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Author Topic: TUTORIAL: Acid Etching  (Read 21312 times)

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Offline Goodman

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TUTORIAL: Acid Etching
« on: March 18, 2013, 04:19:38 AM »
SAFETY DISCLAIMER:
First and foremost, this process involves HARMFUL, CORROSIVE CHEMICALS WHICH CAN KILL YOU if used improperly. Adequate safety protection to prevent skin contact is necessary, and I do not take any responsibility for any personal or property damage incurred by the processes detailed in this tutorial. Safety goggles, vinyl full coverage gloves, full coverage clothing, and a fully protected work surface with a plastic barrier is necessary. DO NOT ATTEMPT the process outlined in this tutorial with any less than these minimum safety materials.



INTRODUCTION:

Given the number of inquiries about the subject, I'd like to share a brief tutorial to achieve acid etched patterns on lightsabers. I have recently incorporated this technique into both the internal and external surfaces of some of my sabers, and have found it to be a unique way to enliven a saber design. I encourage safety-minded individuals and sabersmiths to try this technique for themselves. I'd enjoy seeing what others can produce! Of course, there are many other methods and chemical solutions which can be used to achieve an etched surface, but the process below is simply what I use as my personal preference for my particular detailed applications.

"Horus"



GLOSSARY:
"Acid Etching" : For this tutorial, I will use the term "Acid etching" to summarize the process where an acid is used to literally dissolve metal, in this case the aluminum on our lightsabers. The term can imply many different processes in the art-, jewelry- or metal-working worlds, but for our purposes this condensed summary is sufficient.

"Masking" : The process of covering a particular saber part with clear packing tape. The mask resists the acid so that the aluminum underneath it is unharmed by the acid. Masking is essential to protect all areas where you DO NOT want the acid to touch. A good example is the threads on MHS parts.

"Acid Resist" : Acid Resist encompasses a couple differing methods of masking, but essentially the goal is always the same, to block the acid from affecting masked areas. PNP Blue is a material onto which you can print a pattern and then transfer onto your part via an iron or oven. 500 Degree Resistant Sharpies can be used to draw a pattern directly onto a saber body surface, but I prefer "Masking" as my technique because it ensures a perfectly straight edged border every time without the need for touching up with paint, with other Acid Resist techniques often do. Still, these techniques do have advantages in certain applications (for example, repeatable or symmetrical patterns like on a run of Satele Shan sabers...).

"Hand Scribing" : After masking a part, "Hand Scribing" is the process of cutting out and then removing areas of packing tape where you DO want the acid to eat into the metal surface underneath it. This process produces, in reverse, the eventual acid etched design or pattern.



MATERIALS:
While there are several chemical mixtures which can be used for acid etching, my tutorial will focus on readily available ferric chloride.

1) Safety Goggles
2) Vinyl gloves (must be a material completely impervious to ferric chloride)
3) Full coverage clothing
4) A work surface fully protected by plastic or vinyl sheeting (trash bags, etc).
5) A large plastic tray (tupperware works great) which is large enough to cover at least half of the part in acid.
6) A large plastic bucket of cool tap water, large enough to completely immerse the part after being etched.
7) Sandpaper with grits from 320, 400, 600, 800, 1000 (go up to 2,000 grit and highly polish if you plan to seal the acid etched pattern using a translucent powder coat afterwards)
8 ) #0000 Extra Fine Steel Wool
9) Mineral Spirits or Acetone and a microfiber cloth to clean the part before etching
10) Super fine Sharpie pen
11) X-Acto knife
12) Ferric Chloride ("PCB Etchant", can be found in electronics stores like Radio Shack for ~$10.00)
http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2102868
13) A well ventilated work area with no heat sources nearby



PREPARATION:

1) First, identify the part you want etched. To ensure a uniform depth of etch, first prep the part by sanding it with successive grades from 320 to 1000 grit to remove any surface scratches. #0000 extra fine steel wool, rubbed in a single direction, works well here also. After the part is etched, you'll want to minimize any sanding or polishing operations, so do all of that now.

2) Clean the part with warm water and dish detergent to remove sandpaper grit and slurry. After drying with a microfiber cloth, wipe the part with acetone to completely remove all oils.



MASKING:


3) Immediately after cleaning/drying the part, apply a single layer of clear packing tape. Buy the widest tape you can find, or otherwise plan out the orientation so as to minimize the seam lines on your part (the more seams, the more risk of acid seeping into unwanted areas). Your goal is to make the entire part watertight and airtight.

