I’ve been a fan of etched art for a very long time, often marveling over the mysterious and magical means necessary to remove microns of material from a metal plate to produce a permanent image. I love to hold etched pieces and study the intricate designs with my fingers as well as visually. It’s an honest tactile experience I relish.
|Etched Brass Dog Tags made by Asia Raine|
A few years ago, Sherry Haab was one of the guest instructors in the jewelry business program I was enrolled in. And to my delight, she introduced our group to the electrical etching system she had created - the E3 Duo Electroforming and Etching system. Since then I’ve been exploring the process of etching with a number of successes, failures, and plenty of discoveries, and have enjoyed it each step of the way.
In this project, I etched four 18 gauge Brass Dogs Tags to add some diversity and interest to my jewelry resource elements. Materials can be found on Sherri Haab’s website: https://www.sherrihaab.com/collections/electrical-etching
|Cleaning Brass Dog Tag|
To prepare the surface of the brass dog tag for etching, it must be cleaned with a fine grit sandpaper to give it some tooth. This makes it easier for the image on your transfer paper to adhere to the surface of the metal. It's important to keep your metal free of dirt and oils to produce optimal results when transferring images. Use latex gloves to prevent skin oils from getting on the brass while you're cleaning it. The images I used for this project were reproduced on E3 Etch paper from the ready-to-use images in the etching kit.
|Successful Image Transfer|
Using a very hot iron, I transfered the images to the metal, creating a perfect resist for the electrolyte bath (copper sulfate )allowing a low electrical current from the E3 unit to flow. It's important to check the transfer paper for bubbles before you soak the paper off in water. If bubbles are present, it indicates a poor transfer. Use the iron to reheat the transfer paper and ink.
Tape the conductive wire to the back of the dog tag and finish sealing the entire back of the piece by covering the metal to the edges with packing tape. Attach spacers to keep the brass level in the solution, and submerge the piece in a prepared pan of copper sulfate.
|Copper Sulfate Bath|
The switch on the E3 Etching system must be set to "Etch".
The unit is designed for three levels of electrical current flow. I set this at a "level 2", and allowed 15 minutes for the etching process to progress before I checked the depth of the etch the first time. The brass etched fairly quickly, so I continued to check it every 10 minutes, and even increased the intensity to a "level 3" for the last portion of the processing. Total etching time was approximately 40 minutes. When I was satisfied with the depth of the etch, I unclipped the piece, took it to the sink, carefully removed the tape and wire, and washed it, using a brass brush to remove any remaining ink.
I was delighted with the etching results of each dog tag. Not every image transferred perfectly, which gave the brass an “aged” look and I was excited to see what I could create with them.
Being exact in the execution of etching is key to creating a satisfying etched image, while flexibility over the outcome of each piece helps me stay fluid with the creativity.
Many times I realize there is a conversation happening between me and the jewelry elements I’m working with. And when I respect the exactness and the flexibility, and combine them well, I enjoy the results every time.
After the etching was complete, I began putting components together to compliment my vision for each dog tag. I wanted to move beyond the regular dog tag attached to a ball chain accessory and make something with a bit of flair. I chose to use leather and copper, drill some holes, hammer rivets, utilize metal stamps, and finally cut and solder metal together to make the finished jewelry pieces.
I've learned the 'rules' of jewelry making are important when it comes to safety and chemistry, but there is nothing that says you can't cut, shape or turn a dog tag sideways!
To enhance the etched pattern on the "Owl Dreams" dog tag, I cut the bottom curve away, attached a tiny drop of apatite, and tied it off with leather and a copper bead, making it a nice stand alone pendant.
I cut sections of copper tubing and cut out copper washers to cold connect the "Vintage Lace" dog tag. I made the copper cuff slightly narrower than the brass for subtle visual interest and lined it with soft brown leather to complete the project. This made a beautiful piece of jewelry that could compliment a summer dress or denim jacket.
For full effect, I felt it best to let the etching do all of the talking with the "Flora & Fauna" bracelet. I kept it simple, by drilling a second hole to loop strands of leather cord through and shaped it on a bracelet mandrel. I finished the ends with a silver wire wrap and clasp. I wanted light to reflect the subtleties of the etching, so I didn't use any patina on this bracelet.
I couldn't resist indulging in a silversmithing experiment with the "Butterfly Effect" pendant. This required an etched copper image of the same butterfly transfer, and a bit of finesse. The etched copper soldered well to the brass with the use of paste flux and copper solder. The heavier gauge brass took more to heat than the 22 gauge copper butterfly wings, so it was important for me to watch the torch flame and how it was affecting all of the metal pieces so everything came together smoothly. I used liver of sulpher to darken the metal and bring out the details of the wings of each etching. To finish this pendant, I chose black leather cord, copper beads and copper wire.
I really enjoyed every stage of this creative journey. I still marvel over the magical means of etching metal, curious at each stage of its development, knowing there are more factors that go into making a satisfactory etch than just my desire for it to be so. Its my participation in the chemistry and mystery that makes etching so satisfying and surprising each time I step into that process, and I plan to continue stepping forward, following a path laid by metals, electricity, chemical processes and other artists, hopefully adding a contribution or two that encourages other seekers to explore the artistry of etching.
Until later....play happy!
*Thank you to Sherri Haab for your inspiration, talent and continuing to development with creating tools that allow for safe and effective jewelry making.
|E3 Duo Master Kit|