How to etch headstones

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How to etch headstones
Traditional headstones like this one can be used for ideas. Visit your local cemetery. (Photo by "click" at Morguefile.)

You need a simple way to etch a headstone. This is probably because you are trying to save money and not pay the hundreds of dollars that it costs to etch a headstone. This method will save you time and allow you to customise the headstone to suit your needs.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Headstone (with a smooth, glossy area for the lettering/etching)
  • