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How to Patina Copper

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This past week I was trying to make my mom a Mother’s Day present and needed to figure out how to patina copper. It was a pretty simple process once I went through a few trial and errors so I figured I would write up a short tutorial going over my experience. First big take away I learned was that the big box stores do not have real copper. I saw copper sheets for sale in the sheet metal section and picked up five only to later discover that they are actually aluminum sheets just colored copper. So call around and see who in your area sells real copper.

Things I used:

I started out by gathering all the materials I would need to make a fume chamber.  This is going to be an enclosed chamber where the copper will patina during the process.  I drilled holes in the sides of the clear tub I used for the chamber.  With all the holes drilled in each side, I inserted 3/8″ dowel rods into the holes, spanning from one side of the tub to the other. The dowel rods will serve a type of “bridge” to keep the copper sheets out of the fluid I add in later on.

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With the tub finished up, I moved on to preparing the copper sheets.  I start by sanding the copper sheets with 220 grit sand paper.

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After the sanding was finished up I moved on to giving all  of the sheets a good washing with soap and water to get all of the grit, grime, and oils off.  This part is important since all of these things will interfere with the patina process. Once they were washed and rinsed, I did my best to not touch the surface of the sheet and handle them by touching the outer edges only.  I then sprinkled sea salt evenly over the entire area of the sheets.

Ammonia is the main ingredient in this process.  I poured some ammonia into a generic spray bottle to make the application a little easier than the big bottle it comes in.   I was sure to do this in a well ventilated area and wore chem gloves to protect my hands.

I poured in some ammonia to the bottom of the tub but not high enough to contact the wooden dowels.  Then I placed the copper sheets on the dowel rods and let them sit over night with the lid on the tub.  After about 8-10 hours of sitting in the tub, I pulled them out the following morning. They were beautiful! A brilliant aqua blue with a very pretty copper background. Well…..except for one.  One sheet did not patina quite as well as some of the others so I applied a bit more salt, sprayed on a coat of ammonia from the spray bottle, then let it sit in the chamber for another day…which did the trick.

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The last step before using these patina copper sheets, was to lock in the patina. I used some spar urethane clear coat to try and freeze in the color exactly where it was.  Unfortunately this did effect the color some.  It changed the color from the brilliant blue to a more of a green color but is still very appealing nonetheless.

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If you liked this project and want to stay up to date with what I’m building, then be sure to sign up for my email newsletter and you’ll get an email when I post something new. See you soon!

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