Metal Magic: Electroforming Organic and Other Materials for Jewelry Making

 
It was at only the eleven-second mark in the DVD that I saw this image–and when I knew I had to have it!

For weeks now, my friend and co-worker Denise Peck (editor of Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry, author of great jewelry-making books, and host of fun and instructional jewelry-making DVDs) has been teasing me with photos of her electroformed pieces of organic material, such as seed pods and tiny flowers that she turns into amazing unique jewelry.

Her new electroforming DVD is finally finished, and I'm so excited about the possibilities for turning all the stuff–leaves, bits of sea creatures, seed pods, acorn caps, and other bits that I've been collecting in nature for years–into jewelry. I have tons of seashells and sea creatures saved from beach trips with my mom, flowers and seed pods collected in my grandmothers' yards and gardens, pressed flowers saved from various authors' graves and gardens during a semester in England, and so many more bits and pieces–all of which can become meaningful jewelry mementos.

You might be thinking, "Hold on, missy. What is electroforming, anyway?" I'm so glad you asked!

What is Electroforming?

Simply put, electroforming allows you to use low-voltage electricity to coat organic (and other) objects with a layer of real metal. All of the intricate designs in patterns you see on seashells, leaves, flower petals, acorns, etc., could take days to re-create using traditional metal fabrication techniques–if you can do it at all. But with electroforming, you can preserve and display those pieces in real metal, such as copper, silver, even gold and others.


 

The Electroforming Process, Explained

Some of the supplies needed for electroforming are unique but readily available from jewelry-supply companies and websites. You need a rectifier (which converts electricity from your outlet to a low enough voltage and current to work with), a glass beaker, electroforming solution (which contains the metal particles in all cases except copper and which allows the electricity and the metal particles to move in the beaker), distilled water (tap water will leave mineral deposits on your electroformed piece and alter its color), the anode piece (which conducts electricity–an 8- to 10-gauge copper wire coil, in this case, but a metal strip of whatever metal you're electroforming with works otherwise), and the cathode piece (which is the item you're electroforming).

During copper electroforming, the low-voltage electricity causes copper particles to come off the anode, pass through the electroforming solution, and attach themselves to the piece you're electroforming, which you've suspended in the solution. However, you can electroform with just about any metal–silver, gold, nickel, etc. You need to purchase the proper electroforming solution for the metal you want to use, because for metals other than copper, the solution actually has particles of the metal suspended in it, and it's those particles that attach to your piece. With copper electroforming, however, the metal particles actually come from the anode (the copper wire coiled inside the beaker).

In every case, the electricity, solution, and anode work together to deposit metal particles on the cathode piece. When you're electroforming with other metals, you don't need the wire coil to surround your piece because the metal particles are in the electroforming solution, and it surrounds your piece; so a strip or two of whatever metal you're electroforming with can serve as your anode.

electroformed found objects like seed pods, shells, and more

Preparing Items for Electroforming

Before preparing your piece for electroforming, remember to add a jump ring, bail, or other finding so that you can use it in jewelry making and have a way to connect it to other jewelry-making materials. Denise recommends attaching the finding before electroforming so that the whole thing (organic piece and finding) will electroform together at once and look like one cohesive piece. She simply glues on a jump ring, etc., and allows it to dry.

organic found objects with interesting shapes and textures, perfect for electroforming

To electroform organic material like Denise's interesting and detailed collection, above, you must seal it in several coats of lacquer (Denise prefers water-based lacquer, for ease of use and clean up) to strengthen and protect it from sagging or collapsing in the electroforming solution. (Plastic, glass, metal, and other less delicate and nonporous pieces don't require lacquering.) Denise uses tweezers to dip the item in lacquer and taps off excess lacquer so that it doesn't fill up the interesting negative spaces in the item you're electroforming. After allowing it to dry, you repeat that process to create a few layers of lacquer on your item.

  acorns during the electroforming process

When electroforming materials that aren't metal, you have to make them conduct electricity. To do that, you simply coat the items with metal-conductive paint (such as silver or graphite, which Denise uses) and dry. That's the final step before the electroforming magic begins.

