Etch This, Not That: Safe Metal Etching & Which Metals to Use for Etching Jewelry

“Etching is one of the most amazing and magical techniques you can have in your artistic arsenal. And while some believe etching is intimidating, the truth of the matter is that when it is executed in the correct manner, it is a safe and efficient process. As long as you adhere to all safety guidelines, you are using a relatively straightforward and timeworn alchemist’s formula.”

This introduction from Kristen Robinson and Ruth Rae in their book, Making Etched Metal Jewelry, says what I always say to jewelry makers who ask me about metal etching in particular or adding texture to metal in general. Metal etching provides a creative and quite easy though often intimidating way to add words, patterns, designs, and textures to metal–ANY design and ANY texture that you can print, stamp, or draw on paper, even photographs.

Beholding the Past metal etching project

That kind of makes your mouth fall open a bit, to think about all the possibilities, right? Your beloved grandmother’s handwriting, your sweet baby’s photograph or footprints, your toddler’s finest artwork, your favorite poem or lines from a book–all of these things are candidates for metal etching to create pendants, charms, cuff bracelets, even plant markers, books, bookmarks, plaques, Christmas ornaments, spoons, and just about any other jewelry or metal art you can imagine.

But which jewelry metals can you etch? The short version is nearly all of them, in some form or other using various metal etching solutions, but a few metals in particular really lend themselves to safer metal etching for jewelry making. Here’s what Kristen and Ruth have to say about that.

metal etching for jewelry, types of metal to etch

Metal Etching for Jewelry: Which Metals to Etch

By Kristen Robinson and Ruth Rae, from Making Etched Metal Jewelry

Within the book we focus on three metals–brass, copper and nickel silver–because these metals can be etched using the least caustic of processes. Each sheet’s gauge is chosen for specific reasons (such as the strength of the metal, which is taxed during the etching process). In most cases you can expect to lose the equivalent of two gauges as a result of submerging metal in etching chemicals.

Another important factor when choosing metal to etch is surface. Some manufacturers apply a protective coating to the metal to prevent scratching and tarnishing. It is imperative that you follow the cleaning steps on the following pages in order to remove any surface treatment that might have been applied and which, if not removed, will negatively impact the etching process.

The size of the sheets of metal we work with for the projects in this book vary. Generally we use 4″× 4″ (10cm × 10cm) pieces of metal. You can use larger pieces–you may have more cutting to do. . . . You can also use leftover scraps of etched metal in many (most) projects. Feel free to mix and match metals to suit your needs and preferences.

Olga Dollie Picture Frame metal etching project tutorial

Brass Sheet Metal: 22-gauge brass sheet metal is preferred. The primary reason for choosing this gauge is durability during etching. A deep etch is achieved, while at the same time, the metal holds up well and recovers from manipulation.

Helena Constantius metal etching cuff bracelet

Copper Sheet Metal: 22-gauge copper sheet metal not only etches deeply but it also possesses good durability and longevity.

Maiden by the Sea metal etching earrings project

Nickel Silver Sheet Metal: 22- or 24-gauge nickel silver can be etched with great results.

Brass Tubing: Brass tubing is generally composed of 14-gauge metal. Because the metal is composed of more layers of heavier metal, it may take a bit longer to achieve the desired etch. It is imperative that you properly clean both the inside and the outside of the tubing.

Metal Etching Tip: It is very important to be aware of the type of metal you are purchasing. It is safest to purchase sheet metal from a reputable source, such as a jewelry supplier or hardware store, because metals (particularly nickel silver) are frequently poured with additives. This is very true of metals made for the craft market. —KR & RR

In Her Garden metal etching ring project

In Making Etched Metal Jewelry, you’ll learn two techniques for etching metal that use the safest and most readily available supplies–and then you’ll learn how to show off your etched metal in 17 beautiful, complete jewelry tutorials. Plus, reading through the projects, I spotted several bonus techniques, like how to make a tiny book with real paper, how to dye or age lace, how to make backless bezel resin components, how to make ribbon links and etched chain links, how to make tassels, how to do several basic metalsmithing tasks like sawing, dapping/doming, drilling, etc., and much more.

Making Etched Metal Jewelry by Ruth Rae and Kristen Robinson (and the digital eBook version, if you prefer that) is just one of the many timeless, informative books included in our Summer Sale, where everything–literally, ev.er.y.thing.–is on sale. You know that almost never happens! This book is also available as part of our Jewelry Etching Made Easy premium collection, along with etching supplies and Lexi Erickson’s video on jewelry etching–and that’s on sale, too!

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