Easy Patina Finishes for Copper and Brass – a Tutorial

by Rena Klingenberg.

Patina finishes - brass

Brass cuff bracelet with rustic patina finish by Rena Klingenberg

Now we’re going to put easy patina finishes on the Rustic Cuff Bracelets we made in Part 1 of this tutorial.

Rustic copper patina finish by Rena Klingenberg

Rustic copper patina finish by Rena Klingenberg

One of the fun things about working with patinas like this one is that the result is usually a surprise!

This one unexpectedly turned out looking like a landscape painting with a tree over at the left side:

Copper patina finish - looks like a landscape painting

There are so many factors that can affect the color, pattern, and intensity of your patina that it would be difficult to get the exact same result twice.

So get ready for a fun experience in creating a rustic finish for your cuff bracelet (or other metal project)!

Caution:
Patinas made with ordinary household products may be harmful if ingested, inhaled, or worn against the skin. Use in well ventilated area, preferably outdoors.

Before starting this project, see Homemade Patina Precautions for safety guidelines.

Supplies:

  • The copper or brass cuff bracelet you made in my Rustic Cuff Bracelets Tutorial.

    (Or other copper or brass item that has NOT been varnished. Many commercially-available jewelry and hardware metals have been varnished).

    This is the copper bracelet we made in my tutorial:

    Copper cuff bracelet

  • Liquid dish soap (such as Dawn or whatever brand).
  • Empty plastic grocery container such as the kind used for sour cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc. The lid should fit pretty tightly.

    This should be a container you will NOT use for food again.

    Also, this container needs to be tall enough so that when the lid is closed, there’s plenty of room inside for your bracelet plus several wadded-up paper towels.

    This is one of the containers I used:

  • Several paper towels.
  • Regular household ammonia.

    Warning: Due to the ammonia fumes, I highly recommend doing this project outdoors if at all possible. If you can’t go outdoors, please work quickly, safely, and in a VERY well-ventilated area.

  • Wear appropriate protection – gloves, goggles, and breathing protection.
  • Salt.

    Patina finishes - ammonia and salt

  • #0000 steel wool – one or two small pieces.
  • Sealant – I use a clear, matte-finish, spray-on sealant called “Tree House Studio” Clear Acrylic Matte Coating, from Hobby Lobby.
    Krylon also has a product that’s pretty much the same thing, and about the same price.

Patina finishes - brass rustic cuff bracelet by Rena Klingenberg

First, Clean Your Metal:

IMPORTANT: Start with clean metal.

We need to clean your metal to remove all traces of skin oils and anything else that may resist the patina.

So before beginning the patina process, wash both sides of your metal bracelet thoroughly with a generous amount of liquid dish soap.

After washing off all of the dish soap, sprinkle a small amount of baking soda onto both sides of your bracelet and scrub it well with your steel wool.

Scrub in the same direction as the grain of your metal.

Wash off all traces of baking soda – and then without letting your skin touch the newly cleaned metal, dry it thoroughly with paper towels.

How to Create Easy Patina Finishes:

In the bottom of your plastic grocery container, place a couple of wadded-up paper towels, and then pour ammonia over them till the towels are saturated:

Sprinkle a generous amount of salt over the ammonia-soaked towels, and then set your bracelet on top of them:

Patina finish for copper bracelet

Wad up another paper towel or two, and place them on top of the bracelet.

Ideally these towels should be covering the entire outside surface of your bracelet.

Pour ammonia over these paper towels to soak them.

Then lift up the paper towels and sprinkle a light layer of salt on top of the ammonia-dampened bracelet.

Now place the ammonia-soaked paper towels back over the bracelet, so they have contact with the entire outside surface of your bracelet:

Put the lid tightly on your plastic container:

Important: Set the closed container where curious pets and children can’t access it.

How Long Does
the Patina Process Take?

Your patina can take anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of days.

It’s up to you to decide when it’s achieved the color or look you want.

Dark multicolor copper patina finish

You may want to check on your patina process after about half an hour – and then at least every couple of hours after that.

Don’t be surprised if your paper towels change colors before your metal does:

My copper bracelet patina here took about 9 hours to reach the depth of color I wanted.

In the photo below, I’m checking it about 5 hours into the process.

See this cool “snakeskin” look created by the paper towel texture touching the metal? That was a neat surprise:

Checking the progress of the copper patina

When Your Patina is Done:

When your patina has reached a look you like, remove your bracelet from the container and set it on a paper towel to dry.

I’ve noticed that the color develops a little further when I let my metal air dry right after removing it from the patina.

Once your bracelet has air-dried, wash it carefully under running water.

Some of the patina may wash away, but there should still be plenty of it on your metal.

If it’s darker or denser than you want, take a clean piece of #0000 steel wool and gently rub off some of the patina in the areas you’d like to lighten it up.

