|Red Copper by Mrs. Kuroki|
Frame by me
I learned this method in Japan about twenty years ago from my teacher, Ayako Kuroki. She called it "houshyayaki" which translates to "grilled borax". Mrs. Kuroki taught me how to achieve a solid red patina which isn't always easy. I didn't have a problem getting the results I wanted at first. But a few years ago I lost my touch for some reason. After many frustrated attempts I finally threw in the towel and decided to take a break from it.
|Earrings made in Japan circa 1990|
Photographed upside down by man who doesn't wear jewelry!
Due to popular demand from both customers and other jewelers wanting to know how I do it, I started trying it again last night. It looks like there's hope that I may be able to figure it out. The more I practice the better I'll get at it which has always been the case from the first time I learned this technique.
|This is all you need. So simple...yet so not!|
It's actually a very simple method. You simply mix some borax with tap water in a ceramic bowl which can take the heat of a torch in close proximity. I was taught that the dilution doesn't matter nor does the temperature of the water. You then heat your copper piece with a torch. I use a propane one. I surround the piece with charcoal blocks to help it heat up. You heat it to a red hot and very quickly quench it in the borax/water solution. It usually takes a few rounds before you achieve the solid red. The first attempt is often too orange for my taste. And there are usually black splotches mixed with the red. I was taught to heat from the back of the piece but honestly I have heated from the front with good results many times. And if it just isn't working I throw the piece in the pickle and start over. The pickle will remove the patina very quickly. Which means the piece has to be cold formed. No soldering.
As far as prepping the copper goes, Mrs. Kuroki thought that hammering it or at least hardening it yielded better results but I have gotten some of my best color on flat pieces of scrap which had no treatment at all. I also give the metal some "tooth" by rubbing it with scotchbrite. Sometimes the piece has a beautiful shade of red but it's covered by a film which makes it difficult to really see. The best results have a glassy finish with no film.
|Domes on left made last night. You can see the black splotches I mentioned.|
The earrings on the right are about 15 years old demonstrating durability.
I've worn them A LOT and thrown them into pockets with keys, etc.
I'm no scientist, so I don't understand exactly what is going on in this process. But I believe that the borax is forming a glassy crust on the surface of the piece. The red color is just a layer of oxidation and there is a core of the pink copper we are used to inside. It is very durable as you can see in the photos of pieces I made about 20 years ago and have worn and manhandled many times. One would have to take a graver and carve into it to see the pink copper underneath.