Dremel is the brand name for a craft high-speed rotary tool. That might sound like a mouthful, but in reality these are little bitty power drills for crafts. The Dremel, like its counterparts from Craftsman, Samona, Mastercraft, Black and Decker and lesser known names, have attachments that allow you to do several different jobs, including glass etching.
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Even though Early Egyptians made glass items as far back as 1500 B.C., engraving and etching became more popular when the Germans created Waldglas, a more suitable glass for etching and engraving. Early etchers coated the glass with beeswax and then scratched through the coat. When they were satisfied with the design, they dipped their masterpiece in hydrofluoric acid to etch the exposed area. The gas from the solution caused death over time and the dangers of splashing made a better technique more desirable. By the 1900s, etching cream took the danger out of etching.
With the advent of power tools came innovations to glass etching. Sandblasting and etching onto glass became popular. A pattern created on adhesive backed paper protected the glass not subject to the sandblast and the small pieces of sand etched the surface as it powered them with air. The Dremel tool for etching acts much the same way: It uses an abrasive surface at high speed to rough up the surface of the glass. The difference is that you have more control of the Dremel, but the process takes a lot longer.
You still need to have a stencil or a design to put on the glass item, unless you're particularly adept at freehand drawing. Tape the stencil on to the glass you want to etch and transfer the drawing with a marker. If you etch flat glass surfaces, you only need to lay the glass on top and secure it down so it doesn't move. The attachment for glass etching varies from a very narrow diamond wheel point for fine lines and first lines, to a wider grindstone for large surface areas.
Glass etching with a Dremel tool is time consuming but you have the option of creating more elaborate designs than you could ever get with creams or sandblasting. Dremel recommends stones of tungsten carbide for the deepest line and silicone carbide for lines that are thicker. Often people find that the Dremel tool is difficult to hold at first. The recommended position is, of course, the one that's easiest for you.You might find it most comfortable when you hold it close to the end and like a pencil.
Medium and lower speeds on the Dremel tool are often best for glass. You'll know if the speed is too low because there's a chattering from the tip. Use the tips specially designed for your surface composition and shape. The larger grindstones not only do larger areas, but also are great for a smooth finish to your work. Check the Dremel website for all the different sizes of etching tips (see Resources below). While you're there, check out the light attachments for your Dremel tool, which offer a great light source as you etch, and the magnifying glass that attaches for the small detail work.
Always wear protective eye gear when you etch. Gloves and hand protection are also helpful. The powerful little tool is chipping away small pieces of glass and it's always best to cover your eyes and skin.
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