Thursday, November 11, 2010

Experiments in Etching, Part One

"Everyone has a 'risk muscle.' You keep it in shape by trying new things. If you don't it atrophies. Make a point of using it at least once a day."
~Roger Von Oech, author of A Whack on the Side of the Head 

I love to try new things. Trying new things almost always leads to new tools. And I love new tools {who's with me on that one?}

In 2009 I decided that I needed to take a class called 'Itching to Etch' at the Bead & Button show. I loved the look of etched metal, and I thought it would be easy enough. Boy, was I wrong!

The chemical we learned with was ferric chloride. I felt like I had to be so ginger with the stuff, and then I had to neutralize it just so in order for it to be dumped after using the solution once. I liked some of the resists that we used but others didn't work for me at all.The class was only a few hours, and I felt rushed. I remember coming away from that class discouraged because it seemed so toxic and cumbersome to etch metal. But I loved the look so much I just couldn't let it go.

After I took that class I heard that there was a new way to etch created by the talented Sherri Haab. You may know her from one of her 25 craft titles, books like The Art of Metal Clay and my new favorite, Jewelry Inspirations. I checked out the booth in hopes of finding something better to discovered her newly released E3 Etching system. But at nearly $200 for the starter kit, I didn't think I could justify it especially since I wasn't sure that etching was for me.

But something about those metal pieces kept up their siren song and I just knew there had to be a better way.

Fast forward to spring 2010 and the plans for this year's Bead & Button. Sherri was teaching a full day class on the E3 and there was an opening. I snatched it up. I am so glad I did! {Definitely recommend Sherri as an instructor... I had two full day, back-to-back classes with her!}

Sherri Haab is warm and funny and genuinely cares for every student in her class. She shares her knowledge willingly. She is innovative and ingenious. The E3 Etching system is her baby.

The biggest difference between more traditional chemical etching and the E3 is the little electrical current box. This patented invention is the brainchild of her talented electrical engineer husband who knew there was a better way to etch and found a way to make it safe, simple and effective. Voila! The E3 Etch was born!

The chemical that is used is a blue crystal that is mixed with distilled water. It looks like blue Koolaid. But don't drink it! Copper sulfate is not nearly as toxic as the ferric chloride, but it will turn your fingernails blue if you dip your hands into it. {I know that because I can't possibly be bothered with gloves}. The beauty of this chemical is that it is readily is the same formulation as Root Kill that is used to pour down pipes to ensure that no roots are growing in them. Once you mix up a batch, all you need to do is keep straining it through a coffee filter to remove any debris. You can keep adding distilled water to it and it will work just fine. That, my friends, is brilliant!

The kit that I bought in the class {I told you I am a sucker for new tools!} comes with the blue crystals, a stainless steel pan and the E3 power controller to ensure an even and controlled etch. There are two wires with clips on the end and the power controller has a high and low switch {an on-off switch would be nice too}. And it took me 4 months until October to get the time and the gumption to actually use it {not bad...usually my record is 12 months to using a tool or bead that I buy!}

Here is the setup...
  • Use a resist to apply a design to the metal {More on that in another post.}
  • Mix the crystals with water. 
  • Pour in the stainless steel pan. 
  • Plug the unit in and attach the black clip to the pan. 
  • {Here is the trickiest part..}Take the coated aluminum wire (provided) and bend into a zig-zag on one end. 
  • Tape that to the back of the piece. {Okay, maybe this is the trickiest part.}
  • Suspend the piece in the blue water using either the foam pieces to raise it or my favorite method, chopsticks. 
  • Attach the red clip to the end of the wire.
  • Set it on high or low depending on the quickness of the etch and the depth desired.
  • Set the timer for ~20 minutes to one hour depending on the thickness of your metal.

Now walk away.

That's right. Go do something else. Clean your bathrooms. Organize your spices. Or maybe even get some beading projects done or read a few blogs.

As it is etching you will hear a little buzzing noise, as if there is ringing in your ears. You won't get electrocuted by touching the wires {I tried it, at most you get just a minor zap like rubbing your feet on the carpet and shocking someone}. There are only a few volts running through that controller.

When the desired depth of the etching is reached. Take out the piece and rinse it thoroughly in water.{Don't forget the gloves! Or your fingers will have this perpetually grubby look to them.} It is environmentally friendly with nothing to dispose of. Scrub off the resist using steel wool and clean with an alcohol pad. Now you are ready to stamp, colorize and patina your metal.

