Is Saltwater Etching Safe?

I’ve been saltwater etching for a long time and didn’t know all the chemistry behind it. Then I watched Nancy LT Hamilton‘s new video on electro-etching and learned how dangerous the chemical byproducts of saltwater etching can be.   As the Reddit article explains:

“Using saltwater as your etching electrolyte can be rather problematic due to competing side reactions. The main one of course being electrolysis of salt, which produces chlorine at the anode and hydrogen at the cathode. So you would have a toxic gas and a highly flammable gas to deal with.  The other product of electrolysis of NaCl solution is sodium hydroxide,[my note: lye] which remains in solution.”  

I encourage you to read the whole article, here.  and to watch the video, here.  Hamilton offers alternatives to saltwater that will allow you to etch better and more safely.

 

And on a lighter note,  my neighbor Bob added some beautiful new plants to his garden.  I just have to show you more pictures.

Metal Lentils

Here’s a pair of earrings I made this Summer.  First I etched some copper sheet with a Japanese wave pattern and then I cut out  four 1 1/2 inch circles to make disks.

I filed the edges of disks so they were all even,  put holes in the center of each one with hole punch pliers  and dapped a gentle curve into the disks with a wood dapping block.

I sanded the bottom of each disk in preparation for soldering.  The edges had to meet all the way around with no gaps.

Getting a bottom half ready for soldering.  I have pickled and fluxed the discs and am using medium solder.  I like to flash my flux with the flame to dry it out before laying the solder because then the solder doesn’t skitter around because the flux is bubbling.

A lentil bead ready for soldering.  You notice that I’m bit using binding wire.  I’ve never had much luck with it anyway.  Lexi Erickson (see below) suggests pinning the bead to the firebrick through the holes.  This worked beautifully for me.

After soldering before pickling and cleaning

I am learning to use less solder.  It means less cleanup!

I patinated both sides of the lentil beads with a butane torch.




I finished the earrings with brass washers that I dapped to conform to the curve of the lentil beads, and decided to use carbon steel wire to attach the earrings to the ear wires.  I like the look of mixed metals.

I recommend both of Lexi Erickson’s soldering DVDs. They are packed with useful information and common sense tips.  You can order them from Interweave’s Jewelry Making Daily Shop.

Learning to Make Metal Beads

I’ve spent some time this summer learning how to make metal beads.  The above bead is a copper lentil about 2.5 inches across.  I etched the metal I used on the front before I made the bead and I patinated it afterwards.   Theresa Mowery of The Patina Studio who commented on an earlier post, suggested that I try Miracle Gro as a patina agent.  What a GREAT TIP!  I ended up using African Violet food because I didn’t have to mix any powder, but the principle is the same.  This stuff works fast!  I got the patina you see above after a couple of days.  I sealed the pendant with Sophisticated Finishes sealer and then gave it a buff with Renaissance Wax.   Here are some more pictures:

The glass beads in the last picture are hollow lampwork.  The beads are lengths of copper pipe that I cut from found scrap.  I pounded them (after annealing) so they looked wrinkled,filed and sanded the ends smooth and soldered  copper disks (with holes in center) to the ends of the pipes.  More filing and sanding followed.  I have a way to go with these.  I found the lentil beads went together with less effort; maybe because it’s easier to sand the edges to get flat surfaces for soldering, so they clean up much more easily.  And the metal is thinner than the pipe metal so it’s easier to work with.  An addendum:  forging can damage your joints including your elbows and wrists.  A safer way to make the wrinkled beads is through use of a hydraulic press. 


Here’s the part of the post where a recommend a book!    Making Metal Beads by  Pauling Warg is a fabulous book on how to make all kinds of metal beads, not just soldered ones.   Be warned that there is no Precious Metal Clay in this book, but Warg does have directions for using cold connections to fabricate unique beads that will catch everyone’s eye as well as tutorials on how to alter ready made beads  into something that looks unique and totally hand made.

Here’s a video featuring Pauline Warg:

More Metal Etching Experiments

Last week   I said that I would post some pictures of my etching experiments.  Here they are.  DSCF0267

 This is a piece of brass etched with the  Edinburgh etch  solution.  I copied the image onto a transparency and ironed it on to the metal before etching.

