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I Forge Iron

Homebrew electrolytic etching

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I was thinking about when I get some decent blades made, maybe doing some etching. I knew about beeswax and acid, but that requires an artist to work by hand.

Then I found out about the saltwater and battery method. Wow. I etched a vine on my pocket knife blade...left it in for 3 hours and it actually got way deeper than necessary. I love this cheap method....but you still need an artist.

I used nail polish for a resist, but in subsequent experiments found that it flakes off randomly so isn't suitable for fine details.

Anybody know of a stencil material that can be printed with an inkjet printer, and then be adhered to the steel so the salt bath doesn't get under it? That would be ideal since the artist wouldn't ever have to touch the knife.

It appears that the Etch-o-matic stencils aren't adhesive, which wouldn't work in a salt bath. OTOH, I suppose one could dab it on if one pole of the battery were hooked to a wad of cotton with the saltwater on it...but it still seems to me that the saltwater would work its way under the stencil

Any thoughts?

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There is an acid etch mask that is photo developed. You need to get some vellum and a laser printer or a GOOD photocopier to print on the vellum, then stack:
a flat plate (window glass)
an opaque surface (cardboard)
the photo mask,
the printed tracing vellum,
another piece of window glass.

Take this outside on a sunny day with a blanket covering it. Expose it per directions, then cover. Take apart the the stack and wash the photo mask in the specified solution and rinse. Then let dry.

The photo mask is now a vinyl-like material that resists acid, electricity, and sandblasting. Cut out the section you need and secure with electrical tape to the item and proceed with your etch process.

I do not know the name of the product (sorry) but I have used it being assisted by a friend to etch some glassware. (He did sand blast etching as a side job at the time, so I guess I "assisted" him...or something) He said it was a common product for etching and was sold in small packages for people to do wedding glasses and such, but he knew where to get larger packages. The stuff is tacky when you peel it off the backing material.

Hope this helps.


Rooting about on google a bit it seems the stuff is called self adhesive or self stick photoresist film


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Gosh, I'd forgotten about silkscreen. Now I'm thinking you could just use rubber cement to stick just about any mask to the surface.


Wow that sounded very complicated. Have you thought of silk screen. It's fairly simple to burn an image on a screen. A dark room and a lightbulb (and by dark room I don't mean photography).
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The easy way? get your picture on coraldrew/autocad etc. cart it off down to your local singage guy he cuts it with a vynil cutter(Roland or similar) on self stick signage vynil(3M and numerous others make it) The vynil is cheap and easy.(The vynil with less uv life are cheaper and work just fine)

If you do the 'picking-out' the signage guy will charge less.

Then stick transfer tape(get this from signage man) onto your cut vynil. Now spray your metal with a mix of dishwash and water(this helps with repositioning and to squegee out bubbles)place decal on to metal and squegee out bubbles. Remove transfer tape and let dry.

Mask off the rest of item with scrap vynil(also get this from signage man).Now etch. B)


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Not where I live... :(

I am sure it is there, but a low number of cloud free days would be problematic.

I remember there was a big glass etching, multiple sheets of glass for a transit station, and the small company awarded the job was anticipating a certain number of cloudless days in Cleveland. It was a wet summer and they could not deliver on time. It was such a big deal that it made the news.

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  • 2 months later...

I have not used this process with a salt water solution, but I have used it successfully with ferric chloride.
Print (in negative) what you want in a printer that uses toner (no inkjet). tape it toner side down and gently apply a very small amount of acetone. It loosens the toner that then sticks to the metal once the acetone dries. after drying gently peel off the paper and etch.

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  • 1 year later...

Made this tutorial for anyone interested in etching anything onto a blade whenever you want without fancy stencils and machines and stuff.

Video removed due to inappropriate language for a family forum.

Corin, please resubmit a clean version of the video as it contains some good information on etching.
If you would like to submit still images and text, that will work also.

Edited version for a family forum.

The short version
Print your image on a thin piece of paper with a laser printer.
Tape it to the object being etched.
Transfer the image to the object with a not iron.

Isolate the image from the rest of the object with electrical tape.
Connect the POSITIVE 9 volt electric to the object.
Connect the NEGATIVE 8 volt electric to a q-tip.

Dip the q-tip into a salt water solution and let the electric pass across the liquid, No not touch the surface of the object. The longer you etch the deeper the etch becomes.

Wipe off the salt water, remove the tape, and clean the image with acetone.
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I missed it, but what is the nail polish for and where is it used?

The toner used as a resist is not perfect, and if there are large areas that have no breaks in the toner where you want the etch to occur, the current finds its way through the toner and etches where you don't want it to creating a "shadow" by nail polishing any large areas the path of least resistance is to the unprotected areas you actually want the etch to occur, so very little if any marks where you don't want them. you will see what I mean if you don't do it.

That and pink is nice on a knife....
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do you print a reverse image so it appears normal once you wash off the paper?

Of course.

You need to do it as a negative in mirror reverse, and print it at the highest possible resolution or else it will look grainy. I good photo editing program can normally handle it without losing any quality, other programs like publisher and so on will loose too much quality when you flip the image... it is very frustrating getting the image quality right.
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