HOW TO ACID ETCH BRASS JEWELRY
Brass can be an attractive and affordable medium for jewelry making, or if you’re like me, you deal in brass bullet casings as part of your design. No matter how you source your brass, acid etching can be an easy way to add some depth and detail to your designs.
What You’ll Need
The great thing about etching brass is that it doesn’t require expensive or hard to find material. I was able to gather everything I needed in one afternoon while out running errands.
- · Ferric Chloride Acid – This is available at most any Radio Shack
- Baking Soda – This will be used to neutralize the acid and stop the etching process
- Plastic containers – ALWAYS, always use plastic as metal will be damaged by the acid
- Wooden dowels – These can be used as floats to keep your metal suspended in the acid bath
- Scotch tape – Makes masking super easy
- Permanent Ink – In either pen, marker or stamp form
- Latex Gloves – Safety first! This is acid
- Plastic tongs – I use a pair that came with a Chick-Fil-A party pack
- Black Rustoleum Paint – Available at Home Depot or Lowes
- Rubbing Alcohol
- Paper Towels
- And of course, your brass piece(s)
One More Thing...
Depending on the look you’re going for, you may or may not want to clean up your brass before getting started. I personally lean toward a more rustic look so starting with a little patina only adds to the cool factor. However, if you would like a little more contrast in your piece, now would be the time to use some Brasso or Penny Brite to give it a little shine.
Okay! Let’s Get Started!
Step 1: Apply Your Design
You can either hand draw a design of your own making or use a permanent ink pad and stamp to apply a more intricate or patterned design. Just know that anywhere you apply permanent ink, the acid will be resisted (in other words, that area will say raised and shiny). For larger areas, the Scotch tape is a life saver. It will resist the acid beautifully as long as the edges don’t get peeled back or bubble.
Step 2: Apply Your Float
Once you’ve got your piece marked and taped up just so, you need to make sure that it doesn’t sink and sit on the bottom of your acid bath. Since I etch primarily bullet casings, I’ve found that I can do one of two things: either plug the open end of the casing with a wooden dowel or simply tape tightly over the hole trapping air. It depends on if you want the etching to go all the way down. If you’re etching a flat piece you can simply tape the chunk of wooden dowel to the back of your piece.
NOTE: Be sure to completely tape up the blank or back side of your piece if you don’t want it etched!
Step 3: Into the Bath
Simply place your pieces into the Ferric Chloride (which is definitely in a plastic container, right?), making sure that your non-taped or marked areas are submerged. If your container has a lid, put it on. If it doesn’t, place it in a larger plastic tub to safeguard from splashes and spills. Depending on how deep you want the etch, you can let your pieces sit for 30 minutes to an hour.
Extra Tip: Vibration can help shake gunk off the brass as it etches as well as create some interesting waves on the metal. I put my tub on top of the dryer during an air cycle and this seems to do the trick.
Step 4: Pull Your Pieces
After about 30 minutes, you’ll want to put on those nifty gloves, grab your plastic tongs, and check your pieces. You can take a toothpick and run the tip across your piece to feel how raised the etching might be. If you want more, drop your pieces back in and check them every 15 minutes.
If you’re ready to pull your pieces, you need to have a second plastic tub with about a cup of water and three tablespoons baking soda mixed. Take your pieces out of the acid and drop them into the water and baking soda. When everything stops fizzing, it means your acid has been neutralized and your pieces will no longer etch as they sit. Rinse them with cool, clean water.
Step 5: Finishing Touches
Your piece may look somewhat funky when they come out of the bath but not to worry. That’s normal. After you peel off any Scotch tape you had on the piece, use rubbing alcohol to remove all of the permanent ink. At this time, I will typically take a polishing cloth such as a Sunshine Cloth and give the whole piece, and especially the raised areas, a quick buffing.
All that’s left is to add some black Rustoleum paint (or the antiquing agent of your choice) to really bring out your etching. I simply take a paper towel, place it over my finger and rub small amounts of paint over the piece until I’m satisfied. I then wipe away the excess and give the piece a good buffing again with a cloth.
Step 6? Stand back and admire your handiwork. Or better yet, get it in your Etsy shop!
One Last Thing...
You can continue to use your ferric chloride acid for quite a long time. Of course, as you continue to use it, it will decrease in strength. When it gets to the point where it needs to be replaced, you will need to dispose of it safely. While adding baking soda will neutralize the acid, it will not do anything to change the buildup of copper in the solution. Copper is considered an environmental hazard and can cause serious damage if dumped in a water system or in your yard.
The best and safest way to dispose of your spent acid is to take it to a facility that specializes in the disposal of hazardous chemicals.
Happy crafting to you all and good luck in all of your etching endeavors!