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Best care for copper

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a little late to the party but here is my 2 cents

The first thing that EVERYONE should be aware of is that copper is not the most ideal metal for jewelry; once you get past the softness issue and all that you still have the issue that if copper is left in direct contact with skin it will cause sores due to the copper reacting with skin (it will happen to anyone, just might take longer on some than others). you cannot use copper for a ring or for ear hooks, you can get away with a copper necklace or bracelet but if it never gets taken off it could cause some issues. It was made very clear to us in my jewelry classes in college that you have to line copper rings with a silver inner band for them to be safe.

As for cleaning it, once you make a chain or sheet out of copper you cannot really physically abrade it to clean it. The best way to remove corrosion is going to be with pickle (its basically pool acid, you dissolve the powder in clean water, heat it up and put your metal in to it, be aware if you put steel into the pickle after you have used it before the dissolved copper from the coper oxide that got pulled off the tarnished metal will deposit itself on ANY AND ALL non ferrous metals in the pickle). The next best way is going to be tumbling with steel shot and it will probably give you a better polish than the pickle can give, but it takes longer.

To protect the copper from losing its shine the best way will be to lacquer it, but this can be very hard on a chain or sheet of maille, the next best way will be with floor polish (the johnsons yellow container is what we always used) you rub it on, let it sit a few mins then buff it off, again it is going to be hard to hit every spot of the chain though. The issue with wax is that if the piece is worn the wax will wear off over time.

as to aging of copper, you need what is called "Liver of Sulfur" you can get it pretty easily on line, it comes in a little tin and comes in yellow chunks. DO NOT LET ANY MOISTURE GET INTO THE CONTAINER, you will ruin the whole container if it gets moisture inside. You want to take a small piece of the liver of sulfur and dissolve it in water, then just dip the copper in, then rinse it under running water. If you use a soft brass brush in-between dips (after rinsing off the LoS and wetting the brush, IIRC you also want to use some dish soap on the brush) going in one direction it will help keep a shine to the patina you are building up. The hotter the water/LoS mix and the piece the faster the patina will build up, if you go to far you will get a black layer that flakes off so be careful if you want a heavy patina on it. Same preservation methods that work for keeping the shine work to keep that patina you make.

if you want other colors to your copper like the blue/green you will need to use something like ammonia, there are many professional patina solutions out there for copper and other metals (look on riogrande and casewell) or you can mix your own if you find good recipes and directions (some patinas will work in mins other will work in weeks or months).

Either way all of the above need good ventilation and proper safety precautions when using.

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a little late to the party but here is my 2 cents

The first thing that EVERYONE should be aware of is that copper is not the most ideal metal for jewelry; once you get past the softness issue and all that you still have the issue that if copper is left in direct contact with skin it will cause sores due to the copper reacting with skin (it will happen to anyone, just might take longer on some than others).

Interesting. My mother has worn copper anklets, bracelets and rings for well over 30 years for arthritis. She does not remove the anklets and bracelets. She has discoloration of the skin (greenish) but no sores. At 82 she is more interested in relief from arthritis than in a little discoloration. Her first pieces were copper pipe, split and hammered flat. None of the pieces were treated with a coating because the arthritis relief required direct contact.

Side note: My sister studied copper as a chemist and could find nothing scientific to back up the arthritis thing. None of us believed it would work, but Mom gave it a try anyway. She couldn't figure out why her joints ached badly until she found the nurses had removed her anklets when she was in the hospital. Putting them back on relieved her pain within a couple of hours.

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Interesting. My mother has worn copper anklets, bracelets and rings for well over 30 years for arthritis. She does not remove the anklets and bracelets. She has discoloration of the skin (greenish) but no sores. At 82 she is more interested in relief from arthritis than in a little discoloration. Her first pieces were copper pipe, split and hammered flat. None of the pieces were treated with a coating because the arthritis relief required direct contact.

Side note: My sister studied copper as a chemist and could find nothing scientific to back up the arthritis thing. None of us believed it would work, but Mom gave it a try anyway. She couldn't figure out why her joints ached badly until she found the nurses had removed her anklets when she was in the hospital. Putting them back on relieved her pain within a couple of hours.

My educated guess is that part of the sores forming has to deal with sweat building up and mixing with the copper oxide some how. The big warning to us was towards rings and ear hooks but it was highly suggested that we didn't use it for other jewelry either; but it was one of the few "don't ever do this when you make your work" guidelines we were give. Since it is on her ankle and a chain as apposed to a tight fitting solid band i would assume not as much sweat can build up under it.

