How To Distress Copper

Exterior copper light fixture
  • 1-4 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 0-100

Copper is one of the nicest metals around for decorating. It is comparable to brass in color and patina, but it is easier to work with. It can be bought in every size from foil to heavy duty sheets. For a decorating touch, nothing beats the sheen of a distressed copper panel. Copper gets this way when it has been subjected to the weather and time. Because it is very hard to find a decent sheet of copper that would meet your decorating needs, we will discuss here how to distress it quickly and easily. The process is entirely safe if you follow a few simple rules.

Stressed Copper

Stressed copper, or more technically speaking, oxidized copper, is the results of the aging process. Subjected to oxidation and the elements, it takes on a beautiful verdigris color of blues, blacks and bronze. This beautiful finish is great for a décor that cries out for something unusual. Because copper comes in so many thicknesses, it is ideal for almost every decorating need. Let's discuss how to stress copper, and how to hurry the process.

Liver Of Sulphur

copper gravy bowl, urn

Liver of sulphur is an agent that reacts with copper, and also reacts with silver, pewter and bronze. It is a jeweler's friend. Liver of sulphur comes in lump form, and it is diluted with water to make the solution needed to stress copper. Because it does not have a long shelf life after dilution --- only a couple of days -- it must be handled correctly. The actual liver of sulphur in solid form must be kept in a dark glass bottle and stored airtight at room temperature away from the light to maintain it. Now let's look at the process.

How To Stress Copper

Liver of sulphur, like any chemical, requires you take precautions when using it. Always wear protective gloves, a rubber apron and goggles, and work in a well-ventilated area. Depending on the size of copper plate or foil you are working with, it is a good idea not to use it in any space where you are fearful of spills or stains.

Step 1 - Pay Attention to Amount

Use a piece of liver of sulphur the size of your fingernail. A little goes a long way.

Step 2 - Heat Water

LOS works best when the water is hot, so heat the water to be used in a microwave. Two cups of water is sufficient for your needs.

Step 3 - Dunk

Put the LOS in the water when it has reached the proper temperature. Always work in a well ventilated area. The fumes from LOS are not overly toxic, but the smell is bad.

Step 4 - Move

Set up the copper to be finished in a well-ventilated area. Move the LOS to the area. Some authorities claim heating the copper to a working temperature gives best results. This can be done with a small handheld butane torch like those used for plumbing. Be careful not to burn yourself. Apply the LOS carefully, and watch the reaction to the copper. Try the solution on a small bit of copper before proceeding. If it turns black very quickly, your solution is too strong. Rinse it off quickly with cold water when it has reached the desired effect.

Step 5 - Play Around

To create a more interesting effect, use a brass brush and soapy water between rinsing. This gives a shiny, uniformly dark metallic surface.

Step 6 - Get Creative

copper faucets

Experiment with the process until you achieve the results you desire. Coat the finished surface with a good clear lacquer to preserve the effect you have created. Remember, the process invoked is a form of oxidation, which will continue unless the finish is protected.

Step 7 - Dry

Allow the copper foil or plate to dry completely before attempting to mount it.

Words Of Caution

Remember that this is a chemical reaction, and that liver of sulphur is a caustic substance. Handle it like you would Liquid Drano. Work in a well ventilated area, and use protective gear. Never, EVER use LOS around other acids; the reaction between chemicals can be fatal.

Other Tips

Some authorities say adding ammonia to the solution will bring out the blue-green-red-purple interference colors that makes copper so beautiful. Experiment with care when using household ammonia, for it is also a breathing hazard if not used in a well ventilated area.

There are other ways to distress copper, but this method is easy and quick. Just be sure to use the necessary precautions. Enjoy your work!