You can also selectively buff any areas of your patina to customize your bracelet’s appearance.

Rustic copper patina almost looks like a painting

Sealing Your Patina Finish:

If you don’t use some sort of sealant, your patina will naturally continue to darken or tarnish – which eventually will change or cover your original patina finish.

And because the finished patina surface itself may be harmful, always seal any items that have undergone a patina procedure.

A day or two after the patina process, when the patina is finished and dry, seal it using a clear spray lacquer.

Apply at least three light coats of lacquer on every patina surface of the metal, drying each coat thoroughly before applying the next coat.

I use a clear, matte-finish, spray-on sealant called “Tree House Studio” Clear Acrylic Matte Coating, from Hobby Lobby.

Krylon also has a product that’s pretty much the same thing, and about the same price.

Sealing your patina preserves it – although it does often darken or deepen the color somewhat.

“Fuming” – An Alternative Way
to Use This Same Patina Recipe:

Here, instead of burying your bracelet in the ammonia-soaked paper towels, we’ll hang it above them.

The ammonia fumes rising from the paper towels inside the tightly-closed container will create the patina on your metal.

I used this “fuming” method to create the rustic patina on my brass bracelet:

Golden-green brass patina finish

Place wadded-up paper towels in the bottom of your plastic grocery container.

Soak them with ammonia, and sprinkle salt generously on top.

Wipe both sides of your bracelet with these ammonia-soaked paper towels.

Sprinkle salt on both sides of your bracelet.

Rig up two wires across the top of the container and hang your bracelet on them:

Brass patina - fuming with ammonia and salt

Close the plastic container tightly, and set it out of reach of pets and children.

As with the other patina process method, check on the progress of your metal in about half an hour – and then at least every couple of hours after that.

When you decide your patina has reached your desired color and depth, remove your bracelet from the container.

As mentioned above, air dry your bracelet (salt and all) on a paper towel:

Brass patina - ammonia and salt

Follow the instructions above for washing and sealing your bracelet’s patina finish.

I hope you have fun with this project – and I’d love to see your finished rustic cuff bracelet (or any other item you patina with this process)!

Brass rustic cuff bracelet with patina finish

Rustic copper cuff bracelet after patina process

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Comments

  1. Rena, it’s fantastic again! Thank you for sharing this great secret :)

  2. Maritza Schwindt says:

    Rena, what can I say this too is great! I am surprised it is so easy. I will be staying busy making jewelry. Thank you for sharing this project.

  3. wow! I want to try! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hi Rena!
    What a great tutorial…I am already thinking of pendants and connective disks decorated with the same process. Thank you for sharing.
    Your site is a great inspiration.

  5. This is great! I’ve read about ammonia + salt, but your application method is great. I’m going to try this along with the sawdust method.

  6. Another great tutorial. Love this. I haven’t tried this method yet. I’ve been lazy – using LOS. I have to try this!

    Zoraida

  7. Looks awesome!:)

    Yogy creations

  8. These are fantastic! The finish is so gorgeous! I love them and you do amazing work :)

  9. My brain is on fire right now! :) I’m using various brass elements, embellishments in my mixed media decoupage. And how cool they would look with a bit of patina. Thanks a lot for this tutorial. Must say that I keep wondering whether the process could be altered so that it’s possible to patina wood that is sealed perhaps with liquid bitumen. Perhaps instead of using ammonia I could try cider vinegar… ?? Anyways, beautiful pictures and very clear instructions, thanks a lot.

  10. I love the way the brass bracelet turned out. I think I’m going to have to give “fuming” a try!

  11. Hi Rena: I tried this method with a silver cuff and it actually didn’t seem to work. I left it in the closed container over 24 hours and when I opened it, the paper was a little blue but the bracelet only had a blue spot and black crusty pieces on some small areas. Not sure if I did something wrong. What do you think happened? I have to say that the only Ammonia I found was a lemon one so it was not clear. I wonder if that was the issue. Can you offer any thoughts?

  12. I love this. Thanks for sharing this. Can’t wait to try it. One question, could you texture your bracelet first and then patina for a different look? Thanks.

  13. Very cool. Thanks for sharing this easy and clearly written tut. Now to check the cupboards to see if I have any ammonia….

  14. Thanks so much for sharing these two tutorials. ;-)

  15. What a great tutorial! Thanks! I have to try this :)

    Now I just need to start collecting all the tools to work with metal ^^

  16. Thanks so much for your lovely comments on this patina process!

    Tina, I haven’t tried this patina on silver – but different metals have different reactions (or possibly no reaction) to patina recipes, so that may be an issue with what you experienced.

    Kay, you can definitely texture your metal first – and I’m sure the effects after the patina process will be fascinating! I’d love to see how that turns out for you, if you’d like to post your results here in the JMJ gallery!

