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Beg-Copr-Etch-art - 6/10/17


"Beginning Copper Etching" by Beatrix Alfray. (class handout)


NOTE: See also the files: A-Etched-Eggs-art, jwlry-soldrng-art, metals-msg, Non-Ferrous-bib, polishing-msg, urine-uses-msg, metalworking-msg.





This article was added to this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium, with the permission of the author.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



Beginning Copper Etching

by Beatrix Alfray




The first dated example of metal etching is commonly believed to have been done by Urs Graf, a German or Swiss, in 1513. It is a plate depicting a woman washing her feet and was etched, or bitten, into iron. However, Daniel Hopfer, a Bavarian, was known to use chemical agents to etch on arms and armor prior to Urs Graf.




1.      Metals: for this class we will be using Copper or Brass

2.      Abrasives: various grits and paper, steel wool and "scrubbie" pads

3.      Acetone

4.      Toweling

5.      Resists: Permanent Stamp Ink, Sharpie Permanent Markers, Nail Polish (preferably white or another light color)

6.      Resist applicators: paint brushes, decorative stamps

7.      Ferric Chloride

8.      Packing Tape

9.      Tupperware dishes

10.   Baking soda

11.   Water

12.   Liver of Sulphur: for patina on copper (you can also use urine, lol)

13.   Brass Black: for accenting on brass

14.   Wax


The Process

Step 1: Preparing Yourself


Although Ferric chloride is not an extremely dangerous chemical, it is recommended that your take a few steps to protect yourself and your surroundings from damage. Ferric chloride will not eat the flesh off of your body, but it can sting and will stain your skin and fingernails.


1. Remove all rings, bracelets, or metal watches
2. Put on the rubber gloves and eye protection
3. Make sure your work area is protected (the cheap plastic table cloths work great!)


Step 2: Preparing your Etching Bath


1.      Pour enough of the Ferric Chloride into the Tupperware container to be about 1⁄2 to 1 inch deep. You want it deep enough that the piece can be completely off of the bottom

2.      If you can warm it up slightly the etching will go faster. You can also use an aquarium air pump and aeration stone to agitate the fluid.  

3.      Make sure you have a second Tupperware container with water and baking soda in it.


Step 3: Preparing your Metal


In order for the etchant to make a good "bite" into the metal, you will want to clean and prepare your metal.


1.      Cut the desired shape, or use the precut pieces if you prefer

2.      Use the files and sandpaper to smooth your edges

3.      Once your metal piece is safe to handle, use the steel wool and finer grade of sand paper (600800 grit) to clean the surface of your piece

4.      Now take a small bit of toweling and wipe the surface with the acetone. This will

remove the oils that may be on the surface. Be careful not to handle the surface to be etched too much or you can deposit more oils, which can affect the etching


Step 4 Applying the Resist and Start Etching


1.      After selecting the design you want to apply, either draw directly on to the piece with a sharpie or use the precut stamps to apply your design with the stamping ink. If you don't like the design you get, you can "erase" it and start again at step 3. The process we are using will remove the metal from around the resist. This is called relief etching. If you completely cover the metal and scratch you design in, the etchant will bite the exposed metal. This is called Intaglio etching.

2.      When you are happy with your design, apply a strip of packing tape to the back of the piece. Make it long enough to suspend the piece across the container and onto the surface of the etchant. Make sure it covers the entire back of the piece.

3.      Carefully place the piece face down into the etchant; you want the entire front of the piece to make contact with the fluid. If you aren't sure if it has sufficient coverage you can submerge the piece, but don't let it rest on the bottom.

4.      Secure it to the container using the excess length of tape.

5.      You will want to check the piece after about 20 minutes.  Depending on how fresh the solution is, and the temperature, you can check earlier.


Step 5 Finishing the Piece


1.      When the acid has bitten to the desired depth, carefully remove it and put it into the container that has the baking soda and water in it and remove the tape. This will neutralize the acid.

2.      Take a clean piece of the toweling and dry the etched metal.

3.      To finish the etching the following processes can be applied

1.      Polish the piece by taking a finer grit of sandpaper and lightly sanding the face of the etching, be careful not to remove too much of your design

2.      Patina can be added by painting on the Liver of Sulphur, or brass black, waiting for it to turn dry, and lightly sanding the piece and then polishing the face of the etching

4.      Once all the polishing is completed, it is recommended that the piece be finished with a light coat of wax. If the piece is jewelry, the part that contacts the skin can be painted with clear nail polish to reduce the copper reaction to the skin (turning you green).


Common Terms

The process in which the etchant removes areas of metal creating a purposeful design.


Engraving- This is probably the oldest of the intaglio processes. The design is cut into a hard surface usually metal, with a sharp tool called a burin, which carves a line of varying width and depth. This process is also used in the designs of bank notes, postage stamps, etc.


Etching- A metal plate usually copper or zinc is etched using various acids or mordant's, Instead of cutting lines onto the plate, the artist covers the plate with a acid-resistant ground and then draws through that ground, with special sharp tools, exposing the plate where the design is to be. The plate is then immersed in an acid bath, which bites into the plate where the protective coating has been removed.


Faux-bite or "over-biting"- This is the effect of minuscule amounts of acid leaking through the resist creating some pitting or marring of the surface. Although these marks can be removed by sanding or polishing, sometimes this can be a desirable effect.


Intaglio - Is a technique in which the image is created by cutting, carving or engraving into a flat surface.


Relief- The background is cut or carved away, leaving the image "lifted" above the background.


Resist- The substance used to prevent the etching solution for biting into the design area.


Material Resources:


Etchant Ferric Chloride


Radio Shack (it is called PCB etchant)

Copper/Brass (It is important that the metal is SOLID and not "clad")


Hobby Lobby (In the model area)
Metal kickplates from Home Depot/Lowes
Cooper Roofing


Copper Tubing for needle cases, beads etc. is from the hardware store in the plumbing section!


Copyright 2013 by Laura Meissner. <lost.sol.beads at gmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org