Preparing For Etching Class

by jeanmatray on October 11, 2009

I met Beth and Fiona in the studio a couple of days ago to talk and test out a few things for the up-coming etching class.

The class is 3 sessions, 3 hours long, starting on Oct 23, 2009. Brass or copper can be etched using this method and the etched metal can be used as components for jewelry, or, the brass plates can be used in the rolling mill to print on another softer metal. Resists are used to create designs. The portion of the metal that is covered with the resists “resists” being etched. The class will concentrate on three types of resists. The first is permanent marker (Sharpie), the second is cut-outs (using contact paper), and the third is PnP (Press N Peel) paper.  Sharpie and cut-outs are your own designs, and PnP paper can transfer your own designs OR designs from your computer or other media (no copyright infringement, of course).

We wanted to test the etchant since Beth had recently purchased some new ferric chloride (a gallon). We decided to do the Sharpie and the cut-out resists.  We’ll also make sure the iron we have works to transfer the PnP design onto the metal.

We cut some squares of brass and copper (18 gauge).  The metal was cleaned with a paste of pumice and water.  Contact paper was used to back the metal (whatever is not covered is etched). We used scissors to make our cut-outs in the contact paper (Exacto knives will be used in class) and Sharpies for drawing.  Zentangle was still fresh in our heads from the class we took, so we drew a few “tangles” (for more information on Zentangle see www.zentangle.com).

Cut-Out and Sharpie Examples

Cut-Out and Sharpie Examples

Starting Sharpie Resist Example

Starting Sharpie Resist Example

Sharpie Resist Example - Finished

Sharpie Resist Example - Finished

I got this etchant tank a few years back at Web-tronics – http://www.web-tronics.com/lowcosettans.html.  This set up is used to etch circuit boards, and works very nicely allowing us to slide the pieces in the circuit board slots (be sure to leave an edge without a design for this). It has a heating device as well as a bubbler.  We didn’t use the heating device (since I forgot it) and got a nice etch after about 40 minutes. I’ll remember the heating device for class. It will cut down the etching time.

Going Into the Etchant

Going Into the Etchant

Often I check the depth of the etch by rubbing my finger (gloved) over the metal. I knew, but had forgotten, that this action also does a good job of removing the not-permanent-in-ferric-chloride permanent marker from the metal. It’s something to remember for the class.

We did have a little trouble keeping the bubbler from bobbing.  We had this idea of using a vise grip to weigh it down. It didn’t seem so precarious in real life, but in this picture it looks top-heavy.  This bucket falling over would be a nasty disaster.  I’ll have to think of something else. (Notice some of the cool postcards in the background that we got from other Orchidians!) (And notice Fiona eagerly “watching the pot”.)

Does a Watched Pot Etch?

Does a Watched Pot Etch?

Everything worked out great with our 4 pieces and the etchant and setup works well, so we are ready for class! After being removed from the etchant we put them in some ammonia and washed them clean. After removing all of the contact paper we again neutralized them in baking soda. A little pumice or brass brush pulled off all of the remaining Sharpie marks.

Finished pieces

Finished pieces

And now it was time for the PnP test. We decided not to etch this piece, but just make sure the design transferred well. We can use the piece as an example in the first class. Earlier in the week I had filled a blank white piece of paper with lots of designs and then put that page on the copier (at the local stationery store) and copied it onto the PnP paper. I then cut out a specific design to transfer.

PnP Before Transfer

PnP Before Transfer

I placed the design on the metal and rubbed it gently with a hot iron. After 1 minute I removed the iron and rubbed the design (like burnishing) with a cloth (carefully, you don’t want to move the PnP paper) to ensure the design had adhered. I repeated the ironing and burnishing a couple of times. Before removing the PnP I ran the metal under cold water. The cold water seems to make the transfer clear.

PnP Resist On Metal

PnP Resist On Metal

I’m looking forward to class! Next class after this is a Rolling Mill class where students can use their own etched brass plates.

Notes to self:

  • Don’t test the depth of a Sharpie etch by rubbing it.
  • Cover the metal shear! Any splattered FC will etch it!
  • Bring lots of rubber gloves, baking soda, Exacto knives, heating device, Fiona’s smock.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Katherine Palochak October 14, 2009 at 9:50 am

I hope you don’t mind me giving you some constructive advice on your etching, but I’ve taught etching for quite a few years and I would like to point out some things to you.

Although ferric chloride is relatively safe, it doesn’t mean precautions should not be taken. The first is to restrict the cat from your studio when etching. Ferric chloride is readily absorbed through the skin, and was in fact used at one time for treating pernicious anemia by painting it onto the palms of the hands.

Anyone who has a liver problem, are pregnant or unsupervised children or pets should not be allowed anywhere around it. Just because it will not hurt normal healthy adults that have occasional casual contact with it, doesn’t mean someone with a compromised immune system, a smaller size or may not have the maturity to know better than to lick it off, doesn’t mean it won’t give them a sufficient dose to give them liver poisoning.

Ferric chloride should never be heated. At 125 degrees Fahrenheit, it starts releasing chlorine gas. Chlorine gas is lethal. Room temperature is fine. If you want to etch faster, use an Edinburgh etch process (ferric chloride only).

Take the necessary precautions of restricting access to your etching area, and be meticulous about cleaning up afterwards.

Littleton Studio School-Jean Matray October 13, 2009 at 7:07 am

Hi Beth – Fiona is busy making herself a smock. She’s quite a seamstress (among many other talents).
Thanks for the read. Do you follow a similar procedure? I’d love to hear bits that other people do differently and incorporate them.

Beth Wicker October 13, 2009 at 6:29 am

Great explanation – I etch too and am always interested in how others do it. Does Fiona really have a smock??? My Tenzing doesn’t…..hmmmm…..maybe I need to make him one?

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