Thursday, March 31, 2011
Etching Copper Experiment
After reading everything that I could find on etching copper, I decided to give it a try. I used the nasty Ferric Chloride which is used to etch circuit boards and available at Radio Shack. Please read all safety precautions if you want to try this yourself. There is a lot of information out there about how to dispose of it. You should do it outside, on a newspaper covered area, have a larger container with water and baking soda mix to neutralize, a container of water and Ammonia, a small disposable container for your etching, some sort of tape, rubber gloves, safety glasses and paper towels.
The steps are to clean the copper well. That requires sanding, cleaning with alcohol and not touching the surface to etch . The oil from your skin will transfer to the copper and those areas will not etch (ask me how I know.) Next is to cover the back of the copper with tape and burnish it well without touching the right side. Then draw on the right side with a new Sharpie or a paint pen. Draw around the edges too because you don't want the edges to etch. I used a very fine Sharpie and a not so fine paint pen. The paint pen will result in a deeper etch but you can get more detail from a fine point Sharpie. You can also use rubber stamps and StazOn ink. I found out that the stamps with less detail seem to work better. Make sure the ink is completely dry. Carefully pour the Ferric Chloride in a shallow disposable dish not much larger than what you are etching ( in order not to waste it) at a depth of about 1/2 an inch. I did one very small copper piece in a tiny jar with only 1/4 of an inch and that worked also. I think you probably need more solution if you are etching a larger area but haven't tried it yet. Place another piece of tape on the back of the taped copper so you can tape it upside down, suspended in the solution just until the surface is in the Ferric Chloride. I left mine in for 30 minutes up to an hour depending on how deep of an etch I wanted and how many times I had used the solution. I read that if the solution is agitated, the copper particles will lift away better so I gently stirred with a glass rod about every 10 minutes. I am not sure if that is really necessary but I did it anyway. You don't want the copper to touch the bottom of the container because you won't get an even etch. If you want to test the etch, you can lift it up one side of the tape and use a straight pen to "feel" the etch.
If you are satisfied, carefully lift out the copper and submerge into the baking soda water mixture to rinse. It will bubble up so make sure your container is large enough. Then clean it with an old toothbrush and water mixed with Ammonia to completely remove the solution. Dry with paper towels. I tumbled mine at this point to work harden and polish. After they tumbled, I used a Patina solution and then lightly sanded the highlights to bring out the pattern. I also used Renaissance Wax to seal the Patina.
Disposing of the Ferric Chloride properly is a whole story of it's own and I will let you search for that yourself. I did not come up with this technique and I read every tutorial that I could find before I attempted it. Safety first! I will include photos of my first attempts. Have fun!