The Making of Hand Drawn Copper Jewelry

June 16, 2014

Today I finished listing some new jewelry in my Shoppe that I am honestly very proud of. Making these copper components was one of the most complicated jewelry-making processes I've ever attempted. This was also my first first non-class project with a jeweler's saw (I took a Metals 1 course last semester, which I will be blogging about in two or three days!). Altogether the jewelry took a full workday to complete and photograph.

This isn't a tutorial so much as just an overview of what I did to make these pieces, but if you have any questions about the process feel free to ask in the comments or via email and I can explain in more depth.

(While I occasionally do use store-bought pendants in my jewelry, it's projects like this that make me want to laugh when people ask where I buy all my jewelry parts from. Thankfully I don't because that would be rude, but it's lots of fun to explain the processes!)

I started with a sheet of solid 18 ga copper and drew the designs I wanted to make with Sharpie.

The next step was sawing out all the individual pieces, bit by bit, completely by hand. 

I managed to break three saw blades and then break the fragments which I was still using to saw. I'm not particularly proud of that; my sawing technique needs a lot of help.

The bench pin I am working at is made out of pine. I simply cut out a v-notch and clamped it to my workbench. The yellow and black thing you see on the right of the picture is beeswax. I originally bought it for my pysanky egg-decorating, but it works pretty well for conditioning the saw blades.

At this point the pieces looked like this. (For those who don't get the reference, "OKAY" is an important line in The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. The movie just came out and, of course, my cheeks turned into rivers and the shoulders of my tshirt into overtaxed sponges. The story is so sad and so beautiful.)

Next, I etched the designs.

Sharpie works as a resist, so everywhere that I drew with Sharpie remained raised and everywhere else got eaten away by the Ferric Chloride acid. After soaking the copper in the acid bath I neutralized it in a solution of baking soda and warm water. To be on the safe side, after that, I dusted pure baking soda onto the dried-off copper and rinsed it off.

Copper looks like this after etching. It's not much until you attack it with steel wool.

You can't imagined out relieved and excited I was that this actually worked well!

The raised designs weren't very obvious, so the next step was oxidizing the metal!

I used my metal/leather hole puncher to punch the pieces (so I could string them on thin copper wire so  they wouldn't be so difficult to remove from the acid bath-- I learned that the hard way with the ferric chloride) and, wearing gloves, thoroughly scrubbed the pieces to remove debris and fingerprint oils.

(Fixing a the broken schnozzel for my hole puncher wasn't fun. I mostly bring this up because I love the word schnozzel. SCHNOZZEL.)

Then I prepared a Liver of Sulfur bath. This stuff smells like... well, sulfur. The rotten-egg variety of sulfur scent, to be more accurate. BLECH.

After neutralizing and cleaning, the copper is basically just black. Then I begin the process of very gently brushing with steel wool and polishing with three different grades of sandpaper. After a while, the raised designs are shiny and the recesses are dark brown or black (depending on how long I had them in the LOS).

Next, I filed and then sanded the edges. Sawing metal can create lots of nicks. You definitely don't want them catching on your skin, so I file every single edge. The sanding is to create a smooth, even shine on the surface of the copper.

Some of the pieces required more sawing at this point. The Celtic trinity knot was saw pierced, a process that lets me meticulously cut shapes out of the inside of a metal design. The new edges were filed and sanded, too.

I then used a spray called ProtectaClear (a body-salt resistant resin) to seal the oxidation and ensure that the nice polished raised designs won't naturally oxidize over time.

(Raw copper pieces-- like all of the copper wireworking I've done in the past-- naturally reacts with oxygen and turns dark brown over several months. A gently scrub with vinegar brings back the fresh, shiny copper).

One of the best things about the spray is that is keeps your skin from turning green! The greenness is not actually an allergic reaction, as I was taught growing up. It actually is a chemical reaction very akin to oxidation (the reason that pennies turn brown then green) and is just a buildup of molecules that washes right off the skin with soap. It's never a fun thing to deal with, though, which is why I am so fond of this spray. It's nontoxic, don't worry. :)

I used a dapping block on this small pendent to dome one of the pieces.

I haven't finished it yet but I'm doing another piece that is purely saw work with no etching or oxidizing.

The next several hours were spent doing techniques I am far more familiar with: beading and wireworking.

The results?

This "Mischief Managed" bracelet is inspired by the Marauder's Map in "Harry Potter" and has chainmaille in Gryffindor colors.

The bold, fantasical swirly thing bracelet (I literally can't come up with a nice, catchy, cheesy name for it-- sometimes coming up with names for pieces when listing them is really hard), modelled by my little sister.

 Medieval Swirl Hair Fork-- the front design was inspired by some circular knotwork I saw in some medieval manuscripts I was studying. Yes I do that. Yes it is fun. Some of the artwork in old manuscripts is beyond amazing.

The Fault in Our Stars inspired necklace-- the iconic "OKAY".

Another piece difficult to name-- "Etched Leaf Pendant" which is this cool fern-like leaf design that I use in a lot of my drawings.

Another TFIOS necklace-- "Okay? Okay. Necklace"

Triquetra (or "Trinity Knot") necklace.

I am SO BEYOND EXCITED about this technique, even though it's crazy complicated. The possibilities are well nigh endless!!!!!!!

That being said, what do you think I should make? I am looking for ideas because when I try coming up with ideas on my own I get so many that I can never narrow in and decide and can thus wind up using none of my ideas!

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  1. No fair! How dare you make such amazing jewelry that I want to buy absolutely everything in this post? :P I can tell that your Okay jewelry is gonna be CRAZY popular!

  2. This looks like so much work! SO COOL but man insane, girl, insane. ;)

  3. Wow! These are beautiful! It does look like a pretty intimidating process, but the end result is amazing. I would love it if you came by and linked up with us at The Makers link party over on my blog, :)


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