It really is that simple.

I will continue in another post about the different resists that I used and what plan I have in mind for these pieces. Stay tuned!

Are you like me, in that you take a class, create something cool and then go home neglect to use that knowledge for some time {I like to think of it like slow cooking the idea...}?
Have you tried chemical etching? What do you think of that?
How much would you pay for a tool that does exactly what you need to do in a way that is reliable, safe and long-lasting?
How are you using your 'risk muscle'?
Do tell!

Note: Erin Prais-Hintz is getting no compensation from endorsing the E3 Etching System other than the satisfaction that she can share her knowledge with the rest of you!

Erin Prais-Hintz writes about all things that inspire her at Treasures Found::Inspiration Is Everywhere. Her jewelry designs are one-of-a-kind made one-at-a-time. She collects quotes and dust and invites you to send her your favorite (quote - not dust!) to Check out her brand spankin' new website at Tesori Trovati.


Erin S said...

wow--this is great info. Thanks, Erin. This is something I've always wanted to try but like you, the toxic chemicals and the whole process seemed too daunting. $200 for the system is pretty steep, but I'll keep thinking about it for 6 months and then I'll probably cave and buy one. Can't wait for your future posts about resists!
Erin S

lunedreams said...

wow, that sounds really awesome! sounds like you can use the same solution practically forever. i didn't know you could discharge copper solutions into the wastewater system, i always thought that was a no-no. maybe the copper sulfate compound is less bio-available than plain copper ions (i read that etching solutions should be strained, as you say, before neutralizing and disposing of them b/c of the copper residue left in it.) And 20 mins to an hour sounds awesome!!! ferric chloride takes so long. (as far as i know you can reuse it several times, but not forever). it definitely sounds worth the investment if you're going to be doing a lot of etching. thanks for sharing this! (something for the tools wish list!)

(yep, it takes me several months to actually use a new tool/technique too. chicken. my saw stayed in the box for a really long time, as did the ferric chloride.)

Andrew Thornton said...

I'm guilty of having a closet full of unopened tools! I always have the best intentions for the new direction of my work and how awesome everything is... but sometimes things will wait years before they're touched. Sadly.

KristiBowmanDesign said...

I've had my eye on Sherri's etching set up (and electroforming) for awhile. I'll get it one of these days, while I'm sure it's well worth it, it is a big chunk o change as you say! Thanks for the info!

Amy F said...

thanks for the info! I had to run out and snap it up -- btw, whole lotta whimsy has it on clearance for $150 (thus, why i felt the need to impulse buy it - clearance! woo!)

rosebud101 said...

I'm starting use my risk muscle with metals. I think I'm hooked on them, too! Oh, dear, so much to do and so short a day!

Michelle said...

Ummm...let's see....pliers, hammers and such I play with within a few weeks. But it took me almost 3 years to turn on my butane torch and I still have not tried out my kiln (it's almost 3 years old now). Gaahhh!

Cindy said...

Wow, beautiful results, Erin! You know me and trying new things...takes me a while to get up the gumption too. :-) I've only tried the ferric chloride method...turned out well but a mess to drag out the set up.

Barbara Lewis said...

Erin, I have this system but have not tried it yet! Yes, I'm like you ... I need time to read the instructions. But you've made it so easy for me. Today is the day!

My Life Under the Bus said...

That looks pretty delicious! I have tried etching with pbc etchant and really don't need the chemical in the house with kids. This would be a very awesome Christmas present!!! * I like that you suffer for your art and give yourself blue finger tips and small electric jolts* LOL!!!

Silver Parrot said...

Fantastic post, Erin! This looks like lots of fun and I love that you don't have to deal with such toxic stuff as in traditional etching.

Oh, and I'm with you on the "new tool/technique incubation period." Don't even ask me how long it's been since I took classes in PMC and bought ALL the stuff to work with it...and it's all still sitting in bags on my studio floor!

Carol B said...

I've been etching with ferric chloride for two years. I was intrigued when I first heard of Sherri's method.

Fortunately, I was able to take an all-day class with Sherri at Bead Fest Texas! I was very impressed with how clean and sharp the E3 etching looks compared to Ferric Chloride. The downside of E3 is that Staz-On is too weak for a resist. I just have to come up with a new process to use my rubber stamp designs with the E3 process.

Now about that tool incubation question... I bought the set in Dallas and finally opened the box yesterday. It only took me 6 weeks this time.