Saturday, March 31, 2012

Etching Metal Tutorial

Hi all
Kristin Hubick from Retrocafeart has asked me to do a tutorial for you all on how I etch metal after she saw my etched metal suitcase necklace from my previous post made using her small brass suitcases from her shop. Those of you who etch metal and adore doing so as I do, would know its very hard to actually etch a 3D object like a working small brass suitcase as the item being etched is floated on the etchant surface not sitting on the bottom of the tray covered in solution... so how to etch just one side and not affect other parts. I digress though...first how to etch at all.
I've never made a secret of the fact that the one and only artistic gorgeous Jen Crossley taught me hands on etching...I say "hands on" as I had read how to do it and watched YouTube how too's but learning hands on was the only way I truly KNEW how to do hands are my real teacher in a class situation. Jen has given me the green light to write this too. I know I didn't necessarily have to ask her as its a technique freely available over the web but I wouldn't have done it without her consent....that's just me :o). Besides Jen has become my friend, inspiration and mentor in more ways then I can think of.

                                     ETCHING METAL the Basics

• Metal to etch. Works with Copper, Nickel/Silver and Brass. Use .5mm (24gauge) thick sheets
• Black sharpie marker.
• Straight edged tin snips.
• Jewellers saw OR metal bench block and chasing hammer. Cover hammer flat end with leather to prevent it marking the metal.
• Hand held metal files. Also called Bastards.
• Fine Wet/Dry sandpaper.
• Stamps of choice.
• Stazon ink black. Ensure the pad is very well inked.
• Rubbing Alcohol. I use Isocol available from super markets.
• Heat gun.
• Masking tape or double sided tape and thin foam sheet.
• Disposable plastic flat bottomed containers. One small and one larger.
• Ferric Chloride Etchant solution- available at Altronics on line in Oz
• Sodium Bicarbonate powder.
• Disposable gloves, eye protecting glasses and Apron.

1) a-Draw shape to cut from the metal of choice with black Sharpie. Don eye wear protectors. b-Cut metal out with straight edged tin snips or use a jewellers saw. Be careful as the cut metal edges are VERY sharp. c-Hammer the cut piece flat on a metal bench block, using a chasing hammer. The metal block is also known as a chasing block. You wont have to do this if you used the jewellers saw.




2) Keep eye protectors on. d-Using the hand file, file the cut metal edges. Push the file down the metal edge away from you. This makes the edges less sharp. Do both sides. Remove eye wear. e-Wet the wet/dry sand paper and sand the metal in a circular motion or go up and down and then left and right. This creates a tooth for stamping. f-Don gloves and spray some rubbing alcohol on the metal and wipe over with a soft cloth to remove sanded metal shavings and finger prints as they can interfere with the etching process.




3) g-Ink stamp with a wet black Stazon ink pad and stamp image onto the sanded side of the metal. If it isn’t a good image you can wipe it back off with rubbing alcohol and redo it. Of course you can draw a design of your choice with a Sharpie and not stamp if you wish. The Sharpie and Stazon ink resist the etchant solution. Heat set the image with a heat gun. Be careful as the metal gets very hot. Leave till metal is cool again.


4) h-You can then attach the metal to foam with double sided tape image side up or attach strips of masking tape to the back of the stamped metal. Don eye wear, gloves and Apron. Work in a well ventilated place like outside if able. Pour approx 1cm deep etchant solution into a small flat bottomed plastic container. i-Place the stamped metal attached to masking tape or the foam in the container with the image side down so that the metal is suspended by the tape or floating on top with the foam but in full contact of the etchant solution. It needs to float on the surface so the small metal particles that come off during etching can sink to the bottom away from the etched surface.

               foam with double sided tape on bottom


               Etchant solution


Etching time can vary depending on if you are in a colder climate. Usually it takes 40-60minutes. You can speed it up by placing the container holding the poured etchant solution in a larger container of warm water. It works quicker if you are outside on a sunny day too. To check if the etched process is done lift up a small section of the metal from the etchant bath and run a pinky on a small section. It will feel raised if ready. WASH your pinky well under running water.

5) When done wear eye wear again and remove the metal from the etchant solution. Partly fill a larger disposable container with warm water that has a j-sodium bicarbonate in it. k-Wash the metal in the bi carb solution and also rub the surface with some dry bi carb powder as this neutralizes the etchant solution and stops the metal continuing to etch. Rinse off under tap and leave till dry. lPour used etchant solution into the bi carb solution. It will bubble and then settle and can now be m-disposed off safely at a dump in secure fitting glass or plastic bottles. Do not pour it down the sink.





6) You can do a few things here as can add inks to the etched metal, patina it by dunking it in a Liver Of Sulphate solution or use Black Patina For Solder, paint over it etc or leave it as is. Regardless of what you decide to do the next step after that is to n-sand it again so the etched metal looks shiny again and the stamped image will become more defined. You can use a fine wet/dry sand paper first and then a slightly dry coarser one. If you leave it raw lastly wipe over the metal again with Isocol. Seal with metal spray or Crystal kote or other suitable metal sealant.


Well that's the how too so how did I etch a 3D item like these little brass perfume bottles and the brass suitcases?

