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Plating Copper Jewelry

With the increase in popularity of copper in art jewelry making, you come up against the problem of soldering it. If you use silver solder, you have a silver line on your piece. If you use copper solder, you have a dirty silver line on your piece. Also, if you try any forging work on a joint soldered with copper solder, you will soon find out that it is very bridle and just doesn’t hold up. What to do?
When I have a piece I’m making in copper that requires soldering, I use silver solder, just as if I was soldering sterling silver, except that I use Prip’s Flux as it holds up better on copper. After the metal work is finished, any of the exposed solder joints stick out like a sore thumb. There is a very simple solution to remedy this problem. Here’s how:
Remember Silver Soldering 101 where the instructor emphatically told you to NEVER put IRON in your PICKLE!!! The reason for all the commotion is that the iron will cause a reaction with the copper ions in the pickle and plate your silver, which you don’t want. But we want to plate our silver solder, so here’s how.
Before we go into the technique, you may be asking how all of this copper go into your pickle. Good question. When you solder sterling silver, the heat causes the copper in the silver to oxidize, creating fire scale. In other words, fire scale is really just copper oxide. When you put your soldered piece in the pickle, you are removing most of the fire scale. As you use your pickle, you will notice that it starts to turn a pretty turquoise color. That’s because there is copper suspended in the pickle, waiting for you to put a piece of iron in it so it can attach (plate) to a piece of metal.
Back to our piece with silver lines on it. You want to use old, dirty pickle because nice, new, clean pickle won’t work (don’t ask me how I know…). Scoop out some pickle into a Pyrex container that is large enough to hold your piece, and make sure you cover your piece completely. I heat my pickle in the pickle pot first so that it’s hot when I put it into the separate container.
Place your copper piece into the bowl and add a piece of iron. I think it plates faster if you touch the iron to your piece, but you don’t have to. Experiment and see what works best for you. Leave you piece in for about 10 minutes to give you a nice thick plating. Remove the iron and piece and rinse both in clean water.
I usually just pour the pickle back in the pot, as I haven’t found any reason not to. Take your piece and finish it however you want. Brass brushing works well. If you want a high polish on your piece, I recommend you polish your piece first, clean thoroughly, then plate. After plating, you should be able to hit it with a final polish with Zam or Jeweler’s Rouge so that you don’t polish through your plating.
Experiment a little and have fun. Remember, copper is cheap, but you can produce beautiful jewelry with it. Good luck.

8 thoughts on “Plating Copper Jewelry

  1. Thanks for the great tip. I’ll try it soon and let you know how it works for me.

  2. This is a great tip Jeff! I don’t work with copper because of this and I was thinking about it yesterday! Wow! You saved the day!

    You are so smart!

    Sandra

  3. I work almost exclusively in copper as I am interested in learning how to solder well and usually my designs are way ahead of my skill level. SO, copper has been a great way to learn, BUT the solder issue has been vexing. I’ve tried this and now I feel that I may be able to market some of my work as it really looks great. Thanks for the great tip and being willing to help us beginners out. Best – LKR

  4. Hello Jeff
    Can I fully Copper plate a piece of Silver this way??
    Thank you

    1. Yes you can, although I don’t know why you’d want to!

  5. I am wanting to experiment with copper plating. After reading many articles about the process, a rectifier is necessary for anodes and cathodes. Would this copper saturated pickle achieve the same results?

  6. PS will it plate over graphite pint? Thanks.

    1. I don’t know, my guess is no.

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