on a few of them...

The lacquer I currently use is from Rio Grande. That is where I bought all of the equipment, it came in a kit. I would recommend looking around at other suppliers, I have heard good things about Dalmar Plating as well as Safer Solutions. The latter has a water based copper conductive paint, which I am looking forward to trying.

Electroplating with a pen produces a very thin layer of metal on the surface, and would not be adequate for electroforming. Electroforming and electroplating are essentially the same thing. Electroforming is just a much thicker layer over a matrix, which is often burned out, leaving just the metal form (electro-form) behind.

I do have problems sometimes keeping items completely submerged, as many items are so light weight, they just want to float. I make sure that the length of lead wire connecting the seed pod to the copper rod across the top of the container is long enough, so that if it does want to float, it is held far enough under the surface of liquid that it is completely covered. The lead wire needs to be stiff enough, too, to make sure it stays submerged...

If that doesn't make sense, let me know!

I can also be reached by email to answer questions:

metalmuse said...

Great tutorial! What do you do with the bail after removing the wire? Does it take the electroforming off? You mentioned, "brushing off" of the build up, I don't quite understand. Do you lift out the piece of solution and does this take off the paint?

Urban Woodswalker said...

I would like someone to silver plate a cicada for me and make a pendant. Can someone contact me for this please? There is no way I will ever do all this myself--I have never even soldered before LOL.

Mary Anne

linda said...

I found a thread for this tutorial in one of the Etsy forums. This was very informative. I've been wondering how to do it. I also see stones that have gold just around the edges and I wonder if it's a similar process??? I don't have the equipment but I might invest in it because Ilove how organic the piece looks!!! Thanks

Unknown said...

Metalmuse - the bail is the loop that I use to string onto cord or chain. It could also be used to hang from earwires, etc. I have never removed it in the past.
What I meant by brushing off the build-up - if it starts to get a grainy texture, the copper is building up too fast, and it won't really stick. It brushes off very easily with a steel brush. It builds up more on items such as thin wire, so I find it necessary to brush it off. This does not remove the paint, as there is already a thick layer of copper over the paint. After brushing off the layer, you should be able to put it back in the solution and continue electroforming.

Linda -
Yes, you often see this done around the edge of geodes, it is the same process. Instead of painting the entire piece with conductive paint, only the edge is painted. Depending on the item, the rest is still sealed first, to protect it from the electroforming solution. Then, only the parts that are conductive will receive the copper plating. This technique is often done on glass lampwork beads with amazing results!

inspirations*** said...

It#s gret, but I have one more question: How can I electroform 24k gold? What is the difference?

Anonymous said...

If the amp is kept below 1, can you use a 5 amp instead of an 18? I was looking at the 5 amp kit at Rio Grande.

In Harmony said...

How do you burn out the items to be able to solder

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