Recently I tried a tutorial by B'Sue Boutiques that uses apple cider vinegar and salt to add color to brass. I've used chemicals to color metals, but the idea of using natural products—especially those easily found in the grocery store—really appealed to me.
Reasons Why You Might Want to Patina Metals
You can buy lots of metals with pretty finishes on them, so why would you want to bother doing it yourself?
Here are a few reasons:
- First, it makes your pieces unique. Even if you use this exact same method, I can guarantee your pieces won't look exactly like mine. Jewelry is a crowded market and coloring your own pieces is another way to stand out.
- More options. Rather than having to choose from the colors available from other shops, you can make the shade you want.
- Raw (unplated) brass is usually less expensive than metal that is already plated. You can save a little money by adding the finish yourself.
- It's fun! Doing something like this brings out my "mad scientist" side. I love looking at basic recipes and then tweaking them to see what might happen.
The most important step at this stage is to clean your brass thoroughly with soapy water. Brass sometimes comes with a bit of grease on it from the machine process and if you leave that on, your finish won't be even. Rinse the soap off completely and dry the pieces before you start.
I also covered my glass dish of vinegar-and-salt mixture, which I don't believe is mentioned in the instructions. I'm not sure if it made a difference in how my finish turned out, but it did mean that my whole house did not smell like vinegar!
(And yes, the "before" photo is a little blurry. Sorry!)
Be sure to let the pieces cool after they come out of the oven! I know that sounds like obvious advice, but trust me, you'll forget all common sense when you see your pieces and you'll want to touch them right away.
If you're not happy with the color, you can do the process again. The octopus shown here went through the process twice. I did not bake it for as long as the directions said, maybe only 10 minutes or so each time (instead of 15-20) because I didn't want the finish to be too dark. If you leave it in longer, it can darken to more of a brown, gingerbread color.
After you're satisfied with the color, you will need to get rid of some of the baked-on salty debris. To do this, I used a very sophisticated piece of studio equipment—an old, soft sock with a hole in the heel—to buff the piece by hand.
Finally, you will need to seal the finished piece to protect the color. I'll seal mine with Renaissance Wax, my go-to product for sealing much of my metalwork. This product is what museums use for antique restoration. It seems expensive for such a small container, but you only need the tiniest dab for each piece. I've had my Renaissance Wax for about five years and at this rate it will last at least another five.
In addition to the text instructions, Brenda Sue also made a video demonstrating this same patina technique and a video demonstrating some finishing techniques. I found this technique straightforward and easy to do. It doesn't take a lot of hands-on time, which is nice. You can put the pieces in the solution and go do something else while they soak for an hour or two. Once they're in the oven, you'll want to keep a close eye on them so you can pull them out once you have the color you want. Good luck!