Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Adventures in Etching and Meeting Mr. Bucephalus

When a friend asked me to make him a piece of jewelry that resembled a cave drawing I was a bit stumped.  Then I thought of etching, duh!  Etching metal is typically done with nitric acid or sometimes ferric chloride.  Either way I know I will burn my face off. 
Luckily, one of my MetalSmith teammates was kind enough to offer up instructions on using saltwater and batteries instead.  While there was still a chance of burning my face off, it wasn't quite as risky as the toxic chemical route.  So off to Home Depot, Radio Shack, and the deli I went.  I picked up some kosher salt (no iodine), distilled water, D-batteries, and a small aquarium pump, among other things.  

After some brainstorming my friend decided he wanted an image of Bucephalus on a rustic pendant.  I had to Google this of course.  Bucephalus was Alexander the Great's horse as well as a figurine in the movie The Black Stallion.
Photo courtesy of The Black Stallion

In order to properly etch the metal I had to draw this crazy looking horse on a sheet of copper with a permanent marker.  It turned out like this.

Looks like a 3rd grader did it huh? 
Whatever, I've come this far so I'm determined to follow through.  As I'm rigging up battery lead wires to a container of saltwater and duct taping like crazy, I suddenly feel like a mix between Macgyver and a mad scientist. 

  I set my iPod to "Electric Head" and let the etching begin! 

As you can see the water turns blue and gets cloudy as the electrical current strips electrons away from the atoms and the solution fills with particulates of copper salt (yeah my nerdy side is showing).  The permanent marker protects the parts of the metal you don't want to be etched. 
After about an hour it looks something like this...

A little sawing, oxidizing, and buffing and Mr. Bucephalus is born...and I didn't burn my face off yay!