Oxidisation – The Joys of Working with Liver of Sulphur

Only once have I used Liver of Sulphur (LOS) inside the house. It was the day I got it in the post and after extensive reading on the internet and in my jewellery books, as well as opening every window possible, I heated some water and added the LOS (in liquid form).

Well, all I can say is the smell didn’t seem too bad at first but even after I cleared everything away, the smell lingered on, and on, and on. I didn’t really do much with the solution that time as I was so aware of the smell going round the house!

So, I set up a table in the garage. Out there I have a couple of chipped mugs and a shallow glass dish dedicated to LOS, as well as disposable gloves, a roll of toilet tissue (in case of spills or to dry the silver when needed), bin bags, tweasers, brass brush, washing up liquid (enviromentally friendly brand) and an old apron.

To start with I make sure the silver pieces (I usually do this with pieces made from PMC) are polished and clean from all grease and any other desposits. Use rubber gloves so you don’t put any more oil from your hands on the clean pieces – also, it means you don’t forget to put your gloves on later (it saves you having stinky hands, and the first time I forgot, I was also wearing my silver wedding ring which went black really quickly!).

I pour some not-quite-boiling water into one of the chipped mugs and add the silver pieces to warm up in the water (I’ve got no heating in the garage so the water cools quite quickly). By the time I get out to the garage, the silver has heated up and is ready to be oxidised. In the other mug I have really cold water and I add some washing up liquid to it – my personal preference, as well as stopping the reaction, it also washes off the LOS ready for either another application or for taking indoors.

I have the liquid LOS and have found it easiest to brush it on – I can choose where to put it and how much to add. Then I either hold it between my thumb and first finger (it keeps the heat better that way – remember, no heating in garage) or place it in the shallow glass container. Sometimes holding the piece whilst oxidising means that hot-spots are formed and the colour is more random. Using the shallow glass container lets me see the colours changing and it’s also easier to pick up the item quickly (if the colour starts going too dark) when the container is shallow. Also it allows me to oxidise more than one piece at a time.

Also, using a brush means I have less clear up to do and hardly any chemically by-product to dispose of.

When the colour is how I want it, the piece is dropped in the cold water. I dry it off and if it needs another go, I gently use a brass brush on the piece before painting it again with the LOS. If the colour isn’t developing enough (maybe the piece is getting too cold), I put on the LOS quite thick and dip it in the hot water for a second or two at the most. The thicker layer of LOS isn’t washed away but the heat from the water will give a much quicker, and normally darker, result.

As each piece is coloured to my satisfaction, I drop them in the cold water so that they stop darkening and are ready to be taken inside. The gloves are either left there in a plastic bag (washing up type of gloves) or binned, if they are the disposable type. I’ve just remembered that I always tie my hair back and sometimes even wear an old hat because, as well as being a safety hazard, the eggy smell of the sulphur seems to cling on to my long hair if I don’t.

I worried about how to keep the patina from either fading or scratching off (LOS oxidisation is a surface treatment only) and had researched this on the internet. I worried that the beeswax and naptha mix wasn’t good to have in a house with a curious toddler (I keep all my chemicals and soldering equipment locked away but you can never be too careful) but have found an excellent wax called Renaissance Wax from KernowCraft. I found that they were really helpful and my order arrived really quickly.

Anyway, the wax works brilliantly and although it did change the colours slightly (I’m sure it did warn me on KernowCraft’s website), I’m really pleased with the end result.

Well, that’s how I use LOS. It may not be the most scientific or efficient method, but it works for me and I’m having fun with it.

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