Thursday, June 4, 2009

Etching Brass and Copper

Etching Brass and Copper with Ferric Chloride
Materials needed:
Ferric Chloride Solution for etching - I found this solution at the local Radio Shack
Gloves, safety glasses, apron
Glass or plastic dish to hold etching solution
Dish for water/baking soda rinse
Clear packing tape
Sharpie markers, or other resist
copper or brass to etch
Green scotchbrite pad for cleaning copper


Safety First: Make sure to read all safety precautions that come with your feric chloride solution. Use good ventilation, and wear proper safety gear.

First, select your metal to be etched. Ferric Chloride will work on copper and brass, but not sterling silver. I suggest no thinner than 24 gauge for etching, I am using 20 gauge for this example. Thicker metal allows for a deeper etch - you don't want it eating all the way through the metal. Scrub the metal clean with a green scotch brite pad, removing all dirt and oils.

Choose your resist, and apply it to the metal. For a real low-tech etch, I am using sharpie markers. The area that is covered by ink will not be etched. Other resists include nail polish, tape, or you can use PnP for photo-etching. It is good to do a test for your first etch, playing around with different lines, patterns, or widths of the sharpie pens. I used ultra fine, fine, and chisel edged sharpies for this test strip.

Once you are finished with your design, place your patterned metal face down on a clean, smooth surface. I am using a large ceramic floor tile. Apply a long length of packing tape to the back, and burnish it down with the end of a plastic paint brush or similar item to remove air bubbles. Pay special attention to the edges - you don't want the solution seeping up underneath the tape. Note: You can also apply resist to the back of the metal, then apply the tape if the back of the piece.

Pour the ferric chloride into your dish so it is approx 1/2 - 3/4 inch deep. Suspend your metal on the top of the solution, using the tape to hold it in place. Make sure the entire surface is in contact with the etching solution. Suspending it on the surface, rather than completely submerging the piece, will also help prevent the etching solution from seeping under the tape.

Allow the metal to etch for at least 30 minutes. I like to gently agitate the solution every 10 minutes or so, by sliding the dish around on the counter top. This helps create a clean, even etch.

Check on the depth of the etch at 30 minutes. You can use a pin to help feel the depth of the etch. If it is not deep enough, place it back in the solution for 5-10 minute intervals. Solution that has been used for a while may need longer etching time.

Once an adequate depth has been reached, carefully remove it from the etching solution and rinse/neutralize in a bath of water and baking soda.

This is what my piece looked like after rinsing/neutralizing and drying. To remove the sharpie marker, you can clean with rubbing alcohol.

I then gave it a good scrub with a brass brush and soapy water, and applied a patina with liver of sulfur.

You can etch all sorts of shapes and sizes, you are only limited by the size of your etching bath. Here are some 1 inch copper discs that have been etched with various patterns. The lower left-hand pattern was done in 2 parts: I drew lines with a fine point sharpe in one direction, etched for 30 minutes. Cleaned off the resist, drew lines in the opposite direction, and etched for an additional 30 minutes. The result was a great woven/textile like pattern.


















These pieces were made by doming the copper discs after etching, and then setting in custom made bezels of fine and sterling silver.





















You don't have to etch just plain ol' sheet metal. Try making your own beads out of brass and copper tubing - round, square, rectangle, etc. Before cleaning and applying your pattern, fill the tube with clay or wax to prevent the etching solution from eating away from both sides of the tubing. Then put a length of silver wire through the tube to suspend the bead in the ferric chloride. (Remember, ferric chloride won't etch the silver)


Disposing of Ferric Chloride:
Please, be responsible when disposing of the ferric chloride solutions. While the bottle may say it is safe to pour down the drain, it is best to call your local hazardous waste authority to confirm. Regulations vary for every state, and even within different counties. For small businesses or hobbyists, there is often no charge at your local drop-off facility. Some cities also have an annual hazardous materials pick-up at no charge to you.

28 comments:

Melanie-Pearl said...

Yay! Can't wait till I get time to try this. Have been checking out all of the less hazardous options but they are so much more complicated and time consuming.

Thanks!

Orion Designs said...

What a great tutorial! I've also used the Sharpie to cover all of the edges, preventing those from etching and becoming very rough.

