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etching damascus


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Ive started working on damascus recently, and I know that ferric chloride is the way to go for etchant, but until I can get some I've been using vinegar just to get an idea of my patterns and such.

My problem here is that I've had some really inconsistent results with the vinegar. My first round of etching went very well, good contrasting colors and an even etch, but since then my etches have been splotchy with very little contrast. Also the finish can basically be removed with a dry cloth. 

I've done several tests, using the same pieces of steel, same amount if vinegar at the same temp, etc, and nothing is working as well as the first batch.

No idea if I'm doing something wrong or if its just part of using vinegar ir if I'm just bad at putting metal into liquids. Any help would be greatly appreciated :) thanks guys

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Vinegar is a pretty weak etch and it helps to use it hot.  Blotchiness in an etch is usually the result of oil somewhere in the system, either on the blade or in the etchant.  I degrease with multiple wipes of acetone on new paper towels each time, but some guys prefer dish soap and water or alcohol.  It doesn't matter as long as the steel is as oil and wax free as it can be.  Swishing the steel around in the etch to break up the bubbles is not a bad idea either.

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Is there any difference with polish? Like is it more effective on a piece ground to 120, than one polished to 1000? 

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49 minutes ago, ethanknott said:

Is there any difference with polish? Like is it more effective on a piece ground to 120, than one polished to 1000? 

Yes. Generally speaking, you want to be at about a 400 grit finish or better to get an even etch across the pattern. If you are having trouble getting Ferric, try using Muriatic. This is commonly sold in home improvement stores and pool supply stores in gallon jugs. Dilute it about 4:1 water to acid. Add the acid to the water to avoid harmful splashing of acid. I have noticed that Muriatic will produce a much shinier surface than Ferric, without a lot of the black that you would expect.

2 hours ago, Alan Longmire said:

Swishing the steel around in the etch to break up the bubbles is not a bad idea either.

Any form of agitation not only helps the etch to even out, it also helps the acid work faster by removing oxides from the surface of the steel. I use a fish tank bubbler in my acid tank to agitate the acid.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I plan to buy some ferric chloride pretty soon, or go all mad scientist and make some, but I'd like to get a bit of use out of this $1 vinegar lol. My question at the moment is, will hot vinegar ruin the temper on a knife? Hotter vinegar = deeper etch, but can the vinegar be too hot? Or could one actually temper a knife in hot vinegar? Does etching have to be done before temper, or can you etch first and have the pattern survive the process?

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Etching is done after all heat treatment is completed.  Hardened and tempered steel etches with much more contrast.  If you etch before heat treating you'll just erase it in the cleanup sanding.

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I played with the hot vinegar, didnt like it. Bought some muriatic acid and hydrogen peroxide, did a mix of 1 muriatic  to 2 hydrogen p. Works great, happy with it, now what do i do with it? Will this stuff like sit in a jar without eating the jar? Lol

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It won't hurt glass or plastic, but the fumes will eat a metal lid.  It will also make everything steel in the same room with it rust.  Yet another reason to prefer ferric chloride.

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Electronics supply stores.  It's used to etch printed circuit boards.  The liquid kind needs to be cut with four times as much water as there is ferric, the dry kind you just add five times more water than the instructions call far.

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You can order it off of Amazon, believe it or not.

https://www.amazon.com/MG-Chemicals-Ferric-Chloride-Liquid/dp/B008UH3SAE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1492289092&sr=8-1&keywords=ferric+chloride

Mix this stuff 4:1 with distilled water.  Works great. 

In terms of polish: I go to 220 grit on a random orbit sander (the regular electric kind you get from Lowes or Home Depot). You can get an even etch if it's random.

I etch pretty deeply (3-4 soaks at 15-20 minutes, scrubbing oxides off between soaks) then a light buffing with pink scratchless rouge to bring out the contrast.  

Luck.

 

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Since you have muriatic acid, its really easy to make ferric chloride. All you have to do is add a scrap piece of iron or steel to the muriatic acid (or hydrochloric acid; same thing) and wait for it to dissolve. Then you can either just let the solution be open to air for a few days or add a bit of the hydrogen peroxide and boom, ferric chloride.

I should mention that this should be done outside since the vapors are stinky and it produces hydrogen gas. I don't know if you need a specific concentration of ferric chloride for etching, but I can explain how to make any concentration of ferric chloride as well.

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5 hours ago, Devin D said:

What kind of places sell ferric chloride?

On-line through Amazon.  That's where I just got a bottle, $14.59 for a quart.  Wanted to compare it with the home-recipe batch I made.  Mine is stronger :-)

Edited by Gerald Boggs
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RadioShack carries pcb enchant, aka ferric chloride. You don't need a lot. Water down with 4 parts water to 1 part ferric. (Recipe varies between smith). 

 

Edit*  I just realized folks already gave this answer. Sorry for the repeat. 

Edited by Austin_Lyles
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  • 4 weeks later...

So less about etching and more about patterns, how does one make raindrop damascus? Is it just lots of jelly rolls mushed together? Or is there more of a process?

 

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There are two ways (at least) to do Raindrop that are much easier than doing a mosaic of jellyroll, one for use with a hydraulic press and one for use if you don't have a press.

The classic non-press method is to make a fairly high layer bar and then either drill it full of shallow holes that almost touch and only go about a third of the way through the bar OR punch those holes with a broad pointed punch, then forge the bar flat until the holes are at surface level. Put the holes on both sides or you'll get a bar with raindrop on one side and random on the other.

The press method is the reverse.  Take a high-layer bar and press it between dies that have been drilled full of almost-touching holes, then grind the resulting bumps off.  

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Ah thanks, thats much easier than i thought it'd be... It looks beautiful, I figured it'd have to be more complicated

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