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Recipe to Make your own Natural Jeweler’s Pickle

I am so excited to have my own tutorial again for Tutorial Thursday! A paucity of time and travels out of the area left me with link round ups three weeks in a row. Don’t get me wrong – I love scouting for fun tutorials and sharing them, but I really love creating my own. This week’s tutorial shows you how to make your own, all-natural jeweler’s pickle with very inexpensive ingredients.

DIYpickle

Jeweler’s pickle is neither an embalming fluid nor some strange moonshine – it’s what you use to get fire scale off soldered objects. If you work with metal and use heat, a pickle pot is essential. Basically, a pickle is simply an acidic solution that removes oxidation and flux from a piece of soldered metal. Commercial jewelry pickles are available, and many jewelers choose to use various pool chemicals as more cost-effective pickles.

When I started soldering back in January, pickeles sort of annoyed me. I realized that I needed a pickle pot, but I was loath to spend lots of money online to potentially harmful chemicals, there were no local jeweler’s pickle sources, and pool supplies weren’t really a viable option in the middle of winter. I figured there had to be a way to create a mildly acidic solution capable of removing some fire scale with things I could buy at the grocery store.

I was right.

Some trial and error later, here is my recipe for a DIY jeweler’s pickle that is way less toxic than the commercial options, eminantly affordable, and amazingly easy. It smells a little funny if you don’t keep the lid on, but hey. All you need is white vinegar, table salt, and, just to be sure, some hydrogen peroxide. All of these ingredients are dirt cheap and the worst thing that will happen from using it is that you might make your kitchen smell a little like a fish and chips stand for a bit. You won’t sear your lungs, burn your skin, or have to buy a new crock pot just for chemicals.

Each of these items costs about a dollar or less and will make enough pickle to last a long time.

Each of these items costs about a dollar or less and will make enough pickle to last a long time.

Because the pickle is acidic, you should only make it in glass or ceramic items. It will eat away at a metal pot, and putting it in metal can detract from its effectiveness. I wasn’t thinking clearly and first started using it in a metal pot – I could literally hear little pops and crackles as the pickle heated and it started working away at my pot! Luckily for me, it was a second hand thing from an old roommate, not one of my good pots. Please learn from my mistake and don’t damage anything of yours! The best thing to use is a crock pot, but you can also create a double boiler with a heatproof glass container, like a Pyrex measuring cup, to eat heat the pickle on the stove.

Additionally, make sure you only use copper or plastic utensils in the pickle pot. You could use wood, but wood will absorb the vinegar and make the spoon or tongs smell kind of funny! If you stir the pot with any other metal, or place nickel silver items in it for cleaning, a chemical reaction will essentially cause random bits of fire scale to electroplate themselves to the jewelry you are attempting to clean. Don’t worry if you make a mistake or have to clean nickel silver. Just stir in peroxide until until the fire scale re-removes itself from the items.

To create the pickle, simply pour about a cup of vinegar into your crock pot. You can mix in some water, too, if you want, but it just weakens the solution and makes it take longer to clean metal. Put the lid on the pot and put the heat up to medium or high. Heat is essential – a cold pickle works very poorly, if at all.

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See the condensation? You know it’s heating up without sticking your hand in a bunch of vinegar!

You’ll be able to tell when the vinegar is getting warm because you’ll see condensation form on the underside of the lid. After the vinegar is warm, add in about a tablespoon of salt. You can add a little more, but don’t add less! In general, you want to have about a generous tablespoon per cup of vinegar. Stir until the salt is fully dissolved.

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Once the salt is dissolved, you’re ready to add whatever needs cleaning!

See the dark fire scale?

See the dark fire scale?

Stir the pieces around a little, cover the pot, and let them sit for a minute or so. You should start to see the fire scale literally fall off. It’s not the world’s bests photo, but you can see the scale in the pot.

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After letting them rest for a minute, fish your objects out with copper tongs or a nylon/plastic spoon. Scrub them lightly with a very soft bristle brass brush or a stiff bristle nylon brush. I just use a nail brush.

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And there you have it! Bright and shiny metal items, free of fire scale for pennies on the dollar, when compared to commercially-available options.

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I love this pickle! It works as quickly as commercial pickles at a fraction of the price. The only thing you might need to buy online or from a specialty store is a pair of copper tongs. They’re pretty inexpensive on Amazon.

