Liver of sulfur can be a tricky material to work with, it’s never quite the same twice, yet every metalsmith swears by it. So, what’s the secret to this smelly gel and crumbling rock?
The secret lies in the application. The first step in working with any type of liver of sulfur is to clean whatever area you plan to patina. Grease and oils can create a pocket that could later led to chipped patina and your hard work wasted. A little degreasing agent (my favorite is Dawn dish soap) and a 3M scrubby pad work wonders on grease.Next, in a well ventilated area, fill an open glass or metal container with hot water. Or place the container on a Bunsen burner or other gentle, yet warm heat source. While wearing gloves, goggles and a respirator, you add a small amount of liver of sulfur to your heated water. If you are using the rocks, then a few small chunks or one chunk less than the size of your smallest finger tip will be plenty for any container about the size of a large soup pot. If you are using the gel, use no more than enough to coat a nickel, unless you plan to paint with it.
Now, with tongs you don’t mind patina-ing or a stirring rod, gently mix the liver of sulfur in the hot water until it is completely dissolved in the water. For an even stronger batch, feel free to add several teaspoons of ammonia per gallon. Stir once more.
Now the mixture is ready for your metal! Take your clean metal and gently lower it into the mixture, using tongs or rubber gloved hands. After 15 seconds, remove the metal and gently brass brush the patina-ed area in small circles, while running it under warm water. While you are brushing, you will see the majority of the patina fade or even disappear completely. Do not panic, the best way to create a lasting, beautiful patina is to apply it in multiple thin and even layers.
Once you have brass brushed the entire area that had been in the liver of sulfur, and if you would still like the patina to be darker, then place the metal back in the liver of sulfur mixture for another 15 seconds. After the 15 seconds, once again rinse the metal under warm water while brash brushing it in small, gentle circles. Repeat dipping, rinsing, and brushing until the desired shade has been reached. Liver of sulfur produces a wide variety of hues that range through purple, gray and deepest shades of charcoal and black. You will find different results on different metals, copper produces beautiful purple tones, where as silver tends towards a gun metal hue. The more thin layers, the darker the patina will be.
Liver of sulfur will not fade, but can easily be protected from scratches and chipping by applying a few coats of a clear acrylic spray. Just like any other patina, it is always an excellent idea to experiment on scraps and keep notes of your results for future reference.
If for whatever reason, you need to remove the liver of sulfur patina, simply heat all areas completely, as if you were intending to anneal the metal. The metal will not need to be annealed, simply evenly heated. After pickling, your metal should be a shiny as it was previous to the patina. The liver of sulfur mixture may be disposed of by diluting it generously with water.
Wishing you successful patinas!