Acid Etching Metal Jewelry, Part 3b
by Virginia Vivier.
(Esprit Mystique Jewelry)
Acid Etching Brass and Copper Jewelry
Part 3b: Ferric Chloride Acid Bath
This messy looking picture is my acid bath with 7 different pieces of brass, in different thicknesses, submerged for etching at the same time:
Always use a plastic (or glass) container for your Ferric Chloride acid bath. The container size depends on the size and shapes of metal you are etching.
I have a red metal rolling cart that I bought at Harbor Freight to hold all my etching supplies.
The 11″ x 9″ black plastic tray (a recycled frozen lasagna dish) underneath the etch bath container, protects the red metal rolling cart from any acid drips or spills.
The clear plastic container holding the Ferric Chloride acid bath is 6″ square by 3″ high.
You can buy them at any grocery store. They come with covers that fit tightly.
Never use a metal container for your acid bath. Ferric Chloride will attack it and quickly corrode it into pieces.
Aquarium Air Pump to Vibrate the Acid and Keep the Design Clean
When the Ferric Chloride etches brass or copper, tiny loose particles of the etched metal accumulate and clog up the design.
In order to get a clean etch, the liquid bath must be kept moving to bump the loose particles to the bottom of the container.
Best Methods for a Clean Etch:
a.) Tape your flat metal design to a 1″ thick (or more) piece of Styrofoam using double-sided carpet tape. Your metal/Styrofoam sandwich acts like a boat and floats upside-down on the surface of the Ferric Chloride. Loose particles will fall off the metal design to the bottom of the bath. (See Styrofoam boat design below):
b.) Buy a small 3″ aquarium air pump ($5 at WalMart) and tape it to the outside of the acid container so it vibrates and keeps the liquid moving. (Note small gray aquarium pump next to acid container, in the lower right corner of this photo):
Use Your Clothes Dryer
The vibration of the running dryer will keep the loose particles from accumulating on the submerged metal.
But make sure you use a protective plastic covering to keep any drips of Ferric Chloride off the top of your dryer!
Ferric Chloride drips on your dryer will quickly corrode the finish.
If you are etching round objects, like bullet shell casings, you can plug the open end of the bullet shell with 4″ inch length of thin wooden doweling:
This accomplishes 2 things:
1. It keeps any Ferric Chloride from etching the inside of the bullet shell casing.
2. It keeps the bullet shell submerged, but still floating above the bottom of the container, so the etched particles fall off easily.
If you don’t want to take the time to make a Styrofoam boat for flat pieces of metal, you can punch a small hole in the upper corner of the metal:
. . . and tie a piece of fishing line to make a loop.
Hang these loops over a wooden stick across the top of the Ferric Chloride bath container.
The pieces of metal will hang vertically, so the loose particles of etched metal will fall to the bottom of the etching bath.
The only problem is that you can sometimes see the deep etched lines that are made by the loose particles falling in a vertical direction – as on this round disk with MOM design drawn with black Staedtler pen:
The disk was hung vertically and you can see the vertical lines etched in the finished pendant.
If you use a Styrofoam boat for flat pieces, the metal will etch evenly (horizontally) without leaving any vertical lines.
Below are photos of hand-drawn etch “resist” on flat metal which was etched horizontally on a Styrofoam boat.
Make sure you cover any large areas of metal that you DON’T want to etch (like the back) with clear plastic packing tape.
Ferric Chloride will not etch through clear sticky tape if it covers the back of the metal without any bubbles or loose edges.
It is a good idea to cut your metal larger than the finished design so you can overlap the tape around the edges of the design (see photo below).
You can also use strips of tape or fingernail polish as a resist.
Simple geometric designs using tape – or organic designs using floor polish or nail polish – can be interesting.
This hand-drawn design was etched on a floating Styrofoam boat. The back of the metal was taped to prevent any etching on the back:
However, you CAN make a 2-sided design by etching the front and back, at the same time.
Use a thick piece of brass (or copper) so you can get a deep etch on both sides. A thinner piece of metal may etch holes all the way through the metal, if you etch both sides at the same time.
