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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Brass Etching the Dr Brassy Way - Jump into the Deep End of Fancy Brass

There is so much beauty in raw brass. It's golden, pure, lovely and a blank canvas for whatever your artistic talents want it to be. But what do we do with it? If you are like me, you glued or riveted other things to the blank golden landscape of brass, trying to make it fancier, prettier, something-ier. I did that too and still do that. But then I got really fancy!

I took a class from a very smart man indeed. Mr. James Faraday (Not his real name. His real name is Professor Sexy Pants, but you can see why he changed it for public purposes).  Oh, and he is married to the very lovely Mrs. Sexy Pants, so don't even go there.  Anyways........

The class was at Clockwork Alchemy 2013 and it was on Brass Etching. I had been (wait for it....) just "Itching" take this Etching Class and only 50% of it had to do with the joy of being in the company of PSP himself. I had done some brass etching previously with some minor success (and lots of failures and disappointments because that is "The Brassy Way") so there must have been some magical "something" I was missing and gosh dang it, I was going to find out what it was.

Pre-class my pieces looked like the survivors of some tragic chemical warfare, dug up from the ruins with a vague design remnant that remained for the Archeologist to decipher what the heck it was trying to be.  "Is that a Velociraptor or a Bumble Bee?" they would question. To tell you the truth, I was not sure myself sometimes. 

But after the class.  After Professor Sexy Pants....I mean....Mr. Faraday's instruction, my pieces are not only Steam Worthy but Brassy worthy as I am hardest on myself. I came out of that class with a renewed zeal to get down and dirty with my newly honed brass etching skillz.

Here is what you need.....

SOME BRASS (yes I know, this seems like a forgone assumption, but hey, you never know). I like to buy mine from local, USA Companies. Foreign brass can be contaminated, so buy USA when you can.


 2 Inch Smooth Cuff

Raw Brass Base Connector

 Raw Brass Base Connector

I see fancy gears here. I know. I see fancy gears everywhere!

Wide Slotted Cuff Base    
 Wide Slotted Cuff Base

Pendant Stamping Raw Brass

Am I the only one that sees a filigree stained glass window here?


HA! Just making sure you are paying attention. Read on......


Radio Shack like totally owes me royalties folks
 You can use Ferric Chloride solution from your local Radio Shack. This is what I use and it's easy and somewhat inexpensive ($9.95). There are a number of other methods that involve Salt Water Solution, Miracle Grow, Dragon Armpit Excretions and Hydrochloric Acid/Hydrogen Peroxide Solution.

I am going to talk about the Ferric Chloride way....but first some safety tips from Dr Brassy.

WEAR GLOVES AND A FACE MASK AND EYE PROTECTION!!! (Sorry, didn't mean to yell).
Never use Aluminum Foil as a base for this project. The Ferric Chloride has a volatile reaction with aluminum. It will also ruin your beautiful stainless steel work table. The best protective covering? Plastic. A regular old garbage bag, split open and lain out to cover your work area is great. Do not do this around children or pets or dragons.

On to the fun stuff!

Clean the brass well with Acetone (this is nail polish remover).

I then use a buffing/sanding sponge to buff the brass to make sure I have gotten an even finish that is devoid of any coating or oils (This is an extra step that I like to do).

You can use a stencil, a photocopy image, a rubber stamp image or just a sharpie pen, to transpose your design onto the brass. *(Wear gloves! You don't want the oil from your hands on the brass). This is called the "Resist". Wherever you have the ink, it will form the high points in your design. If using a photocopy image, you can try a hot iron to transfer your image to the flat brass. Then fill in with the Sharpie Marker or oil based paint pen (Must be oil based). If you are using a rubber stamp, simply stamp on an oil based ink like Staz On and then dab off extra, then stamp on your brass. *This is great for cuffs or other bent pieces as the stamps are pliable.

Let your Resist/Ink dry completely.

Use painters tape/masking tape to tape the back of the piece. Otherwise the etchingsolution will etch both sides of your piece and thin the brass out significantly instead of just etching your design on one side. Tape off any areas you wish to remain intact.


Pour the Ferric Chloride into a plastic container (I use one of those .97 shoe boxes from Home Depot).
Make sure it is deep enough to cover your pieces.

Place your pieces in the etching solution. You can leave them there or agitate (swirl it around) the solution. Be careful not to agitate too much as it can undercut the etch pattern and collapse your design lines. You will see bubble lines if you leave your pieces and do not agitate. Some people are fine with that and some are not. It's up to you.
Pretend this is a square plastic shoebox

Leave pieces in for 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the gauge (thickness) of the brass and the depth of the design you would like. Always check every 15 minutes! Your brass can dissolve into nothing before you know it!

