Tips for Etching on Copper from Lexi Erickson

I'll be the first to admit that I know absolutely nothing about working with metal when it comes to jewelry making, but making metal jewelry has always intrigued me. I can remember when I was in college watching with envy as my friends who were art majors took metal working and came out of their classes with gorgeous copper pendants and bracelets. I still have a copper and enamel pendant that was made and given to me by a close friend, and it's one of my favorite funky jewelry pieces! Still, I sometimes think about clearing a space in my glass workshop and experimenting with metals for jewelry making, and after watching Metalsmith Essentials: Jewelry Etching on Copper with Lexi Erickson, I'm definitely ready to give etching on copper a try!

Lexi Erickson will be teaching techniques for etching copper jewelry at Bead Fest Texas.

Lexi Erickson is a trained archeologist and educator who first became interested in jewelry making when she took a basic metals class to help her better understand Bronze Age artifacts. Since then, she has completed a Master's Degree in Jewelry Designs and Fabrication and has taught in both high schools and universities. A longtime contributor to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine, she teaches workshops and classes throughout North and South America, including at Bead Fest Texas.

Because I'm a total beginner at working with metal, I asked Lexi for some tips when etching on copper. She had some great advice for getting beautiful results!

1. The metal must be clean. Scrub it with pumice, water and Dawn dish washing detergent. Sometimes, I give it a wipe with acetone, too. When I run the metal under water, the water should sheet, and not bead up. And when you're done cleaning the metal, make sure that you hold it by the edges to avoid getting it dirty again with any oils on your skin.  

2. Go low tech. You don't have to buy an aquarium agitator or any fancy equipment – I do it the low tech way and it works perfectly. Just use a long coffee stirrer from my local coffee house, and stir the liquid every five minutes to get it move around a bit. It works just as well as any expensive piece of equipment that you'd get from a jewelry making supply company!

3. Use your color sense. I'm not picky about the exact water to ferric chloride ratio and I don't always use the same ratio every time. Instead, I go by color. Usually, the solution is the same color as a cola (soda), but sometimes, if I have a complex pattern like a heavy Celtic weave, I'll make the solution weaker so that it more resembles the color of green tea. If it's a weaker solution, I'll also let the solution set a lot longer. Sometimes I will let it etch for about four or five hours in a weak solution, checking it and stirring it every thirty minutes or so. Using a weaker solution with a longer setting time will give you a truly magnificent etch!

If you're ready to dive in and start learning how to make your own beautiful etched copper jewelry, you'll want to check out the Metalsmith Essentials: Jewelry Etching on Copper DVD. You'll find six watch-and-learn lessons that include basic supplies, safety tips for using materials and metals correctly and techniques for making everything from your own copper jewelry pieces to your own etched copper beads!

Have you ever tried a new jewelry making technique that was outside your comfort zone? Share your experiences and leave a comment on the blog! Who knows? You might inspire someone else to try something new!

Bead Happy,


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