I’ve seen a lot of question on Facebook and the Internet from different skill levels of people working with copper wire or plate about why copper does what it does, like kink and break. I’ve worked with copper wire and copper items for about seven years now, and decided to share some of my research to possibly help any of you along in your quest to work with copper. Some of this information may seem a little too “scientific” for your personal taste, but I figure if we are really going to understand what we are working with, we need to know it inside and out, and I’m starting at the beginning, cause I’m a “why” person.
Copper, as you probably know, is a soft or malleable metal, and one of the few natural metals not silver or gray in color. It is highly conductive to electricity and heat (meaning both travel easily through copper), but copper does not easily corrode. That should mean something to us that use Gun Blues or Liver of Sulfur on our copper wire or sheet, but we’ll talk about that later.
The simplest answer I could find about why copper is softer than some of the other metals, and why it is so conductive, is because of its molecules size and shape. They are all the same size and shape, and cubic in nature, so they move easily against and around each other. So…copper is soft because the molecules move easily inside the copper structure, wire, etc. When we work with copper, like bending over and over, it begins to get harder to use. We call this “work hardening.”
Work Hardening happens because the copper molecules start to become strained and/or deformed in shape, and defects form in the molecular structure. And…like a great friend, if we push it and push it, it WILL break down. Copper will say, “I’ve had enough of you!” and break. The moral of this little story for you copper users is to bend your wire or work with your metal slowly. If you are in too much of a hurry, and push your metal or wire too fast, it will work harden much quicker, it will bend, kink, and break, as I said earlier, because all that movement deforms the molecular structure. Be patient with your wire and metal, and you will be rewarded.
Then there is Annealing, which is a whole different thing. Annealing, in my terms, is a healing process. When we anneal copper, usually around 700F degrees (make sure you have an annealing pan, please!), it actually causes the metal to grow new grains that are free of stress within the existing molecular structure. I used to think that the molecules just spread out, making it easier to work with again, while in all actuality, with heat, the metal grows these new grains, which do away with all the molecule deformities previously a part of our wire or metal. Ya gotta love physics!
Corrosion vs. Oxygenation:
Liver of Sulfur causes copper to oxidize quicker than it would normally. Here’s the difference; Corrosion is rust, like you might see in iron…it’s that dark scaly and flaky layer, which is the actual breakdown of the metal. However, Oxidation is when the metal is exposed to oxygen and/or other atmospheric conditions and chemicals and becomes patinated. The natural patina on copper is copper oxide, and like on the Statue of Liberty, is a greenish or a green blue color. This natural patina actually acts as a protective layer to copper. It keeps the bottom layers of the copper from breaking down.
Liver of Sulfur is basically an Oxidizer, moving along the oxidation process on copper, silver, and some other metals. However, any wire or metal that is “coated” or non-tarnish will not respond to LOS, for short, because the chemical cannot get to the actual metal’s surface. If you are buying craft wire, it will, most likely, NOT oxidize, as most craft wires are coated or non-tarnish. LOS does not corrode the copper. It merely leaves it with a brown to black patina.
Gun Blue is another product you can use to oxidize your copper, but I will write more on that in a day or two. Promise…unless I get run over. 😛
While I’m not the best at keeping up with blogging, I think my muse is back. Yeah, I’ve said that before and have been a real dolt about it, but I was a trainer by trade for many years, and it’s time for me to get my crap together and be more helpful to others and not just creative.
This is going to be an ongoing study, so stay tuned. In the next couple of days I will be talking about using Gun Blue vs LOS on our wire, not just copper, but sterling, etc. I will also be writing about how to use these two chemicals effectively, the use of distilled water vs. tap water, cleaning of your jewelry, and so on. Stay tuned, my friends! and…
Stay Wired Up!