How cool is that? So if you'd like to see more of Denise's electroformed creations and learn the rest of the process for electroforming found objects, natural/organic materials, and just about anything else (and I know you do!), order her Easy Electroforming for Jewelry DVD. And if you're like me and you really can't wait, you can instantly download it (also in HD) from the Jewelry Making Daily Shop!

P.S. Want to learn more about electroforming? Read my next blog about it.

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Tammy Jones

About Tammy Jones

I'm the editor of Jewelry Making Daily. I also have my own handmade jewelry business on Etsy, Southern Baubelles. I love working with metal clay, found objects, silver, copper, brass, enamel, resin, and genuine gemstones. I also enjoy knitting, paper crafts like card making and scrapbooking, cooking, traveling, the seashore, and snow!

12 thoughts on “Metal Magic: Electroforming Organic and Other Materials for Jewelry Making

  1. Hi Marilyn,

    It’s actually a DVD, not a book–just wanted to clarify! And yes, it does have info about electroforming with silver. Denise uses copper in her demonstrations, but the process is the same, you just use different wire and different solution.

    Thanks for reading!
    Tammy

  2. Does the book talk about electro forming photographic images? I just purchased the unit to do electro forming, not even out of the box yet. Definitely buying this book!

  3. I’m very interested in the DVD, but before purchasing it I’m hoping to have some questions answered. How much are the equipment and supplies going to cost? Where can we buy the rectifier, etc.? Somewhere I’ve seen it mentioned that we should use a 10 amp rectifier (for jewelry and small items). Rio Grande only seems to offer 3 or 5 amp rectifiers, and they aren’t cheap. )I don’t want to be ordering from a bunch of different suppliers.) Can we submerge more than 1 item at a time in the beaker size shown in the above photo? How expensive are the copper plates?

    Thanks for the help. I’m anxious to get started.

  4. Hi Artsy, thanks for writing.

    Denise says a 3- or 5-amp rectifier is just perfect for the purpose of electroforming small things like these, and it’s why Rio now sells the smaller, inexpensive ones. Sherri Haab sells a whole kit with plastic beakers, the solution, a tiny rectifier (the one Denise used in the DVD), the conductive paint needed for non-metallic items, and a thick copper coil of wire for the anode, all for about $250. http://www.sherrihaab.com

    Denise said she has never submerged more than one item at a time, so she can’t speak to that part of your question. I imagine if the pieces are small enough and leave plenty of room for the solution to move around them, it should work and would be a good experiment.

    The copper plates can be ANY copper, even purchased in a hardware store for a couple bucks, or thick copper wire, also available in hardware stores.

    Hope that helps! Thanks for reading JMD.
    Tammy

  5. What is the difference between Sherri Haab’s rectifier and Rio’s? Unfortunately, I purchased some items through Rio and when I looked at Sherri’s webpage I saw that she sold a kit. Would she sell her rectifier separate, if it were higher amperage than Rio?
    Thanks!

  6. I purchased the DVD and am anxious to get started! I am, however, having difficulty finding the small rectifier Denise uses in her demonstration. (I have limited space and really would prefer the smaller one!) I can’t seem to find it on line except, as you mentioned, in Sherri Haab’s line and that only as part of a kit. I’d be most grateful if you could tell us who makes it or where to find it individually!

  7. len52Mar, Sherri’s rectifier is much much smaller than the one from Rio; it’s about the size of two decks of cards, stacked on top of each other.

    Thanks for your question! Good luck with electroforming!

  8. AntNance, I spoke with Denise and she believes that the small rectifier that Sherri created for her kits is only available through her. However, you might try writing Sherri and asking if she’ll sell just the rectifier, since you have everything else.

    Good luck! Thanks for your question!

  9. Hello
    I live in the UK so I think I would need a region 2 DVD to play on my player or do the play on any computer? Can I buy the DVD through you and can you tell me how much the total cost is and how to buy it.
    Thank so much for your time x

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