This is my inaugural post for Art Jewelry Elements, and I am so glad to be here! (You can read more about me and why hammers make me a little weak in the knees here if you’re interested.) I am a nut for all things metal, and I recently took a class in metal etching to try and expand my toolbox of techniques a little bit, since I don’t own a rolling mill to impress patterns into the metal I use in my studio. (Yet.)
Before we continue, a word about safety: metal etching involves working with chemicals that can do a lot of damage.
|This is what a splash of etchant did to concrete. Now imagine what it could do to your skin!|
So this isn’t a tutorial – I don’t want your third degree chemical burns on my conscience! If you’re interested in metal etching, I strongly encourage you to take a class from a qualified instructor who can walk you through the safe use of the chemicals and how to troubleshoot when you run into problems, which you inevitably will. (If you’re in the San Antonio, Texas area, I highly recommend Wired Designs Studio – they offer classes in all things metal, wire, metal clay, and glass fusing.)
The lovely Gail Stouffer walked us through marking up our metal sheet with resist.
|The lovely Gail is not actually teaching in this photo. Use your imagination!|
“Resist” can be any waterproof material that will resist the action of the etchant. Basically, the metal will stay unchanged under the resist while the metal around it will be etched away, resulting in a raised pattern. In our case, we used a waterproof stamping ink called Staz-on.
|I loved the wood-grain stamp, but couldn’t find on at my local stamp store|
Once we’d played around with some designs and the ink on our sheets were dry, we headed outside to mix up some chemicals and start the etching process.
|Note the gloves and safety glasses!|
The etchant started out clear, but as it ate away the copper in the metal sheet, it began to turn green.
|Not lime jello!|
The first round of etching only took 30 minutes, and we got a nice deep etch with lots of detail.
|Before and after|
When we cleaned up the panels and started cutting out the designs, it all started to come together. I was particularly fond of these two sections, which really popped when I lightly patina’d them.
|Woodgrain etch (left) and music sheet etch (right)|
Our second etch wasn’t quite so successful. The etchant by this time was a bright green – like lime jello – but it should have had plenty of “oomph” to give us a good etch. After nearly an hour, the etch was still very shallow – more of a polished area. Even cleaned and with a patina on it, the pattern was hard to see and the metal felt nearly completely smooth.
|Neutralized but uncleaned sand dollar etch (left); cleaned and patina’d sand dollar etch (right)|
If I were doing it over again, I would have left the second batch in the etchant a little longer and put them in face up. But since we were getting to the end of the day and had to clean and close up the studio, we went with what we had. Obviously I need to experiment more!
So while the process is a little involved and I don’t love having all those chemicals around, the result is totally worth it. As a matter of process, I think it probably makes sense to mark up a bunch of metal sheet and spend an afternoon once or twice a month just etching it all. Then I’ll have lots of custom-patterned metal to make components with when the mood strikes me. This is the first pair of earrings I made with the patterned brass (and also my first attempt at this stirrup-style bail, which kicked my butt).
|The stirrup bail/tops on these earrings kicked my butt – I need more practice on that technique!|
All in all, if metal is your thing, I highly recommend adding an etching class to your class schedule sometime soon. It’s a great, flexible, and customizable technique that will really expand your repertoire.
Until next time!