Saturday, June 22, 2013

Marriage of Metals Tutorial

Marriage is what brings us together today. Marriage... of metals! This project contains at least two different shades of awesome, and I'm going to let you know, in reasonable detail, how to achieve that awesomeness for yourself.

Awww, I went for the pink latex, sucka!
I started off by acid etching a small sheet of 18 gauge copper. Eighteen gauge is a little thicker than one millimetre, and you are not going to want to go any thinner than that for this project. You want the acid to burn off a significant amount of your metal, so we have to use the thicker stuff.

Here is a list of the things you'll need to gather:

  • Ferric Chloride - this stuff stinks and it's fairly viscous. Keep everything clean and well ventilated. Ferric chloride is used to etch circuit boards, so you should be able to find it at an electronics supply store.
  • glass container - mine is about the size of a bread pan
  • packing tape
  • paintbrush
  • latex or nitrile gloves
  • resist for etching - as you can see from the photograph, I used Staz-On ink with some rubber stamps, but you can use other things for a resist including permanent markers, press and peel paper, spray paint (spray it on and scratch through it with something sharp) or nail polish. 
  • Baldwin's patina - this will patinate your copper without affecting the silver.
  • 18 gauge copper sheet
  • solder flux
  • silver solder (I used hard solder, but any temper will do)
  • solder tweezers and cross-locking tweezers
  • torch
  • soldering pad or brick
  • mild acid in a crock pot for pickling (I used Sparex)
  • a hand file (a flat bastard works! Hah!)
  • a ring clamp
  • emery papers in 600, 1000, and 1500 grit, or your choice of abrasive and polishing media
  • your jeweller's saw with blades and a bench pin to saw your shape out, OR
  • a disc cutter
  • you might need some extra PPE, such as goggles, apron and respirator.

Gadgetzan Waterworks, LLC. Immortalized in metal.

I scrubbed my metal with some soap and a cloth. I applied my resist by simply stamping a design onto the metal with Staz-On ink. True to its name, it did, in fact, stay on quite well during the etching process. 

If you use this method, you may pooch a few tries, as the stamp really likes to slide around on the metal and make a blurry mess of things. You need a steady hand and a bit of luck to get it right. If you get a big icky mess, you can always wipe it off and try again. I had to try 3 or 4 times to get it to where I wanted it.

Purple, blue, and pink in the same outfit. I figured we'd need a photograph for proof that it happened.

I got ready to use the Ferric Chloride, so I put on some goggles, an apron and my trusty, stinky, pink latex gloves. 

I put a length of packing tape on the back of my metal and burnished it down so that the Ferric Chloride would not seep underneath. As you can see from the photograph, this length of tape is long, and I used it to suspend the metal with the etch side down into the chemical bath from the sides of the glass dish. 

I agitated the solution every few minutes by rocking the dish back and forth. Do this gently - no splashing!

It took about 30 minutes to get to the depth I wanted. I tested the depth every ten minutes by lifting the metal from the bath and brushing it gently with my paintbrush to see how it was coming along. Some of the ink lifted off the design in places, so go gently with that paintbrush.

My peacock tail looked like a passably good etch. It was time to marry those metals!

I used quite a lot of flux (I just sprayed it on.) I heated the whole piece of metal, and then began placing my paillions of solder in all the low points. I cut the solder paillions quite large for this project - about 1mm square. You can try stick feeding the solder, or using solder paste if you like. I'm not sure if there is any "best way" to do this part, you just need to get the solder all over the place in an even layer.

I heated the metal up until the solder flowed, quenched the metal in cool water, pickled, and repeated the process a few times until I felt the solder layer was evenly distributed in all the etched points.

The metal looked like this coming out of the pickle. As you can see from the next photo, I cut a little bit off the edges. I wasn't going to use that metal and I didn't want to have to file too much, because in this project, filing is a BIG DEAL and you're going to do a lot of it.

You need to file your metal evenly until the copper peeks back through. This is a touchy process. You want to stop the filing before you're totally done, because there is still going to be some sanding with emery paper that will remove even more of the metal. Be careful that you don't take off too much. 

A word to the wise: use a ring clamp to hold your metal when you file. 


After I sanded my metal with emery papers to a satiny brushed finish, I scribed a nice oval on my metal and cut it out with a jeweller's saw. You can use this method if you like, or you can punch your metal with a disc cutter. I've also given my metal piece a subtle dome. You can do this with a dapping block, a mushroom stake and a nylon mallet or a hydraulic press, or you can leave your metal flat.

Baldwin's Patina will give your copper a beautiful caramel brown colour without affecting the colour of the silver solder. I bought this patina from Rio Grande, and the instructions state that you should clean your metal, heat it (the heat from the hot water in your tap is great) and then apply the liquid with a swab or brush. I had to rinse and repeat a few times to get the following colour:

Do you see how I filed just a bit too much in the middle? SNAP.
The patina is mostly comprised of ammonia, so it's a bit stinky. But you are already in a well ventilated area for this entire project, right?

Hmmm, what kind of setting should I make? Stay tuned...

I hope you enjoyed learning about this technique. It's a bit chemically intense, but it's a fairly straightforward technique. If you are inspired to make your own marriage-of-metals piece of jewellery, please share your results with me!


  1. Wonderful blog and techniques. Are you still publishing blogs...I was not able to find any new entries :(