You can store it for later, if you’d like. You can pretty much use it until it gets cloudy and stops working – just store it with the lid on and reheat it when you need to use it. You don’t really need to keep it in the fridge since it consists of vinegar and salt. A word of caution, though – let it finish cooling with the lid off or the salt will form an amazingly powerful crust that makes it virtually impossible to remove the containers lid! And, of course, don’t store it in anything metal. Once again, if you do accidentally put a metal utensil in it or have to clean nickel silver, just add a generous pour of hydrogen peroxide to the mix.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and found it helpful! What commercially available things do you enjoy making from scratch? I love hand making as much of my own products as possible and I enjoy the savings created by many homemade options – why do you choose to DIY things you could buy?

Natasha Hoover

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{ 16 comments… add one }

  • Paige @ Little Nostalgia April 25, 2013, 09:30

    This is so interesting! I don’t work with a lot of raw metal myself (and I really like the darker tones anyway), but this is good to know if I ever decide to branch out.

    • Natashalh April 25, 2013, 10:03

      I was kind of nervous about metal for a while, but then I discovered I love it! I actually prefer to clean the fire scale and then patina items. That was I can control the darkening. It feels a little funny sometimes to clean something just to grunge it up, but hey.

  • Trina (Trina's Clay Creations) April 25, 2013, 10:00

    Oh wow, this is so cool, thank you for sharing!

    • Natashalh April 25, 2013, 10:02

      Thanks! I know not everyone works with metal, but I love sharing ways to DIY instead of buy!

  • Rose April 25, 2013, 12:09

    Wow, I learned so much from this tutorial! Thanks for putting together such a detailed explanation of your technique.

    • Natashalh April 25, 2013, 12:35

      Sometimes I feel like I go a little overboard, but I find tutorials without details or photos to be really frustrating!

  • Tammy December 1, 2013, 18:10

    I recently started lampworking to create glass beads using a hot torch. I noticed some of my glass beads have tiny, unintended bubbles, which I think ruins the beads. Some people say the bubbles make the beads look unique, but I don’t like it.
    After some research I found that, basically, the bubbles are caused by the glass rods being dirty and need to be cleaned before using them. A lampworking website blogger suggests using a jewelers picking solution made with ‘a stable form of sulphuric acid,’ which I’m not too comfortable with — I wanted something more eco-friendly.
    Thank you for taking the time to find a natural pickling recipe. I’m going to try your formula to see if this makes a difference in my glass beads. I’ll send you a follow-up to let you know how things turned out.

    • Natashalh December 2, 2013, 08:38

      I have no idea if it will help with the beads, but it might. It would definitely cut through any sort of residual oils! I really want to get into lamp work beads, but I don’t have a kiln and I don’t know of one I could use to finish up the process. I really hope this works out for you!!

  • Kelly Hudson January 30, 2014, 06:19

    Now does this easy recipe work for not turning your skin green or black? I am making bullet casing necklace and earrings, i just need something that will prevent that from happening. Thanks for the help ahead of time.

    • Natashalh January 30, 2014, 08:36

      Unfortunately, that is a natural reaction many people have to copper. The recipe will remove any grime, but copper always has the potential to be reactive. What I recommend is sealing the casings with Renaissance Wax. It’s a museum-grade sealant that I use on my jewelry to protect the metal and the wearer’s skin!

  • Kelsey Albrecht-Carruthers March 9, 2014, 10:49

    This is great! I was looking for something like this for my Etsy Shop’s sterling silver rings, and it works amazingly! Thank you!!!

    • Natashalh March 9, 2014, 12:25

      Awesome! I’m so glad it works for you. I use it for my Etsy shop items, too. =)

  • maria July 3, 2014, 02:50

    this is fantastic- just a little confused- i make sterling silver jewelry and not sure what the peroxide is for?

    • Natashalh July 3, 2014, 07:54

      It’s only needed if you get other things in there contaminating the mixture. If you only use sterling and have the appropriate tongs, you won’t need it. If you add nickel silver, for example, to the pot, it will cause the detritus to basically electroplate to your other metals! Peroxide takes care of that.

  • Dani July 23, 2014, 07:11

    THANK YOU!!! This was so clear, and answered my questions, and just the right amount of detail.

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