Also be sure to see the new page, Acid Etching Metal Jewelry – UPDATE before beginning your etching project!
Questions or comments on Part 3b? Please ask!
Your abundance of helpful photos make this process easy to follow!
The pieces you’ve etched using this process are very inspiring.
The Styrofoam Boat
I like the tip for making a little floating “boat” out of the styrofoam. Can you re-use the piece of styrofoam for more than one etching session, or is it pretty much worn out after one acid bath?
Thanks very much for all of your helpful tips and alternate methods. I love your cool ideas like the top of the dryer vibration method!
Material to float metal in etching bath
by: Virginia Vivier
Although this sounds wasteful, I generally throw away each styrofoam boat after use. They are somewhat saturated with Ferric Chloride and, I am usually so anxious to see the results that I quickly tear them apart to remove the metal.
Another way to float the metal on the etch bath is to cut up an large plastic envelope with layers of bubblewrap in between. I find those easier to attach with double stick tape, than styrofoam. But this only works with smaller, thin pieces of silver, brass or copper. If the metal is fairly heavy, like for a bracelet, the weight of the metal will sink, or tip the metal to the side. That’s when a block of styrofoam works better. You can scrounge styrofoam scraps everywhere…ask a Shop Keeper for their throw-away packing.
Hope this helps!
Just had to add my voice to all the thanks and appreciation we all feel for your generous sharing of this exciting and cool metal jewelry technique!
I’m “geeking out” on it big time and have so many ideas i can hardly settle down! This has really rekindled my passion for jewelry making, finding an affordable way to make such creative, unique metalwork designs.
Question on double-sided etching
Your tutorial is amazing. Thank you so much for posting it. I have a quick question on double-sided etching. I want to make a pendant with print on the front and back. Would it be best to hang the pendant so that both sides etch or could I lay it horizontally on the “boats” and allow one side to be etched then turn it over? I don’t want vertical lines etched on either side.
Thank you in advance for your assistance…
2 sided etching
by: Virginia Vivier
Are you etching silver, brass or copper? How thick is the metal? How deep of an etch are you trying to achieve?
I have done 2-sided etching on brass and copper with good results. But I have not tried it on silver.
There are 2 ways you can do this:
a.) Etch EACH Side Separately.
Etch each side using the horizontal styrofoam boat technique. Tape the back securely to make sure no acid gets under the tape and float it on a styrofoam boat. That is best way to avoid any vertical lines. It takes longer to prepare each side separately, but is well worth the effort.
Rinse and neutralize the first etching (with baking soda) before you prepare the opposite side for etching. Otherwise, any tiny specs of acid will continue to etch on the first side.
b.) Etch BOTH Sides at the Same Time.
Drill (or punch) a small hole in each corner of the piece of metal. Make sure the metal is larger than the finished piece. Use these holes to hang the design vertically in the acid. Every 10 minutes, hange it from a different edge so the acid doesn’t form vertical lines. In other words, first 10 minutes hang vertially, next 10 minutes hang horizontally, next 10 minutes hang upside down vertically, last 10 minutes hang upside down horizontally for each edge.
If you are etching a round, or irregular shaped piece of metal, then alternate horizonal/vertical edges so that the acid doesn’t get a chance to form vertical lines.
It’s also very important to keep the acid bath vibrating so the metal that is being removed doesn’t gunk up the surface of the metal. An aquarium air pump taped to the outside of the container is one way of doing it. Or, sitting the container on top of a running dryer (set timer on “air dry” to save energy) will cause enough vibration to keep the acid bath moving. This shakes the etched metal off the design and floats it to the bottom.
I’d love to see some photos of your finished product! And, let us know which way works best!
Esprit-Mystique Artisan Jewelry
Another way to vibrate your etching solution
Another way you can vibrate your solution to keep the bits from accumulating on the surface when you etch is to use an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner. Turn on the vibrating cleaner, then place your container of solution so it is up against (and touching) the outside of the cleaner. The constant vibration works perfectly!