Saturday, April 23, 2016

Metal Etching Using Flexible Texture Mats from Best Flexible Molds

Recently I received a question from a metal artist, Debbie Bobby of Bronze Bullet Design,  about using our mats as artwork for etching sheet metal. Graciously, after doing a number of experiments, she has written out how she used our mats in this process.  

Metal etching using Flexible Texture Mats from BestFlexible Molds.

If you’re a clay artist using flexible texture mats and wondering what else you can do with them, or if you’re into etching metal, but looking for cool new textures and wondering if these flexible mats will work for you, the answer to both questions is a resounding YES!

I love making patterned bead caps, charms for earrings, pendants, and other findings to integrate into my jewelry pieces. I frequently use copper, but occasionally sterling or fine silver, bronze, nu gold, and brass, too. 

Gingko leaves earring dangles and bead caps.
There are a number of ways to transfer a pattern onto sheet metal. You can etch, use rolling mills with texture plates, or good old elbow grease with a hammer, just to name a few. If you choose to etch, you can use rubber stamps, texture mats, or even freehand a pattern or image onto your metal using a “resist”. All that means is using some sort of ink or other material to mask portions of your piece. The sections that are masked with your “resist” will be the high points on your piece. The areas not masked with your resist will be etched – literally, eaten away by the etchant method you choose – creating interesting textures and patterns.

There are many ways to etch metal, each with their own distinct results. The two I commonly use are electric etching using a saturated salt water solution and current, or using Ferric chloride etchant. Ferric chloride is the faster of the two solutions and the one I’ve used for the experiment I’m about to cover.

I was in search of some new designs for some bead caps I wanted to make, and as I frequently do, I searched Etsy. I’d seen most of the patterns before, but I came across some flexible texture mats designed specifically for clay products on the Best Flexible Molds shop. A few really caught my eye. But I wanted to etch copper. Would it work? I sent Penni Jo, the shop owner, a note asking if she knew. She quickly replied that she really didn’t know, but added she was now curious and asked if I would be willing to experiment and share the results. I agreed and within a day or two, four sample mats arrived.

When I opened the package, I felt pretty comfortable that these would work out. I set out to do some testing using all four of the samples mats I received. I was delighted with the results! Here’s how the testing went:

First just a little disclaimer – There are a ton of excellent and very detailed, step by step tutorials on etching with Ferric chloride, so rather than reinvent the wheel, I recommend the one I learned with on the Rings & Things website.

What I’ll cover here are the specifics around my experience and results using PenniJo’s flexible texture mats, generously provided! 

Step 1 – Clean, buff and dry. Get your copper squeaky clean. 
I use a commercial copper cleaner called Penny Brite® and a Scotchbrite® sponge, but you can also just sand it with a fine grit sanding block followed, by some alcohol. You want the water to sheet off – no beading up! Dry it thoroughly using paper towels. Once it’s washed, handle with gloves to avoid the transfer of any oils from your fingers.

Step 2 – Apply a resist to the pattern on your flexible texture mat.
I used a StazOn® Ink pad, pressing multiple times to get good coverage. Because the mat is so flexible, I placed the copper on top of it, then placed a large wooden block on top of the back side of the copper to apply even pressure.

Berber texture resist results:

This is the first texture I used and apparently, I didn’t press too well! Coverage is pretty uneven on the left side. This is easy to fix, just using a Sharpie as you’ll see later.

Faux Tooled Leather resist results:

Once again, not enough ink or insufficient pressure, but corrected later.

Center Cut Log resist results:

My goof here for not capturing the ink applied to the texture mat, but you can see, I’m getting more practiced at both the amount of resist and pressure to ensure a good transfer. This looks pretty good.

Ginko Leaf resist results:

Getting consistently good transfer of the resist achieving a high degree of coverage.

On the Berber and Tooled patterns, remember that I was missing ink in quite a few places? Just using a medium tip Sharpie, I filled in those missing areas.

Step 3 – Etching.

SAFETY IS A MUST!!! Ferric chloride is a chemical and needs to be used and disposed of properly. It is toxic and harmful to the environment, so it needs to be disposed of according to your local laws. I drop it off to my city’s hazardous material department for proper disposal

Act responsibly. Always thoroughly read about and understand any chemicals you are working with to ensure your personal safety and no harm to the environment. You can easily find the MSDS sheets on the internet.

Make sure your resist is dry. For the Ferric Chloride process I used, you need to “float” your etch piece on top of the ferric chloride solution. 

I secured two of mine using double-sided carpet tape and two using the Rings & Things approach. Both methods have pros and cons –experiment to see what works best for you.

Step 4 – Place your pieces, design side down, into your etchant. 
 Gently agitate your container by jiggling it on the table every 10 minutes or so. Pull your pieces out once you achieve the desired etch and clean them well, referring to #8 in the Rings & Things tutorial.

After cleaning, here are my results. I have to say, I’m very happy with the level of detail and depth of etch I achieved using Penni Jo’s flexible texture mats.

I’m providing a side by side view of the resist and the resulting etch after 60 minutes in the ferric chloride bath.

Tx04 Nubby Berber texture Mat used

Tx01 Faux Tooled Leather texture mat used
Tx08 Center Cut texture mat used

Tx10 Gingko Leaves Texture mat used

Step 5 is simply to shape and/or finish your etched material for your particular application. 
 I’ll be making a variety of jewelry components with these including bead caps, pendants and earring charms. Here are a couple of examples:

Bead caps made using the Faux Tooled Leather texture mat with a liver of sulfur patina.

Bead caps made using the Center Cut Oak texture mat with a various patina treatments (like Furubi®, fuming, and flame patina).

I'm really very pleased with the results using these flexible mats. I think they are definitely on par with stamps and mats designed specifically for metal etching.

Have fun!

Debbie Bobby
Owner/maker, Bronze Bullet Design

A note from Penni Jo
Thank you so very much Debbie! The work you've done with these mats is amazing. The items you've created are beautiful and super functional. Joe and I are very  pleased with the beautiful metal pieces that she has created. 
Because our mats are hand poured, they might not be perfectly flat like commercially made mats or stamps. But it's my thought that if the material pressing the mats to the metal is rather flexible also, then more of the design could be imprinted on first try.