When I first started electroforming a few years back, my primary concern was safety. My train of thought went something like this: “What the heck is this stuff anyway? Its acid. Acid is dangerous. Add electricity and liquid and acid. Maybe this isn’t such a great idea….” I’m here to make sure that information on electroforming safety for beginners is available.
Maybe you can relate. You’ve purchased your power supply and all of the odds and ends to get going. You have a few pieces ready to go.
Now what? You hesitate. You’re here because you don’t exactly know how to make sure this is safe in your home, with your family and pets.
I’m here to help.
Don’t add water to acid.
The one thing you really want to know first: Always add acid to water, not the reverse when mixing your bath. If you add the water to acid, you run the risk of that reaction causing extreme heat, which then causes the water to boil immediately, which will cause splashing. Don’t let that happen.
Check the SDS
First and foremost, you’ll want to check out the MSDS or SDS of any chemicals that you’re using. Those will give you a great starting point as far as what PPE (personal protective equipment) you’ll need to do this safely.
An SDS (or MSDS) is a required proprietary document that offers information on protective measures, risks, and other crucial elements for people that use chemicals, either occupationally or in the home. You’ll want to look these up for each of the chemicals that you’re working with, but I’ll save you some time.
Here is a link to the MSDS Rio Grande for their Midas Solution.
Bear in mind, if you’re mixing your own solution, this information won’t be as readily available – because you’re essentially the manufacturer of that chemical, but I digress. The MSDS from Midas linked above should give you enough information.
I’m going to offer some information on what I personally use, however, please bear in mind that the responsibility for your safety relies on your willingness to wear PPE EVERY time you come into contact with your bath or with the chemical components.
Get suited up in PPE
Here’s what you need:
- Baking soda. Have this at the ready in your workspace. You’ll want a solution of baking soda and distilled water to neutralize the acid on your pieces when you pull them, but you’ll also want a jar available in case of spillage. DO NOT PUT IT DIRECTLY INTO YOUR BATH – it neutralizes the acid and brings the pH to a higher level, effectively reducing the danger of the item.
- ALWAYS WEAR GLOVES – This part is tough for me, trying to be eco-friendly and all. I use disposable nitrile gloves, available at any hardware or drug store. Get in the habit of using them every time.
- Splash goggles. If you value your vision, you’ll want chemical splash goggles (they go all the way around to the side) to protect those peepers. When selecting these, you’ll just want to make sure they’re not vented or anti-fog with holes in the sides. I use my old ones from when I was a student of chemistry, but something like this would be perfect.
- Respirator: You’ll need one that’s rated for fumes and particles. I like these filters, but you’ll also need the mask to hold them.
- A well ventilated space. I cringe when people say that they electroform in a closet or bedroom. One of the main risks, according to the SDS for Midas, is inhalation hazard. You could use a variety of different setups for this – I use an inline fan with flexible tubing that directs all exhaust outside of my lab. Others will hang something similar to an oven hood. The important part is that you’re venting outside of the space, rather than just blowing any fumes around.
When it’s all said and done, you’ll look something like this person – but a more modern, streamlined version.
Safe spaces are important
Speaking of space, your bath and associated parts should be FAR, FAR away from children and pets. Ideally, it is in a separate space (garage, basement…etc) where children and pets do not have access. When working with acid, put it in a location that is NOT ON A HIGH SHELF. You’ll want to avoid spillage at all costs – especially on little kids and into your own face and eyes. Many people think putting the bath up higher is protective in keeping it from prying eyes – however, if it’s up high, it’s spilling down and that means your eyes are at risk.
Totally optional: get yourself a lab coat to feel official! I’m partially kidding – but if you’re often working with the acid bath, tiny splashes will happen and eventually you’ll start to notice tiny holes in your clothing. You could even take an old flannel or button down and wear it over your clothes. Bonus: if you happen to spill solution, you’ll end up having a protective layer over your body that can be easily removed and save you some exposure to the acid.
So, there you have it! I hope you’ve found this guide to Electroforming safety beneficial, at least as far as PPE goes. Again, please be aware that this is not an exhaustive list of precautions, but covers the main points. Your safety is your responsibility, and I take zero liability for what you do and do not do in your electro lab.
Oh also – your power supply and the electricity/liquid is only a minor concern. If your rectifier is working properly and grounded, there is very little risk of electrocution, in case you need to hear that! Please be aware that cutting the power briefly while checking progress is a best practice. Remove the leads before you start fiddling and then place them back when you’ve finished.
Good luck! (and stay safe!) Electroforming safety for beginners is a crucial part of developing competency and confidence in the art form, and starting with best practices makes habits that will help keep you (and your family) safer!
Have a question? Shoot a note to firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Electroforming Safety for Beginners’ in the subject line.
Metalsmithing while pregnant? Click here for some safety information on that as well.