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My educated guess is that part of the sores forming has to deal with sweat building up and mixing with the copper oxide some how. The big warning to us was towards rings and ear hooks but it was highly suggested that we didn't use it for other jewelry either; but it was one of the few "don't ever do this when you make your work" guidelines we were give. Since it is on her ankle and a chain as apposed to a tight fitting solid band i would assume not as much sweat can build up under it.

Well, if it was in relation to ear hooks, many many people (myself included) are highly sensitive to certain metals in the ears so that doesn't surprise me at all. I personally can't wear anything that is not gold for more than a couple hours or my earlobes start swelling and itching. With that said, extrapolating from something like earrings and rings to larger pieces like bracelets, anklets and necklaces seems like comparing apples to oranges. Also what happens to one person may not happen to the next. Maybe 1% would have a reaction and 99% wouldn't..that sucks if you're in the 1% but saying that the other 99 shouldn't wear it for that reason makes one say "Whyever not?" I've worn copper rings before that did nothing but discolor my finger. Did I wear them for years? No, but I don't wear any of my rings for years straight either.

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Well, if it was in relation to ear hooks, many many people (myself included) are highly sensitive to certain metals in the ears so that doesn't surprise me at all. I personally can't wear anything that is not gold for more than a couple hours or my earlobes start swelling and itching. With that said, extrapolating from something like earrings and rings to larger pieces like bracelets, anklets and necklaces seems like comparing apples to oranges. Also what happens to one person may not happen to the next. Maybe 1% would have a reaction and 99% wouldn't..that sucks if you're in the 1% but saying that the other 99 shouldn't wear it for that reason makes one say "Whyever not?" I've worn copper rings before that did nothing but discolor my finger. Did I wear them for years? No, but I don't wear any of my rings for years straight either.

I am just passing on what was taught to me by a jeweler with over 15 years experience and it seems to be the general consensus from bench jewelers. Most of the sore issues are pointed at earrings and rings, and like has been stated other jewelry will cause discoloration of the skin which in and of itself is a very good reason to prevent people from buying the jewelry. Then you also add in the cheapness of copper and the interpreted worth by the customer.

From my understanding the sores take some where in the weeks of time to develop from direct contact from the copper in general.

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True...but in response to the cheapness of copper, there are a goodly percentage of people who love copper and actively search for good copper pieces. I'm among them, even thought it turns my skin green.

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The first thing that EVERYONE should be aware of is that copper is not the most ideal metal for jewelry; once you get past the softness issue and all that you still have the issue that if copper is left in direct contact with skin it will cause sores due to the copper reacting with skin (it will happen to anyone, just might take longer on some than others). you cannot use copper for a ring or for ear hooks, you can get away with a copper necklace or bracelet but if it never gets taken off it could cause some issues. It was made very clear to us in my jewelry classes in college that you have to line copper rings with a silver inner band for them to be safe.

You are way off on many of your generalizations on the use of copper in jewelry. A copper ring, a band that does not move on the finger, is very different than other jewelry which does move. Both are completely different than piercings which need to be hypoallergenic. The allergic reaction you are referring to is probably not due to copper but due to other impurities in the metal such as nickle. I am currently wearing a copper/stainless steel bracelet that I have had on 24/7 for about 3 months and no issues yet. I made a permanet bronze bracelet for a friend and she has worn it 27/7 for 6 years and not issues. Making over generalizations like "it will happen to anyone, just might take longer on some than others" are suspect at best. Care to quote something to back up this very broad statement? Some people will probably have issues with copper but I doubt very much an absolute statement like "it will happen to anyone" is valid at all. When one talks in absolutes one is usually wrong.

As for cleaning it, once you make a chain or sheet out of copper you cannot really physically abrade it to clean it. The best way to remove corrosion is going to be with pickle (its basically pool acid, you dissolve the powder in clean water, heat it up and put your metal in to it, be aware if you put steel into the pickle after you have used it before the dissolved copper from the coper oxide that got pulled off the tarnished metal will deposit itself on ANY AND ALL non ferrous metals in the pickle). The next best way is going to be tumbling with steel shot and it will probably give you a better polish than the pickle can give, but it takes longer.