  17. I am seriously going to faint ! THANK YOUUU! I have been looking for different patinas for some tribal brass brooches and this is perfect.

  18. This tutorial is great, so clear with every step. I am new at making jewelry and have so much to learn. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  19. Thank you so much for this. I have a large sheet of thick copper that I want to make into a wall hanging – it’s too thick for jewellery. I’ve been looking for ideas, and your patinas are fantastic. xx

  20. Can I reuse the same soaked paper towels for the second cuff?

  21. Thanks for all the kind feedback on this project! :)

    Tracy Lin, I don’t think I’ve ever experimented with re-using the soaked paper towels. I’d say to give it a try and see what happens. I don’t see how it could do any harm.

  22. erwinn says:

    Hi Rena, I would like to ask you instead of using chemical substance is it possible to apply transparent colors on copper surface?thanks and keep on good tutorial works

  23. Erwinn, You can use alcohol inks on metal for transparent color with nice results. See my easy tutorial, Coloring Metal with Alcohol Ink.

  24. bev bona says:

    this is so awesome!!! i wish i knew how to do this with steel sheet metal. i’d like to make a shelf for my kitchen.

  25. I just used the salt and vinegar fuming method on two old brass end tables. The brass tops didn’t clean up so good, so I needed to figure out how to transform them… and this patina turned out GREAT!!! I’m so happy with them! Tones of brown, turquoise, and copper tones came through the patina on the brass… Beautiful! Thank you!

  26. Julie, I’m so thrilled to hear about your results with your brass end tables! What a fantastic makeover idea. Thanks for sharing that. :)

  27. Judy Pinchback says:

    Rena, you are such an inspiration. Whenever I get discouraged I go looking for you and VOILA I’m ready to go again! I have only been making wire jewellery for about a year and love it….trying your methods and taking your advice has helped so much. Thank you! I will be trying this with brass right away! Can’t wait to see what happens.

  28. This is most enlightening thank you. The best gift given is the gift of knowledge.

  29. Thank you for sharing these techniques which use ordinary household items. It will give my jewelry a new twist. I also appreciate your easy to follow directions and the pictures are a great bonus. It leaves no room for doubt when trying for the very first time. Thanks again!

  30. Great JOB! Thanks for this!

  31. Now, that was really interesting! Thank you so much for sharing. I’ve always wondered how that was done! :-) Mario

  32. Thanks so much for sharing these two tutorials.

  33. Thank you for my new knowledge!

  34. Natalie says:

    I’m so EXCITED and I just cant’t hide!!!!!! WOW! This is a Blessing, so I’m going to run with it. The IDEAS are flowing strongly. Much Blessings to ALL. Peace :)

  35. Seriously thank you soooo much for your tutorials!!! I’ve been wanting to patina jewelry and you’ve provided perfect instructions. What’s been holding me back from doing it though is not knowing where to by unvarnished metals and how to properly dispose the contents after. Because the ammonia is just on paper towel and not loose liquid, can it just be disposed of in the trash?

  36. Hi Jennifer, yes, I simply dispose of the ammonia paper towels in the trash – just as one would after using ammonia for household cleaning. I usually get my sheet metals from Monsterslayer.com (and you can find them at many other online jewelry suppliers too).

  37. Hello Rena,
    Thank you so much for your wonderful ideas.
    I have just ordered some brass sheets after reading your tutorials. If I want to put a pattern on a bracelet (either with the potato chips or ammonia method) what would you suggest ? I was thinking of wax…something that would block the chemical reaction on the desired surface during the process. Do you have any idea of what could be used ? Maybe tape ? Thank you very much. Sonia

  38. i really like the patina process you’ve described. Do you think it would work on something as small as a ring? also, if you decide to protect the jewelry with the Renaissance Wax, will that also stop from turning your skin green? I am planning on trying this on a brass ring if all seems like it will work out.

  39. Hi Ryan! I recommend cutting and preparing a small scrap piece of the type of metal you’re planning to use for the ring. Then use this scrap piece of metal to test how the patina works for you – and also how the Renaissance wax affects the patina on the scrap metal and your skin.

    If you’re concerned or wondering about the outcome of a process on a piece of jewelry, it’s always best to do test runs with scraps first, so you’ll have a better idea of how the actual piece of jewelry might behave under the same conditions.

  40. Thank you, Rena! I can’t wait to get started!

  41. Eric Clayton says:

    My daughter is making a steampunk outfit for Halloween and we used the fuming method to patina the goggles which we made out of copper pipe. We did a really quick version of it (less than an hour) and even did it “wrong” by washing everything off too soon, but it turned out great! Wish I could post a pic to show you.
    Thanks so much for sharing this with everyone.

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