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Patinating with liver of sulfur

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Photo 1

Liver of sulfur (potassium sulfide or sulfurated potash) is a simple and relatively safe chemical patina for patinating a variety of common nonferrous jewelry-making metals. It works well on sterling silver, fine silver, shibuichi, and copper; some results on brass and nickel; no effect on gold or aluminum. It’s easy to use, and will create a range of colors to give depth and contrast to your pieces.


Liver of sulfur is commercially available in several forms. Rocklike chunks (Photo 1, right) is the most common form. Large chunks need to be broken into smaller, pea-sized pieces before using. Solid liver of sulfur is susceptible to moisture and light; keep it dry and the container tightly sealed. Liquid liver of sulfur (Photo 1, left) is good if you use a lot of it; it’s convenient to skip the dissolving stage, but the liquid has a relatively short shelf life, and deteriorates quickly. Gel (Photo 2) is easy to use and is stabilized, so it has the longest shelf life of all the forms.

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Photo 2

Before patinating, polish your piece and clean it with a degreasing soap. (If you tumble-polish your piece after patinating, reserve the shot for future patinated pieces, or scrub and rinse your shot and barrel thoroughly; the liver of sulfur residue can contaminate other pieces.)


Prepare a liver of sulfur solution according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Dip the metal in the solution for a few seconds (Figure), then rinse it in cool water to stop the chemical reaction. For a darker patina, continue to dip and rinse the metal in short intervals (short dips give you more control over the darkness of the patina). By using different temperatures and amounts of water to make the liver of sulfur solution, you can achieve different colors of patina; experiment to find the result you prefer.

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To remove or modify the patina, use a brass brush with soapy water, a polishing cloth, or pumice powder. If you don’t want your entire piece to have a patina, use a soft-bristle brush or a cotton swab to apply the liver of sulfur solution to select areas. Dip your brush into the solution, and dab it onto your piece. Follow the same instructions as above until you achieve the desired color.

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