You can also tumble with an abrasive media such a rice or walnut shells. By the way, lemon juice is a mild acid and therefore a mild pickle. It is safer to use as well as it does not work as fast. One good point though is the fact that the lemon juice needs to be at least warm to work properly. Any mild acid will clean copper. The pickle you describe is more suited for removing fire scale after soldering than surface oxide and is much more dangerous to use than a household acid.

Liver of Sulfur is not the only way to patena copper. It is finiky and nasty stuff to work with. A much simpler method is to boil an egg, cut it open to expose the yolk, wrap the egg in damp paper towel, put it in a ziplock bag and then your copper piece in the bag. It is a slower process then liver of sulfur but is more controllable. The patina is caused by the release of sulfur from the egg much the same a liver of sulfur. An egg lasts about 24 hours so if you want it darker replace the egg. The main thing is to not allow the egg to touch the metal. There is no ventelation of safety issues with eggs.

Softness; A major factor in metal hardness is temper which ranges from dead soft to spring hard and is relative to the material used. For example spring hard copper is still softer than half hard stainless steel. Copper from wiring is dead soft as it needs to bend as much as possible. This is very different than the copper that TRL uses which is full hard. When you make rings from wire you work harden it a bit. The harder the wire the less likely the rings are to pull apart.

Movak

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I am just passing on what was taught to me by a jeweler with over 15 years experience and it seems to be the general consensus from bench jewelers. Most of the sore issues are pointed at earrings and rings, and like has been stated other jewelry will cause discoloration of the skin which in and of itself is a very good reason to prevent people from buying the jewelry. Then you also add in the cheapness of copper and the interpreted worth by the customer.

From my understanding the sores take some where in the weeks of time to develop from direct contact from the copper in general.

Experience in jewelry does not necessarily mean experience in the medical aspects of metals. Some have concentrated on the art of metal rather than the science. Many jewelers do not like working with copper because they see it as cheap. A commercial jeweler would prefer spending time making something in silver that they can sell for $200 than spend the same amount of time to make it in copper and sell it for $50. They then pass on their bias to students and it perpetuates.

The statement "jewelry will cause discoloration of the skin" is not all that accurate either. The only time I have a discoloration issue is when I am sweating a lot. Most of the time I don't have an issue. Another issue is that much of the discoloration issue is caused by copper band bracelets. These bracelets do not move and thet trap sweat beneath them. This increases the discoloration issue. Chainmaille on the other hand move much more so has much less of a trapped moisture issue. The "discoloration" comes off with soap and water so it is not a big issue. A more accurate statement would be "jewelry can, at times, cause discoloration of the skin. One major benefit of copper is its health benefits. Whether it is placebo effect or real (I have good anecdotal evidence that in some people it is real) is debatable but some people choose copper for that reason.

Movak

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My Dad has worn a copper bracelet that I made him for going on 2 years now. No issues.

I love copper. It's a beautiful metal and many, many people love to wear it. It pairs nicely with so many other materials that I'd have a hard time not using it.

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I have been wearing copper jewels since I was a child, the first was a simple bracelet my mother offered me for my 7th birthday. I am now 38 years old and I still wear copper, no more bracelet because I don't like bracelets but a necklace that I keep night and day all year.

I changed the model twice but it still was copper. The one I wear now is on my neck for more than six years (and the last has been on it for more than ten years). It is not permy, I can take it off to wash it correctly (I do it with lemon juice) but I never take it off for more than five minutes.

All that being said, I can insure I never had any problem with that, no sores, not even any green skin or discoloration. The only annoying thing is that at night it tarnish a lot probably because of more sweating and I must clean it often.

Copper has always been my favorite metal, not because it is cheap but because of his warm red color. I really love it and I think I will wear some all my life.

Edited by Alianhor

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Movak, first i don't have my old literature handy to try and cite a text source, I tried to check for it in some sources i had handy and cannot find the direct reference to it (but the source it talking about the metal generally not in the context of jewelry making; there are many comments about the acetates, sulfates, and chlorides that are produced through natural patina forming, which all have very clear MSDS notes about not getting them on your skin). The first time we were taught about this was when we were making rings out of copper and brass and it was explained to us that we had to put a fine silver inner band in the ring to make it safe to wear due to all the issues talked about. From what i understand the big issues with sores comes from constant, direct, tight contact on the skin because the chemicals from the patina are absorbed by the skin and cause issues.

