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C.Anderson

Salt Water Etching Tutorial

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I wasn't sure where to put this...but since it's really one of the last steps you will take when making a blade, I decided this would be a good place. Mods please feel free to move it if it should in fact have been posted elsewhere!

 

If you have any questions or need clarification, please ask. It is a simple process but since I already know how to do it...there may be things I don't think to show that aren't immediately apparent! It's pretty self explanatory from the pictures though.

 

MakersMark.jpg

First you will need to come up with a design. This is my maker's mark. It was designed to be about 1/4" in diameter (but can be sized up accordingly, sizing down wouldn't be possible with this design)...which gives you an idea of the intricacy you can achieve. Keep in mind that the smaller letters in the center are slightly under 1/8" in height...and are about the minimum sizing you can get a clean stencil of...and even they are borderline. This is why the 'A' is open on one side. The cutter won't cut the inside of the 'A' so it had to be redesigned. Adjust your own designs accordingly.

 

DSCF2181.jpg

Next you'll call your local Kinko's, or other graphics/printing type store. Not all of them offer vinyl graphics stencils...but if they don't they can often tell you who does. You can usually transfer your design to the tech in charge of their graphics via email. It may take some back and forth to get a working design, but they have always been happy to accomodate in my experience. The picture above is about $10 worth of stencils (168)...but keep in mind there is usually a $20 minimum order.

 

DSCF2180.jpg

A close up of the stencils. BE SURE to tell the graphics tech you need the NEGATIVE of the sticker, not the sticker itself...or you'll likely get a bunch of little stickers of your design. Mine are centered on 1" squares.

 

DSCF2771.jpg

Now is the time to collect your materials. A small cup of water, table salt, a battery charger (some people use a 9v battery...but I etch heavily for a deep mark, and it would take a month without a charger that goes to 50amps), q-tips, rubbing alcohol, cotton pads, windex, your stencil, electrical tape, and a rubber spatula to rub the stencil onto the most important part...your blade. Bowl of popcorn and a Kraft cookbook printed in Spanish (don't ask me...it came in the mail and the thin paper works great for testing how sharp my knives are) are of course optional.

 

Now the actual etching process:

 

DSCF2782.jpg

First I fill my cup with warm water (warm water helps dissolve the salt a bit more quickly), then add table salt. I have never measured...just make sure there's salt in it lol. If there's some standing in the bottom by the time I start etching, I know there's enough dissolved in the water itself. At this time I also will clean the blade thoroughly with the windex, and then wipe down the area to be etched with rubbing alcohol and a cotton pad. You can use anything you like, just be absolutely sure the area is clean, with no grease, oils, or lint on the blade.

 

DSCF2774.jpg

The first thing you will do is determine the placement for your etch. Once you've done that...peel the paper backing off the stencil, and carefully apply the sticky side to the metal. If you are careful and don't stick the entire thing to the blade...you can peel it off and adjust the placement without difficulty. Just be very gentle. Once you're happy with the placement, use the rubber spatula tool (Kinko's provides one with your order) to gently rub all the air bubbles that may have been trapped under the stickers to the edges. IT IS CRITICAL that the inside edges of your design are stuck securely to the blade, with no gaps. Take some time to make sure of this.

 

DSCF2779.jpg

Once you're done rubbing out the design...gently separate the plastic tape from the stencil itself, and peel it off. You will be left with a vinyl stencil stuck to your blade. If you notice on the right side of the stencil, there are still some air bubbles trapped. You can gently try to rub them out still, but as long as they are nowhere near your design, they aren't going to be an issue.

 

DSCF2780.jpg

Next you will take and carefully tape around your stencil. Be ABSOLUTELY sure there are no paths to the bare steel. I use the tool to rub the tape down gently, and my fingernail to run along the seams where the tape overlays the stencil and the other pieces of tape. Taping it to your table is optional, but helps hold things still while you're pressing on the blade.

 

DSCF2783.jpg

Now you will take your positive side of the charger, and attach it to the blade. I prefer copper leads, because there's no real chance of a scratch, but these are steel. Attach the negative side to your salt water saturated q-tip. You don't want it dripping/running wet, but you need to have a small amount of excess liquid on there.

 

DSCF2785.jpg

Here is a close up of the placement of the lead on the q-tip. It has to touch the salt water...but if you get it too close and while working somehow touch the blade itself...you'll arc and possibly ruin your blade.

 

DSCF2787.jpg

Now it is time to etch. Go through everything once again, make sure your connections are tight, look over the stencil one more time. You do NOT want to make a mistake...as you will permanently mar the steel from this point forward. Once you are sure that everything is set to go...turn on your battery charger, and set it to 50amps. Take your etching lead and gently pat it against the design on your stencil. Depending on the size of your design, you may have to work an area at a time. You should immediately notice it turning black. Try to keep the discoloration even as you work the q-tip around your pattern. After a short time, you will notice smoke coming off the work...this is normal. If you catch a whif of it...you'll realize quickly why you're not supposed to do that lol. Keep etching until you notice it not working as well, then gently wipe the work with a cotton pad. Be SURE not to lift the edges of your stencil. Begin etching again. Eventually it will quit working, at which point you dip the other side of the q-tip in the salt water and start the process over. Clean your work with the cotton pad as necessary. I can usually etch my mark to a substantial tactile depth using both sides of one q-tip.