4) The primary tip to consider when applying the tape is to start in one spot and smooth it down, then slowly work around the part while rotating it, smoothing out any air bubbles as you go along. Air bubbles are your enemy!


MARKING:


5) Using a fine tip Sharpie, draw your pattern onto the masking tape. If you change your mind, rub off the Sharpie and try again until you have a pattern you're happy with. I like this step because it allows you to see the pattern on your saber itself, before you etch it, which helps visualize the final product in your hands as you go.


« Last Edit: March 18, 2013, 04:59:49 AM by Goodman »
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Offline Goodman

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Re: TUTORIAL: Acid Etching
« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2013, 04:20:33 AM »
HAND SCRIBING:

6) Here's where the fun begins. The primary advantage to hand scribing is that it allows you to very easily follow the contours of the pattern you drew in the MARKING step with your #10 X-Acto knife, whether organic (i.e. decorative) or straight edged (i.e. simulated circuitry).



7) The disadvantage is that it cramps your hands! Hold your sharp #10 X-Acto knife in your hands like a pencil, at a 30 degree angle to the part's surface. Don't hold it at too steep an angle, or you will chip the blade's tip. Too shallow an angle, and the blade's tip will not always be in direct, uniform contact with the saber part's body, especially when transiting the radial surfaces.



8 ) To begin a cut, press firmly enough so that the knife blade cuts through the tape and gently sits against the metal beneath. Remember, you are only removing the tape, you do not need to be scribing deeply into the metal, too.



9) With the tip set, begin to pull rearwards while at the same time keeping positive downward pressure on the blade. It is difficult to describe, so try it out and you'll learn quickly what you need to do to keep a clean edge.



10) After tracing out your entire pattern, use the tip of your X-Acto knife to gently peel away any area where you want the acid to etch the aluminum. You'll end up with a part that looks something like this below. Envision the taped areas remaining silver, and the exposed areas being etched dark gray when you're done.



« Last Edit: March 18, 2013, 05:03:12 AM by Goodman »
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Offline Goodman

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Re: TUTORIAL: Acid Etching
« Reply #2 on: March 18, 2013, 04:21:30 AM »
ETCHING:

11) Don all your safety gear, prepare your work area, then prepare your acid solution. I prefer a 2:1 acid to water ratio. For me, this allows a consistent, controlled etching reaction in a reasonable amount of time. The critical rule to remember here is this: "Do as you oughta: Add the acid TO the water!". For a normal MHS body part, I typically first pour 2 cups of water into a plastic low/wide Tupperware, THEN I add 4 cups of Radio Shack's PCB Etchant Solution (it's 100% Ferric Chloride).

12) Take your masked part, and place it into the acid solution. For safety, I typically use only enough liquid to submerge about half of the part. This allows me to control the reaction. Start your timer for five minutes. It's important to never leave the part while it is in acid. You'll want to watch the process as the acid slowly eats away at the silver aluminum, turning it brown, then black, then it will begin to fleck away small pieces. Also, in case you didn't mask the part adequately and acid began to see into the part, for example onto the MHS threads or the interior of the part, you will be able to remove it from the acid and dunk it in your plastic bucket filled with water to stop the acidic reaction before more damage is done.



13) As the acid etching deepens, you'll see bubbles form on the surface. This is HYDROGEN, so ensure there are no heat sources near your well ventilated work area.



14) The longer the part is exposed to the acid bath, the deeper the etch will be. 15-30 minutes is what I usually limit my etches to. Beyond 30 minutes with this 2:1 ratio solution, and the acid will begin to degrade the borders of my pattern. If the intention is to portray a slightly weathered or oxidized pattern, like on "Vivaldi", then 45 minutes is the usual limit. If the intention is sharp and shallow lines, like on "Horus" or "Thresh", then 20 minutes is the limit.

"Vivaldi" with a weathered, 45 minute etch:


"Thresh" with a sharp, 20 minute etch:



15) Rotating the part to evenly etch all areas of the desired part. When satisfied with the depth of the etch, remove the part and completely immerse it in your bucket of cool water. This stops the acidic reaction. Ammonia also does this quickly.

16) Clean the part with soap and water again, and you will notice that the etched areas are dark gray. If desired, simply seal or powder coat over this surface. Or, you can use your #0000 steel wool to remove some of that gray scale to return to the silver aluminum color underneath.








« Last Edit: March 18, 2013, 05:06:38 AM by Goodman »
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Offline Goodman

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Re: TUTORIAL: Acid Etching
« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2013, 04:22:07 AM »
17) Powder coat, or leave the part as it is.