Use a long wooden shish-kabob skewer or wooden toothpick to test the depth of the etch until it gets to the depth you would like.

Be sure and wear gloves when handling anything during the etching process and wash etching solution off immediately. (It won't burn your hand if it is on there for a few minutes, but better safe than sorry).

When you get the depth you like, remove from etching solution and wash brass pieces in warm water.
Orange powder on these is normal

Remove masking tape and discard.

Put clean brass in warm oven to dry out completely. About 20 minutes should do it.

Pour Ferric Chloride back in original bottle (the plastic shoe box now makes a great pour spout).

Rinse shoe box container well and dry.

Once brass is dry, use 320 sandpaper and/or acetone and/or denatured alcohol to remove Resist/Ink.

Sand edges in case they have become sharp.

Patina to make etching even more rich looking and distinct.

Seal: Krylon/Ice Resin/or another sealant.

So what will you have when you are all done? Something like this maybe? YES!

Filigree etched cuff by Dr Brassy
Etched Brass Cuff by Dr Brassy
F.A.Q. (Frequently Asked Questions).

Q: Can the solution be reused?
A: Yes.

Q: Can we pour the used solution down our copper sink pipes?
A: Never

Q: Will this etch copper as well?
A: Yes

Q: I tried this and it did not work. Why might that be?
A: It's possible that your "Brass" was not actually Brass. Only buy from reputable supply sellers.

Q: Should I take off my wedding ring when I do this?
A: Yes! It will etch the gold if you spill on your ring.

Q: Why are you going to all this work and effort to share this with us?

(A) I am like the Mother Theresa of Steampunk and am working on my Sainthood.
(B) I am an attention floozy.
(C) I am building a bigger fanbase so when my book publishes it will sell and I can pay my Editor the $100.00 I owe her.
(D) My Mother taught me to share.
(E) I am actually just nice like that.
(F) All of the above.

A: (F)

Love You All (In a friendly, warm, but not creepy way),
~~~ Dr Brassy


  1. You have been reblogged! LOL And EVERYONE should go over to Brassy's Etsy store and grab them a little bit of Brassy DNA via her marvy jewelry designs!

  2. Great post Dr.B~ I have tried etching with copper in the past, but your brass looks so cool, I think I'm inspired to give it another go. Did you do anything special to get those clean lines? Some of my efforts were blurry... Thanks for being A+B+C+D+E=F :-D

  3. well written and love that you've put in pictures to go with each step. Thanks D

  4. Couple of things I might add Dr. B...
    You can find sheets of brass to use at Ace Hardware.... they have two different sizes of brass kick plates. DO NOT USE THE BRASS KICK PLATES FROM HOME DEPOT or LOWES.. they are brass plated aluminum...

    You can also use the other method for resists which is a laser printer (Not a Brother model as the toner is wax and wont work) and print on glossy magazine paper then transfer over the resist by either heating the brass and carefully placing the negative resist on the brass and then burnishing it... then after it cools down remove the paper by soaking it off... ...

    As Dr. B says there are other methods of etching... Saltwater, Root Kill etc... but those require a power source... This method is probably the easiest to do...

    Have fun and ETCH away!!!!!

  5. Awesome tutorial!!! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Awesome tutorial! Thanks for sharing!

  7. they no longer sell the solution in Radio Shack...what is the next best solution to mentioned Miracle Grow, is that just the name, or the plant growing stuff?

  8. The planting grow stuff. Yes! Maybe check Radio Shack online? I see they still have it here:

  9. Best collection for engraving....Thanks for sharing it.
    Gray Laser Engraving

  10. This was my first article of yours that I have read, and your writing is enjoyable and informative! I am so extremely excited to try this, and I was wondering how well fine details hold up (I have recently acquired brass guitar picks, and want to make something of them.)
    You are super cool and I'm enthused to peruse your site into the weeeeee hours of the night.
    Thank you!!
    --Charli Zern

  11. LOL. Youre fantastic and funny. Questions: Can this be done with 1 part Muriatic Acid and 2 parts 3% Hydrogen Peroxoide?

    Also, if I make the cuff myself, should I anneal it before forming the cuff. (I'm stuck at the whole annealing thing.) Then how to clean before I add the resist. Thanks so much.

  12. I read those ingredients to my local Chemical Engineer (Read:Spouse) and he simply said "Boom!" I don't have any experience with mixing those two.

    Any time I anneal, I use it for the patina, not to harden as it will change the color of the brass. Because customers want to be able to bend the cuffs to get them on and off the wrist, I would not harden the brass. That's a personal preference.

    Making your own cuff is a grand idea and money saver. Good for you!

    I clean the brass with alcohol and I do a light surface scrub with a super fine grit sanding block, then another alcohol rub to make sure it's pristine and clean before the resist.

    Happy Making!