 

Once you're satisfied with the depth of your etch...shut everything down, remove your tape and stencil...and check your work. I haven't had one fail yet, though I had a NASTY scare while doing this tutorial. Some gum from the tape stuck inside my etched mark, and looked like pits...for a few minutes it was TOTAL heartbreak lol. I wasn't sure how to tell the customer. I decided to scrub it up anyhow and see how bad it looked...and when scrubbing the gum washed away, leaving this:

 

DSCF2788.jpg

 

DSCF2791.jpg

 

DSCF2789.jpg

 

Not too bad if I do say so myself...and so much safer, less complicated, less expensive, and more reliable than a stamp or traditional electro chemical setup.

 

Anyhow, I hope this tutorial was helpful, and again...if you have any questions please feel free to ask. I'm more than happy to share my experiences!

 

Cris

 

Edit -

 

Here is a different picture of another blade, to give you an idea of the depth of the etch:

 

DSCF2238.jpg

 

C

Edited by C.Anderson
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Slick tutorial :D

 

I was trying to figure out how you managed to cut out such a detailed little stencil before, now everything is clear!

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spiffy

^_^

 

but im confused ... do you consume the popcorn before or after said marking?

:huh:

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Thanks guys =D

 

Kenon...I've had moments like that too lol, where I'm sitting there going 'Wow...how in the hell did he do that??'. The answer is almost NEVER as complicated as I pictured it to be lol =D.

 

Dee, the popcorn is, as I said...optional lol. Thus, when you choose to eat it would have to be optional as well! However I've got to say...buttery fingers don't go well with salt water etching...so I'd recommend, after.

 

=D

 

Cris

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That's really slick. I'd like to try it.

 

Where did you get your stencils made?

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Well,

 

Ain't that cool.

 

I like it.

 

Have to try it on some of my wood working tools

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That's really slick. I'd like to try it.

 

Where did you get your stencils made?

 

 

I thought I put it in the post...but I got them made at Kinko's Copy's (now called FedEx Depot or some such). Any local printshop should be able to point you in the right direction. If all else fails, there are online sources as well.

 

 

Well,

 

Ain't that cool.

 

I like it.

 

Have to try it on some of my wood working tools

 

Thanks Dano =D. It's such a useful process...I'm glad that sharing it will be helpful for you all.

 

Cris

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Cris,Thanks! I will have to give this a try. In your earlier post you talked about reversing polarity to deposit some copper,gold ect. have you had any luck with that.

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Cris,Thanks! I will have to give this a try. In your earlier post you talked about reversing polarity to deposit some copper,gold ect. have you had any luck with that.

 

 

Haven't had a chance to try lol. These little knives I've started making got really kind of popular sort of fast...and I'm not exactly setup to forge and finish knives at any reasonable speed lol. Thinking about it though...I've got a bunch of real copper pennies laying around. It would be a quick thing to test on a piece of mild. I think the main difficulty would be cleaning all the black out of the etched area without disturbing the stencil.

 

I'll have to see what I can come up with. If I have any success I'll update here.

 

Cris

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in sted of the q tip i have a block of wood with a chunk of brass glued to it with a wire coming off that i wrap paper towel around the brass/wood block and get the whole thing in one pass other wise similar to your set up

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in sted of the q tip i have a block of wood with a chunk of brass glued to it with a wire coming off that i wrap paper towel around the brass/wood block and get the whole thing in one pass other wise similar to your set up

 

That's a great idea. The last time I did this (at the old house) I used the wide base of a foam makeup sponge...you know, the little wedgy kind? They worked incredibly well...but the wife STILL thinks the kids got into them...and keeping them from being punished while making sure I didn't take the blame was a very stressful exercise in dancing around a subject lol (sometimes...I think she knows and just likes to let me squirm...).

 

Thus...the Q-tips this time =D.

 

Cris

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Places that do automotive decals can do them as well.

Just have to let them know you want it done as a stencil.

I had one done that way after being put onto it by Peter Lyon, as he'd said that was how they did most of the decorative etching on armor and weapons they make at Weta.

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Thank you, Cris, for the excellent tutorial. I've been meaning to get equipped for this for some time now, and reading this prompted me to hunt down a power supply for the job. Harbor Freight has a 2/10/55 amp charger on sale for $26, so I ordered it and some other stuff I needed. Thank you.

 

Now to track down a Kinkos that will cut stickers for me.

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I've been playing with this technique for a little while too. An old wall-wart AC-DC converter will work as a power supply (often available at second hand stores for a few $), as will a 9- or 12-volt battery.