18) Stand back and admire your handiwork. Smile confidently. You did it.  :)

"Horus":








"Rhabdos":







"Master Orgus Din":




"Thresh":






ACID SOLUTION DISPOSAL:


The benefit of this acid solution setup is that it can be reused over and over again. For example, all the new sabers you see on my website as of this writing which feature acid etchings (eight of them so far) have all used the SAME acid bath. I have added a little more acid to the solution just once when I noticed the acid was loosing its "bite". If you used a Tupperware for your acid bath container, simply seal it with its cover and place in a cool, dry, safe place where NO ONE can touch it. Especially children. The next time you use it, it's there. DO NOT POUR IT DOWN A DRAIN WHICH USES METAL PIPES. There are other environmental considerate methods when the time comes to dispose of your full spent acid solution. I'll add that to this tutorial later after I verify my research.



Thanks for reading! Feedback? Questions? Post below ;)


« Last Edit: March 18, 2013, 11:41:21 AM by Goodman »
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Offline Goodman

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Re: TUTORIAL: Acid Etching
« Reply #4 on: March 18, 2013, 04:49:58 AM »
It's 5am so I'll proof read this later. Let me know what y'all think, and if it's worth writing more of these technique tutorials to share.
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Offline Nick Knight

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Re: TUTORIAL: Acid Etching
« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2013, 05:07:36 AM »
Wow what a great tutorial. I Loved it. It was clear and well thought out. Explained every step and made each step easy to understand. Outstanding sir.

I have never acid etched before. I have only Anodized and salt water etched. You have added a new weekend project for me to experiment with.
again great tutorial...  ;D
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Offline dgdve

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Re: TUTORIAL: Acid Etching
« Reply #6 on: March 18, 2013, 05:28:38 AM »
Hey old man,,, Thanks fer sharin'  8) (Epic technique & Tut!)

Offline C-3P0

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Re: TUTORIAL: Acid Etching
« Reply #7 on: March 18, 2013, 07:27:41 AM »
THIS is one of the many reasons I love FX :) I love me a great, long read, and this looks phenomenal. I'll be reading this tomorrow, thanks so much for doing this mate.

It's great to have you back, beautiful work Goodman!

Offline kamakazykid

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Re: TUTORIAL: Acid Etching
« Reply #8 on: March 18, 2013, 07:42:36 AM »
This opens up a whole new level of ideas and design for me! will be using in the future.

I did have one question. Would I be able to use shelf contact paper instead of masking tape I personally find it easier to use for cutting and designing?

Offline Iggy

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Re: TUTORIAL: Acid Etching
« Reply #9 on: March 18, 2013, 08:05:28 AM »
Just wondering what the benefits of this kind are versus salt water etching? It looks like the overall process is very similar.

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Offline Arryck Corso

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Re: TUTORIAL: Acid Etching
« Reply #10 on: March 18, 2013, 08:19:37 AM »
This is an incredible tutorial Goodman.  Very informative and well thought out.  Definitely something I may try in the future.  Thank you for sharing this with us!


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Offline Nick Knight

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Re: TUTORIAL: Acid Etching
« Reply #11 on: March 18, 2013, 08:52:05 AM »
Just wondering what the benefits of this kind are versus salt water etching? It looks like the overall process is very similar.


With this you would not need DC power to make it work.  Just dip it in the bath.
"A correction added to one’s store of knowledge. It was a thing to be grateful for, not something to take offense at. "
"Choose what is right, not what is easy"

Offline Link

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Re: TUTORIAL: Acid Etching
« Reply #12 on: March 18, 2013, 09:42:07 AM »
Im not sure HOW different it is but I can say that I may adopt this method over what ive been doing, Of course it could just be a practice thing.. I mean, looking at Goodmans work, its obvious that SMALL detail is his strong point and I do know from Salt Water etching that it is very tedious work when you want a good design to come to life. Its LOTS of work.

But that's the most fun part about it :)   Holding that finished product in your hand and saying.. I did it ! 

@ Goodman - Great tutorial !!!  I will definitely be trying this out down the road when I can get back into saber building :) 


Online Don

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Re: TUTORIAL: Acid Etching
« Reply #13 on: March 18, 2013, 09:58:03 AM »
Many thanks for this very useful tutorial.
I'm using ferric chloride since a lifetime for PCB etching and I didn't know it worked on aluminium too.
Time to plan some tests  ;)
Master Sabersmith at the Ludosport Lightsaber Combat Academy Italy

Offline COUNT DOOKU

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Re: TUTORIAL: Acid Etching
« Reply #14 on: March 18, 2013, 10:01:57 AM »
This is amazing. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom.  8)