 

 

 

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 This is copper etched with ferric chloride.  I drew the design with a Sharpie marker.

 

 

 

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 These are pieces of a brass charger plate I cut up.  I stamped the image on the left with a rubber stamp and Stayz on Ink 

 

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 This is a black and white image I reproduced onto a sheet of label backing with a laser printer  then ironed on to copper.  I used Edinburgh etch  solution.

 

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 Here, I inked a rubber stamp with a black Sharpie pen and etched the copper with ferric chloride.

 

 

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 I made this resist pattern with a silk screen and thick acrylic paint.  It worked well, but I  found it difficult to get a paint that would not bead up on the metal.  

Try making findings, components and texture sheets for polymer clay.                  DSCF0217DSCF0261DSCF0287

        

Come See My Etchings

 

DSCF0200My latest passion (aside from my husband)  is metal etching.  I am so obsessed that I even cut up some brass charger plates (flea market finds) and am etching and making  jewelry from the brass.  I’m using copper too.

I started my etching explorations with ferric chloride, which you can buy as  PCB Etchant at Radio Shack.  Rumors abound that Radio Shack no longer sells this.  It’s not true.  Much to my delight, however, I found you can purchase ferric chloride for half the price at Dick Blick.

Ferric chloride is not acid, but you don’t want to get it on your hands, clothes or in your eyes.  I wear gloves and eye protection when I use it, and I work in a well ventilated room.

After scouring or sanding your metal to make sure it is free of tarnish, dirt and fingerprint oil, you put an image on it that will resist the ferric chloride.  In othe words,  the ferric chloride will eat away whatever you did not cover with etchant resist.  Sharpie permanent markers provide an effective resist as well as Stayz On Ink which enables you to use your favorite rubber stamps.  Sharp black and wDSCF0259hite images work best. Another method is to photocopy or laser print your images onto transparency film sheets and iron the image onto the cleaned metal.  DSCF0251Transparency film is expensive.  I have had success with the backing for a sheet of labels made to be printed with a computer.  If you work in an office, ask  people to save these for you instead of throwing them away.   I print the image on the side of the sheet where the labels were and iron it onto the metal, image side down.

After you prepare your metal and fill a glass or plastic container with a couple of inches of ferric chloride, you cover DSCF0242the back of the metal with packing tape and suspend it, design side down, into the solution.  Why?  The etchant eats the metal and metal fragments flake away.  If the metal was right side up, the fragments would sit on the metal and interfere with the etching process. 

When you remove your piece from the solution, neutralize it with baking soda or ammonia, rinse well with water and clean off the resist.  The time you have to etch depends on how strong your solution is (e.g. how many times you’ve used it).  Ferric chloride, which is a salt and not an acid,  is considered a slow etchant, so your etching time might run from 30 minutes to several hours.  You need to check your metal from time to time until you know what to expect.

You can reuse the etchant until it’s too weak to perform.  Then you must dispose of it.  Don’t pour it down the drain.  It contains metal fragments and you don’t want to add them to the water supply.  Contact your local government authority for instructions on how to dispose of hazardous materials.

I learned of a great alternative to ferric chloride works faster and eliminates those pesky metal fragments.  It’s called the Edinburgh Etch and it’s composed of ferric chloride and citric acid.  Citric acid is a natural substance found in citrus fruit and many soft drinks (It’s not just the sugar that rots your teeth.)  I have seen many complicated formulas and equations for mixing ferric chloride and citric acid.    I mix 4 parts ferric chloride to one part citric acid.  The citric acid is composed of 3 parts water and one part citric acid by volume.  Translated, this means  1  cup ferric chloride (16 oz), added to a mixture of  4 oz  citric acid.  You mix the citric acid by adding  1 oz powder by volume to 3 oz water.  Increase this formula to get more etchant solution.  You can buy citric acid on ebay.  For more information on metal etching, go to Makers Gallery, Ganoksin, etsymetal and DIY Network.

Next week I’ll post some pictures of my etched metal.