Ingo Jewelry said...

This is something new I have learnt today.
Thanks for sharing.

Lynette said...

Awesome tutorial! You can also etch nickel and bronze with ferric chloride fyi!

elizabethrosasjewelry said...

your piece came out fantastic Maggie. Thanks for the clear and concise tutorial....I am going to try this.

Rachael sudlow said...

the trick I use to hold it in the solution is to tape it onto styrofoam & have it sitting on the TOP of the solution..that way the particles that are etched off fall to the bottom. also makes it easy to swish around

virtuallori said...

Radio Shack no longer carries ferric chloride and will not order it for you. If your local store has any left in stock, grab it now.

Cynthia Del Giudice said...

Wonderful results! I have to try it! Thanks Maggie!

Fashionably Adorned said...

AWESOME!! Thanks, now I have another thing to add to my learn how to do list.. but this is great because I don't know how to silversmith yet and I'm just working with wire right now, but this I can do now also.. I'm excited and brass isn't to costly..
Thanks again, I love this blog
Sherice

Fashionably Adorned said...

Question, what is the ratio of water and baking soda for neutralize bath??
Thanks

Lunasa Designs Jewelry said...

Awesome tutorial Maggie! I've also used beeswax as a resist - although the sharpie looks much easier (and less messy)! I like Rachael's tip about the styrofoam! I never would have thought of that!

gloria said...

This is a great tutorial. Very clear so that even I can do this and will! Thank you!

Maggie said...

FashionablyAdorned - I use about 1 liter of water, and just dump a bunch of baking soda into the water, no strict guidelines. I'd say it is probably about 1/4 of a cup or so.

Thanks for all the other info/tips everyone! I did not know it could etch nickel!!

Imaginative Intentions said...

Fabulous tutorial! The pieces you made are absolutely gorgeous! I want to try this soooooo badly!

Sonja Marshall-Bone said...

Wonderful tutorial! Can't wait to practice it myself. Thank you.

sher065 said...

Thanks for spending the time to teach! Something else for me to play with!

Judy said...

Thank-you, Thank-you !!! I have been wanting to do this, I can not wait to try it. Great turorial!!

Alana F said...

First of all, thank you so much for the fabulous tutorial! I am so excited to add this technique to some of my projects! Second, I am having some troubles getting my hand on the etching solution (I am in Canada and we don’t have radio shack). I am wondering what the concentrate of the solution you used is?
Thanks so much for your help!

Lori Lenzen said...

I bought my etching solution here- http://www.ornamentea.com/ or you could try RioGrande.com (they also have Patinas as well). I took a class on this topic this past weekend and loved it. We used StazOn permanent ink pads and rubber stamps if you want a particular design you can't draw on! Great tutorial- thank you!

DalkullanJewelry said...

Thanks for this wonderful post! I'm definitely going to give this a try. Does anyone know what chemical is used to etch sterling silver?

Jason said...

Ferric Nitrate, but good luck finding a source for it.
You can also try it on aluminum, but the reaction gets VERY warm and needs to be done OUTSIDE away from anything (dogs, cats, children, front porches) that you don't want permanently harmed by the reaction.

btriver said...

Can the etching solution be reused or only used once?

virtuallori said...

@btriver, you can use it until it doesn't work anymore. The more it is used, the slower it will etch.

Brass Fittings said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John From OZ said...

If you can't find Ferric Chloride, the better alternative is Ammonium Pursulphate. It's clear when you start and turns a blueish colour when you are finished.

John From Western Australia.

sven said...

I just tried using Speedball screen filler (for screen printing). Worked like a charm. Easily flows on a brush more of a painterly effect. Your blog was my starting point, thought I'd add this as a bit of help/news.

jtbmetaldesigns said...

Good work. FYI..an easy way to dispose of ferric chloride is to add it to an excess of baking soda solution and stir periodically stir it and maybe let sit a couple days. You will be left with ordinary salt mixed with the baking soda and the Cedric chloride will be converted to simple ferric oxide or plain rust. filter the clear solution and use the iron oxide to make red or orange paint!!

tonya said...

Looking forward to trying this, thanks so much for sharing!

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