The metalsmith that taught me actually works with a lot of "cheap" metals in her work including copper, she also had a scientific background before she went into metals and has a very good understanding of the reactions with the skin they can cause. I will agree that part of the push back from using copper in many situations comes from the view that it is cheap but I was also learning in a "studio jewelry" environment that is much more open to copper usage in work.

The issues with copper are just things that people need to be aware of if they are trying to sell their work.

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You may be right in the case of "constant, direct, tight contact on the skin " but that has nothing to do with chainmaille bracelets or necklaces as neither of them have constant, tight contact with the same part of the skin. In the case of a ring it is very difficult to wash the salts from the inside of the ring as it is direct contact with the skin. That is not the case with other non piercing jewelry. You made it sound like everyone would have an issue with any jewelry made from copper and that is not true. Your original statement was an over generalization of a very specific issue; the build up of salts under a ring.

Most jewelry schools use copper as a practice metal as is acts similarly to sterling but is much less expensive.

Movak

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I cannot add to the scientific debate, but I can say that I have very sensitive skin and copper has not caused me problems so far. I love the look, heft, and feel of copper. I was in Chile two years ago and everyone was wearing copper. (It is very inexpensive there because of the copper mines.) I picked up a couple of scroll-wire bracelets that I watched being made for under $3 combined. I gave them as gifts and wish I had bought myself something at the same time.

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http://www.mailleart...y.cgi?key=27388

Copper is not the boogeyman, it will not cause sores unless you're wearing a solid banded finger ring three sizes too small, and sweat profusely.

For chainmail uses, your pieces are loose enough on the body, and have enough movement due to the way chainmail weaves work, that one section of the piece will never be in constant contact with one portion of your skin.

SR_matt: I appreciate your warning, and that you and your teacher meant well... But I think you'll find that a potentially isolated reaction based on a specific body chemistry, was passed on verbatim as "THIS WILL HAPPEN EVERY TIME, STOP IT OR ELSE!"

I'm VERY familiar with metals and their reactions to strange body chemistries, both due to personal relations, and through reading profusely on the subject.

Copper should not be used as piercing jewellery, and you probably want to not wear a solid band three sizes too small in summer in arizona while running on a treadmill...

Thankfully, Copper Sores (in general) disappeared when Copper Miners stopped drinking the copper infused water in copper mines... And aside from a few cases of corrosive sweat and absorbtion of the copper-salt mixture via the skin... The average human stays WELL below the tolerable upper intake... Even those of us that work with electrical for a living, and end up with copper slivers under our skin. :ninja:

Edited by Daemon_Lotos

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I'm a red head with sensitive skin. Love, love, love the look of copper and is the metal I wear the most. I don't react at all. Body chemistry is so different person to person.

Copper is becoming my biggest seller. The older generation flocks to it cause it is supposed to help joint pain. I certainly never make any claims that it does since I don't know and tend to be skeptical about such such things.

The most common questions I get are:

Will it turn my skin green? Maybe, but it doesn't turn mine green. Everyone reacts a little differently.

Does it tarnish? Yes, but I clean mine with ketchup.

Does it help artritis pain? I have no clue.

I get to entertain people by telling them I clean copper with ketchup.

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On the topic of copper... I'm also a redhead but I have very sensitive skin. I can only wear hypoallergenic metals for long periods. For rings they need to be silver or gold. Other metals, like copper, very quickly turn my skin green, bumpy and very itchy. I can't even wear plated rings.

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1) I love the ketchup anti-tarnish cure! Thank you to whoever first figured that one out ( I know it's not as revelatory, as, say, well...Einstein-ian relativity, but, you know, lots of things are right there in front of you, just waiting for the dots to be connected...)

2) My copper actually tarnishes in between wearings, and my body chemistry is such, that all I need do is start wearing them again to clean them, bright and shiny...( I don't think wearing them into the shower hurts either. ) That's not to say I never clean them up, though (with ketchup, of course!...)

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I love copper, especially combined with sterling silver and bronze. Both copper and bronze will discolor my skin if I sweat while wearing them and if you mix sunscreen into the mix the copper will turn a tan color similar to tan M&M candies.

I've never had a problem with copper causing sores, the back of my watch on the other hand...probably some nickel in there cause I had contact dermatitus for years on my left wrist where my watch sat. Finally found a stainless steel backed watch, switched the watch to my right wrist and have had no problems since.

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