Thursday, February 24, 2011

Copper Etching Tutorial

I blogged about this tutorial before Christmas & I'm sorry that's it's taken me so long to get this posted.  I don't have any excuses, really, I just kept putting it off.  Well, here it is & I hope I'm clear in my directions.  There are several different ways of etching copper & brass, but this is how I do it.  If you have any questions, please ask & I'll do my best to answer them.


Pictured above are the supplies that I used for this project.

Ferric Chloride solution (I ordered from Dick Blick)
packing tape
acrylic paint (used as a resist)
Sharpie (also used as a resist....seriously, what would be do without Sharpies?)
baking soda (to neutralized the solution) 
plastic take out container
styrofoam
I also used a small paint brush to apply to resist to the copper

The first thing I did was to saw the copper the size & shape that I wanted.  You can etch the design into the copper first, then cut out different shapes, but because I was going to have a central figure, I went ahead & shaped the base.

The copper needs to be clean & pretty & free of residual oils to get the best results.  I sanded & steel wooled the copper to a nice buttery sheen.

Next I added the design to the copper.  It was a combination of graphite rubbing & sketching in the parts that didn't transfer well.  You know, outline the design in graphite, then flip it over & rub the edges so that the graphite transfers onto the copper.  In this case, I had to do a mirror image because I didn't want both puppies facing the same way.  If you're etching words, don't forget that the image will have to be reversed or your words will be backwards. 

After I had the design transfer onto the copper I painted the area that I didn't want etched.  This is the part that will not be eaten by the solution.  I also used my Sharpie, but noticed that the Sharpie had the tendency to pull off some of the paint.  This took a bit of time because there were some small areas where it was hard to get my paint brush in.  If I messed up, I took a cotton swab & removed as much of the paint as possible.  If it was Sharpie, I had to use a little steel wool to remove the lines I didn't want, sometimes accidentally taking off  some that I wanted to keep.  I just painted them back.  I also tried to keep my fingers from the touching the nice clean copper as much as possible.


After I let the paint dry, I used the Sharpie again to go around the edge of the copper.  This needs to be protected or the solution will start eating away at the edges, which could be a nice effect, but I didn't want the relic look for this piece.

I put clear packing tape on the back of each piece, burnishing well.  I didn't want the solution to get behind the copper so I burnished, then burnished some more.  I just snipped off the extra tape that hung past the edge.

I had some little pieces of styrofoam that I used as floats.  I just doubled over another piece of tape so that both sides were sticky & stuck the copper to their little boats, pressing firmly.


I poured the ferric chloride solution into a little plastic take out container.  You can use most anything plastic or glass but no metal.  Your container needs to be large enough to hold your little boats & I wanted one with a lid so I could save the solution for the next time.  Be sure to label the container & keep it in a safe place away from little hands & little paws.

Drop the little babies into the bath, face down, & try to take notice of the time. Notice I said "try".


After about 15 minutes, I carefully removed each piece & rinsed it off with water.to remove the tiny copper bits that had already started to fall away.  The reason the piece has to be hung upside down is to allow the copper particles to go to the bottom.  If the copper was design side up, the copper "etchings" would stay on top of the copper & interfere with the etching process.  It may be tempting but DO NOT use anything to try to wipe the copper while you're rinsing it off.  I did it & a wiped off a little of the paint.  I used another little container of water to dip the pieces in to rinse off the particles.  This is also when you should check to see if it's etched enough for you.

I rinsed & checked the etching process about every 10 minutes, & sooner as it got closer to what I wanted.  I think I let this etch about an hour, but I'm terrible at clock watching.  After it was etched to my liking, I rinsed & neutralized the etching solution with baking soda.  I used an old toothbrush which also served to remove most of the paint & Sharpie marks.  (Ferric chloride can also be neutralized by a 50/50 solution of ammonia & water.  Just let the pieces soak in the solution for about 15 minutes.)  I also dropped a little baking soda into the rinse water to neutralize the minute amount of the solution that may have come off of the copper pieces. 


I unstuck it from the styrofoam boats, also popping them into the neutralized rinse water.  Not so pretty, huh?

I polished with a bit of steel wool.


Ok, a little better.  After a little more wooling, I applied a little LOS with a paint brush around the edges of the designs.  
More polishing, a gentle dapping & a few hours in the tumbler netted me these pretties 
for my Mom.



It's not a perfect etch, but I like it's organic nature.  

If you don't remember, this design was the first collaboration of Mom & me for a pendant that I donated to a silent auction for Independent Animal Rescue.  That pendant will always be special to me for so many reasons, but mostly because Mom was part of it's design.

This is a chemical so be sure to wear your safety goggles & gloves.  No little feet or paws should be around while you're working with this.  

I've used the same solution in the same container 3 times & it still seems to be etching just fine.  Once the solution is spent, do not pour it down the drain .  Proper disposal is a MUST.  You need to check with your local Hazardous Waste Company on to how to dispose of the copper sludge that you will eventually get from etching as well as the old solution.

I hope this tutorial has been helpful.  Really, it's not scary at all.  It is a chemical & should be treated with respect, but I accidentally got some on my skin & it didn't burn or sting, I just washed it off with soap & water.

I'll definitely  be doing more etching..maybe I'll even do a little today.  I'm working on a little something for a giveaway.  Details coming soon.  Really.  I promise it won't be another 2 months.  

Have a wonderful day!!

2 comments:

Adventures with Millie Making Jewelry said...

Thanks for sharing this project! These earrings are really cute!

Willow Branch said...

Thanks you so much!!

Pam