 

I recently tried suspending an entire, non-masked blade in a quart jar of salt water, with one terminal clipped to the blade, and the other to a steel wire anode. It worked well as an all-over etch, fast and non-toxic (except for the small amount of chlorine gas the method produces). Also, for one-off designs, nail polish makes a good resist...it can be scratched through with a needle or other sharp object for tiny, precise lines.

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Thank you, Cris, for the excellent tutorial. I've been meaning to get equipped for this for some time now, and reading this prompted me to hunt down a power supply for the job. Harbor Freight has a 2/10/55 amp charger on sale for $26, so I ordered it and some other stuff I needed. Thank you.

 

Now to track down a Kinkos that will cut stickers for me.

 

 

Well sir! You're welcome...and I'm glad I could somewhat return the favor =D! It was your tutorial on coin mokume that paved the way for this knifemaking thing I'm all about now lol.

 

Cris

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I JUST found the original source for this information!

 

It has been such a long time and I could never remember where precisely I found it from. I just happened today that I put my paint can forge tutorial up on Primal Fires...and was browsing through the other tutorials when I found Glenn Moulton's tutorial that he had put up in December of 2005 no less! I happened to stumble upon it in 2008...and the pictures were missing even then, but this was the inspiration for my own process:

 

Mark Etching Method

 

I'm going to ask Mr. Moulton's permission to go ahead and update that thread with this tutorial, since it is now incomplete without the pictures.

 

Anyhow, just wanted to give credit where credit is due!

 

Cris

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I've made a decision - I have always used a staggered TF on my blades. For "normal" or custom knives, I'll continue to do that. On my viking stuff, I'm using the characters in Futhark for it. Now all I really need is the Japanese characters for Tidewater Forge. Does south Asia (India) have anything special, besides the regular letters?

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Thank you for this tutorial.

This is exactly what I need for those deep hollow ground blades that are not easily stamped hot. They either get distorted or the mark is ground away if struck just a little too soft.

I will try nail polish, as it allows freedom of different shapes and symbols.

 

Now to get a battery charger!

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Chris, I know India has several scripts that they use. One is Sanskrit. I will have to google for the others.

 

Here is what wikipedia has:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siddham_script

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%9A%C4%81rad%C4%81_script

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranjana_script

 

For the Japanese characters you could probably use Hiragana and/or Katakana.

Edited by Howie

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I have looked all over, and cannot find a Kinko's or similar place that has a vinyl cutter that will do small work. Smallest letter I've been told is 1 inch. PHooey.

 

Maybe someone here would be willing to order me a few sheets, if I offered to pay and provide the design? Or help put me in touch with a known source I can work with directly?

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I have looked all over, and cannot find a Kinko's or similar place that has a vinyl cutter that will do small work. Smallest letter I've been told is 1 inch. PHooey.

 

Maybe someone here would be willing to order me a few sheets, if I offered to pay and provide the design? Or help put me in touch with a known source I can work with directly?

 

 

Chris, I've had good luck using the PhotoEZ silk screen material to make my stencils. They arent adhesive but they work fine for me just taping them in place. Good thing about them is that being a silk screen material you can make any design .... and they are reusable.

 

Randy

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Randy, I have no idea what you're talking about. Could you please expand a little?

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Randy, I have no idea what you're talking about. Could you please expand a little?

 

 

Chris, PhotoEZ is a stencil material with a silk screen core and a coating of light reactive material on it. You print out whatever you want to silkscreen or in our case etch, and lay it on the stencil material.... "bake" the stencil material under a UV light source (sunlight works but something like a face tanner does better) then wash away the material protected by the printing on the paper you made. this leaves a very fine silk screen with a plastic film around it so your logo has been turned into a silkscreen stencil.

I use transparency film to print out my logo and a face tanner to bake it. You want to set things up in a very dark room to prevent the film from reacting with light until you are ready.

You could make a stencil for a T-shirt or hat to match your logo..... :)

 

Here is a link to the kit, the hi resolution is best for fine lines like on a logo.

 

http://ezscreenprint.com/photoezminikithires.aspx

 

I'm in no way connected to this product other than using it and having good results with it.....

 

Randy

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See, I don't want to have to print or bake or control light, I just want to slap it on and etch it down. And I know for a fact that my printer won't give as clean an image as something vector-cut professionally.

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Tried out this method today.

Success, I would say.

I used a little handy equalizer, built by my father.

 

I set the Amp to 0,2 and the Volt to 20. The etching took some 2-3 minutes and gave a depth of some 0,2 millimeters. Deep enough to look like hot struck stamp marks. (With kind eyes? :-)

 

The resist used was shellack. I preferred this to nail varnish as it gave a crisper line and could be painted on thinner. The one setback with shellack is that is is mild amber in color: it does not offer great contrast to the steel below. With some angling of light an sight, the bad effect of low contrast could be counteracted.

I used an etching needle to scratch the letters, looking through a magnifying lamp for good light.

 

Mark2.jpg

 

Chris, thank you for making me aware of this marking method. With some practice I think I will be able to put some nice marks in my blades. I look forward to expanding this into decorative designs as well.

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