It took me several days to work this out...I'd play with this or that and then leave it on my messy desk. The trick was to make a template in cardstock of the shape, draw that on a thin piece of foam(but wider then the item is) by tracing around the template with a sharpie marker. Then cut out the drawn shape making it deep enough for the item to sit in so only one surface is exposed! As a precaution I also wrapped the edges of the suitcases and perfume bottles with tape before embedding them in the foam as well.

 Usually I would only use one piece of foam with double sided tape attached that I then attached the stamped metal to etch onto but this time I used three pieces...the one I embedded the 3D brass items (above) in, the backing foam in the middle to make sure the brass wasn't too heavy and the foam still floated on the surface and the smaller piece as handle.

So here they are after etching. The second suitcase I already used to make the necklace below and  in the previous post. The little perfume bottles remind me of small doll shapes so I am hunting for small doll heads to hack off to use on evil sounding LOL...I have tried two dolls but they are not hollow. May make a mould and try resin yet :o)

Under the door of the suitcase is an Ice Resin filled washer with a vintage image in the base.

In the base of the suitcase is a tin type image of a child, a tiny frozen charlotte and a tiny real pencil. Both
the frozen charlotte and the pencil are from Retro Cafe Art Gallery. Ice Resin was then poured on top.

So there you have it folks etching with metal and how to do so using 3D metal objects. Have fun.
Annette In Oz


Jen Crossley said...

Totally amazing Annette your work is sensational my gorgeous girl

Samantha Marshall said...

How cool!!! Thanks so much for posting this.Your pieces turned out so beautiful. You're an inspiration.

Sandra said...

I see 333, love that.
I'll have to try this, I've etched metal before but never with 3-d objects. Great idea using the foam.

Glenda said...

Fabulous Annette, I will have to give it a go sometime soon. Love the suitcases.

Anonymous said...

This was great. I learnt a lot. I look forward to trying this myself. All I have to do now is learn how to work metal

Gaby Bee said...

Your pieces are amazing! Thanks for this great tutorial!

Gaby xo

Michele said...

Wonderful tutorial Annette, thank you! Love those bottles - they will look awesome with their heads LOL!

Squiddy said...

Keep jogging my memory - must practice what you've taught!!! Can I have a metabolic system that only requires 2 hours sleep in 24?

Elizabeth said...

OMG! My other half has this stuff, makes boards for his metal detector and I never once thought of the crafty possibilities. O.o
Where abouts do you find the sheet metal? He doesn't know that lol.

Unknown said...

Your instructions are very good.
I have tried in the past and was not happy with the results.
I did not know about adding foam to the back of the piece.
Your jewellery looks fabulous.

Deb said...

I just saw your tutorial posted on Pinterest and I'm so impressed with your skills. Thank you for sharing your knowledge !

Debbie Pamment said...

Thanx so much for a brilliant tutorial - and being Aussie based it's great to have all the supply info too. LOVE your work - VERY inspiring!

Althea Joseph said...

Fantastic tutorial, best I've come across!

Thank you for an entertaining and enlightening piece.

Unknown said...

Thank you for posting this technique. I am an art teacher who has used ferric chloride for etching with my students in the past. Your post gave excellent tips and techniques that are new to me and I am excited to try out, with the hopes that my results will continue to improve - I'm excited! I never thought about suspending the metal with styrofoam, or using the baking soda. Or using a heat gun to set the image, or using stamps! This all opens up a huge range of possibilities!
If I may, I have a few questions:
I do not have a heat gun in the classroom, however, I do have a toaster oven. Do you think this would set the image efficiently? Also, the disposal of baking soda and ferric chloride - is the combination harmful to the environment? I can't think of any other questions to ask right now! Eagerly awaiting your response - Heather


Hi Heather...I got your e-mail but couldn't reply to you as its a noreply mail message. I sent you a message in yr Google page but if you didn't get it just e-mail me directly at

Unknown said...

Thank you for posting such a thorough process! Your results are gorgeous!
I have etched onto metal with students for some years now, however, you have opened my eyes to some really good suggestions and techniques that I feel will make our projects turn out even better! Your technique of using styrofoam, warm water and heat to set images are VERY helpful. If I may, I have a few questions to ask you...
First, I do not have a heat gun in the classroom. However, I do have a toaster oven, specifically for the arts. Do you think this would work as well? Secondly, as for the disposal of the ferric chloride/baking soda, is this combination bad for the environment/corrosive to piping that you do not dispose of it down the drain? Also, I was wondering if using the double stick tape to connect the metal to the styrofoam protected the backing enough from the etching process - have you ever put Sharpie marker on the backing for extra protection? Lastly, I was wondering if you have found one to be better than the other - Sharpie vs. Ink Pad. Is one better for finer detail, overall quality, etc.? Your comments and expertise would be greatly appreciated as this is a super cool project that when it works out, it's incredible.
Thank you in advance,

windupherskirt said...

Great tutorial - the styrofoam is a great "floater."

I'd like to etch on aluminum (14g) - can you suggest any links on if this can be done ... and how to do it.


Denise McIntyre

Unknown said...

Thanks so much! This is a fantastic tutorial! I really appreciate it.


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