old timer

Monday, January 18, 2016

Let's Etch Some Copper and Brass

Hi guys!

How are ya???  I know!  It's been a while.  I'm still trying to find my way in life.  What do I want to be when I grow up?  Just turned 60 and I still don't know.  YAY!  That means I just keep trying things. 

I've been up to Vancouver, B.C. a few times watching hockey, shopping, eating and walking.  FUN!  Just some inexpensive overnight train rides.  It's fun!!!  It's nearly rugby season.   YAY!!!!!!!!   Hurry up!

A while back I found some brass banding at my local metal recycler.  I found a funky piece of copper at home in my jewelry finds.  SO!  Let's do some etching with these.

First thing you need to know is I have only done this one other time.  I am NOT a pro at this.  I'm learning as I show you how.  Hahaha!!!  Look out.  I like what I did.  Hope you do too.

This is something anyone can do with limited skills and tools.  There are 2 ways to do this.  Start with something you bought that is made of raw copper and/or brass.  Either or both.  By raw I mean it does not have a finish on it.  OR ... take a piece of raw copper and/or brass, cut it, file it and you are ready.

This is what I made from raw copper and brass:

The top piece is a piece of heavy, thick plumbers tape.
  The bottom piece is some of the brass banding
I found.  I'm going to make bracelets with these.

I took all the pictures indoors, sorry.  So they are a little dark.  I'm going to go through how to do this pretty quick.  It is very simple. 

Let's start with a list of what I used.

Cordless drill
Needle nose pliers
Wire brush wheel
Cloth wheel
Sanding paper
Glass jar - wide mouth and large enough for your metal to lay flat across the bottom of the jar
Copper etching liquid
Raw copper
Tin snips  (I used these to cut and shape copper)
Metal file  (I've used nail files too!  You just ruin them quickly!)
Permanent marker

I bought this at Radio Shack.  You can use
any brand you want or can find.

I cut the brass and copper into the length and shape I wanted with the tin snips.  Then I used the metal file to clean up all the edges. 

Now this is important ..... You HAVE TO clean all the "stuff" off the copper/brass.  I used the sandpaper to go over the top, bottom and edges of every single inch of the metals.  If there is dirt or something on there, the etching will have a real tough time working for you.  This takes a little elbow grease and time.  If you don't do this ... your finished piece will probably be a big disappointment.  NOT what you want.  So, take the time.

Now I wash the metals with soap and water.  Rinse the metals really, really well while trying NOT to touch the top or bottom.  Your finger prints WILL show up etched.  HEY!  We can try that next.  How to get your kids prints ... just in case!!!

Clean and dry.


DRY your metals and start marking them.  Draw something fun, yet simple.  I find the thicker the line, the more the etching shows up.  This is a good idea on your first try.  Later I'm going to try something thinner and fancier.  Now, set them aside.

I poured about 1/2" of the etching liquid into a jar.  I used the wrong type of jar.  It made this harder than it should have been.  Use a wide mouth jar.  Mine was a regular jar and it made it tough to get the metal out.  OH!  The jar ... it needs to be wide enough at the bottom to let your metal lay flat.  This way you will use less etching liquid.  Less waste.


Drop your metal into the liquid by sliding it down the side of the jar.  DON'T DROP IT INTO THE LIQUID.  The splashing may get you.  Not what you want to happen.  The instructions on my bottle say to aggravate the metal.  So I swished the jar around and around for a few seconds.  Now, set your timer for 10 minutes and relax.

After 10 minutes.

After 20 minutes.

I used needle nose pliers to grab the metal out of the liquid.  This can leave marks.  Grab the metal by the sides if possible.  If you have a hole in the metal you can try fishing it out with a piece of wire that is bent on the end.  Check the metal.  Look to see if the metal, that is NOT marked with the marker, is changing.  You want to see the marked parts raised.  This will take some time.  I had to do this for a total of 45 minutes to get the look you see on the copper etched piece in the first picture.  I set the timer at 10 and 15 minute intervals.  It could have stayed in there a little while longer.  It wouldn't have hurt it.  BUT!   There was a hockey game on.  St. Louis won.

After 35 minutes.  The arrow in the pic is showing you
where to look for that raised spot.

Can you see how there seems to be a space between the
black marks and the liquid that is sitting on the copper???

When will you know if the etching is raised ...????  You will notice that the liquid sits on the metal different.  You can actually see the difference.  I used a finger to feel the difference.  If you do this, use a glove to keep the chemical off your skin.  Once you are happy with how high your raised drawing is ,,, rinse your piece thoroughly.  You must get that chemical off.  It doesn't take much.  I used a tiny bit of soap on mine.  Just in case.

The back or under side.  I put my initials on it.  See that
mark on the right?  That was where I first picked up the
metal out of the jar with those pliers. It will rinse off.

At this point your metal should look hazy with your drawing still on it.  Does it????  I sure hope so.  Now comes the drill or Dremel.  I used a drill because it was next to the table I was working at.  The 2 wheel bits I used are for a Dremel, but they work just fine in my old, slow (need a new one) cordless drill.  A Dremel is lighter to handle.  I used the cordless to show you that you do NOT have to have extra tools.

Now, put the wire wheel in your drill.  Go over your metal carefully.  Do the top, bottom and sides.  Get it cleaned up.  The hazy part will leave along with your permanent marks.  Now I used my cloth wheel to "shine" up the piece a little and to get all the dust and stuff off.  NICE!!!  Lookin' good!!!!  At this point you can be done.  OR ... you can add a polish or wax to protect that raw metal.  Just to show you what you can use ... I used a very, very old can of car wax.  Wipe it on (I used my finger).  Let it dry.   Buff.  DONE!!!

Car wax.  Let it dry.

Buff off the dried wax.

I had fun doing this.  My bottle says it does copper.  That's all it says.  So after I did the copper I tried the brass just in case.  AND IT'S WONDERFUL!!!  Plus I have a couple hundred feet of it.  I thought I was just about out and found the mother load!!!  YAY!!!  Do you need a little just to try this project???  Send me an email if you do.

This project probably took me 1 1/2 to 2 hours total.  To get the tools together.  To cut, shape, file, sand and mark the metal.  Then to sit around waiting for the liquid to etch the metal.  Then to clean up the etched metal.  It was well worth the time and trial and error.  Next time I'll do several pieces at the same time.  I'll need a bigger, wider jar or I'll try a plastic bowl.  That should work just fine.  Get one you can put a lid on and you won't have to worry about spilling it.

Within one minute, of putting the first metal into the liquid, the liquid turned from a nice color to a nasty looking mess.  It looked like dirty, used oil.  That's okay.  It's just working.  I'm going to try this again tomorrow with the same dirty liquid to see how many small batches I can make with it.  HEY?  How else am I going to learn.

If you have any questions ask!  Please.  I don't think I left anything out of this.  BUT!  I might have. 

Thanks for stopping by!  Shelley