Last week I posted about my first experience with copper etching and I promised to share more about the process and show a finished piece of jewelry. Here are the first pair of earrings I ever made from some of the handmade copper etched jewelry components I made. They feature dyed mother of pearl flat beads, handmade ceramic rondelles which I also made, rootbeer and champagne seed beads and the rectangular etched copper components which include a swirl, polka dot and dash design.
Here’s a link to the earrings in my Amazon Handmade shop. These are a part of my high end copper jewelry line called Copper Ridge and I will be offering these not only retail but wholesale to qualifiying retailers.
Exactly, how did I make these etched copper components? Here’s the process in a nut shell. I plan to come back by the end of the month and provide photos and /or a video but haven’t had time yet to do so.
- Ferric Chloride or your own mixture of Hydrochloric Acid (Muriatic Acid) and Peroxide. (2 parts hydrogen peroxide to 1 part hydrochloric acid also known as muriatic acid). You can find the Muriatic Acid in your local home improvement store. It is used for etching concrete. It might be in the paint section. (I used the Muriatic Acid mixture.)
- A flat plastic container for placing your etching solution in
- Duct tape
- Masking tape
- Wet dry sand paper or medium to fine steel wool
Ferric Chloride is considered toxic waste. When done using it you cannot just dump it down the drain. Muriatic Acid and Peroxide mixture is okay to dump.
Wear a protective mask whenever you work with chemicals. Wear safety glasses. Wear thick rubber gloves (not the thin disposable kind). Use good ventilation, especially when your solution is new. (Open a window or door.)
You can use this technique on copper, brass and bronze though I haven’t tried it.
You cannot use this technique on silver. For that you must use Nitric Acid and it is another process.
- Sand all edges and front surface of your cut out copper pieces. You can use steel wool or wet/dry sand paper to shine it up and smooth out all nicks and scratches.
- Clean all grease off metal. Can use acetone, dish detergent with a little degreaser or Bark Keeper’s Friend (a metal polish).
- You now will create a “resist” which will mask the areas you want to etch. There are several ways you can do this. You can draw your design onto your metal by hand using any of the following methods a) a black Sharpie marker which is what I used. I haven’t tried any other resist methods except the acrylic paint method. b) Paint Pen dipped in red etching varnish 3) acrylic paint painted on 3) a pattern stamped on with Staz-On Ink and a stamp 5) For intricate patterns use a laser printer or copier. Use recycled magazine paper (shiny) to print on. Heavy magazine paper works best. Regular copier paper will not work. The magazine print will not print but the laser print you printed on the printed page will. Once you have printed onto your magazine paper, use a heated iron with the steam option turned off to press the toner design onto your metal on the highest setting. Let the metal cool for 2 minutes. When the metal is cool put the metal your transferred the ink onto into a water bath to soak off the magazine paper. You can rub off the paper with your hand. Don’t worry if some of the paper is still adhered to the metal. It will dissolve in an acid bath.
- NOTE: If you don’t want your edges etched then you can use a Sharpie on them
4. Use duct tape on the back of your copper to prevent etching. Press your metal pieces with the desigh up and the blank side down onto the tape. You don’t want the metal to fall off the duct tape into the solution which will eat away at the back side of your metal.
5. Tape your pieces that are fixed to the duct tape to a small Styrofoam block (you want them to float and not touch the container bottom so the etching solution gets under it.)
6. Fill your flat plastic container with either the Ferric Chloride or the Peroxide and Muriatic Acid mixture to etch the copper. Open the containers carefully to avoid breathing the fumes.
You can reuse the solution multiple times.(Can store in a non-metal container with lid such as a Mason jar, mayo jar, etc.)
7. Place your prepared “floats” face down in the etch bath.
Note: Brand new solution etches super fast. The older and more used the solution the longer it will take to etch. It can take anywhere from 5 minutes with new high power solution to 30 minutes or up to an hour or more for older solution. Also, the colder your room temperature the longer your etch time. When it starts taking an hour or more to etch then it’s time to replace your solution. You solution will turn green and that is normal as it is the copper residue that is left in the etch bath.
How do you know when it is etched enough? If your resist design looks distinctively raised then you have etched enough. If you leave the metal in a new, strong solution for too long, it can eat away you metal completely. I know, I learned the hard way.
8. Once you are done etching, rinse off your etched pieces with water. Despite rinsing, etching may still be taking place. To stop the process , depending on what you use to etch with, you may want to rinse with a solution of 50 percent ammonia and 50 percent water . let sit for 15 mins
9. Remove your resist from your metal by using either rubbing alcohol or acetone. Shine up your metal using Bar Keeper’s Friend.
10. If you wish to colorize etched metal, that is the next step.