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Does anyone know where someone without a commercial license can get a small quantity of  Nital 3%? Every dealer I have seen require some sort of hazmat docs or number before they will ship. Barring that does anyone know of an etchant for a potential wootz blade that works just as well and is available?

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I would think FeCl (ferric chloride) would be much preferred.  You can buy that from many places, or make your own from HCl (Hydrochloric/muriatic acid).  Nital generally leaves surfaces a bit cloudy to the naked eye.  Great from microstructural analysis, but not as good for macro.  Also, I have bought concentrated nitric acid and diluted down to 3-10% for etching.  Never have had an issue with ordering, but it was to a work address.  Fisher Scientific is often a go-to for etchants.  

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There's a lot of strange etchant recipes for wootz, given you're trying to bring out the dendritic structure in the steel.  Like Jerrod said, you can order a tiny bottle of 60% HNO3 and dilute to 3% with ethanol.  Don't forget about hot lemon juice or concentrated citric acid, either.  Just avoid picric acid if offered.  Nasty stuff. 

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Thanks guys. The ferric may be easier to come by then the Nitric. As Jerrod pointed out, the work address seems to be the key. If I had that I could have bought the Nital. As to the picric, yeah I hear ya. Back in the day when I was in college we had a building evacuated because of it. Seems the art department had a large amount of it and it crystallized.

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And if you do use the liquid FeCl above, be sure to dilute it with three to four times its volume with distilled water.  It works better that way.  It also works better warm, say around 80 degrees F.  

 

You will also see dry powdered FeCl.  Same thing, mix it according to the directions, then dilute.  

 

Personally, I'm wondering what an instant coffee etch would do on wootz...

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I don't know if what I have is wootz. That's what I am trying to find out. What I know is it is a late 18th or early 19th century, most likely 19th century Afghani Khyber knife. I bought it from a known dealer who is pretty good at id-ing these things. However when I got it, I just don't see it. Maybe if I squint just so and the light is just right and the planets line up  right and the butterfly flaps it's wings just so...., Still I'd like a little more solid visual.

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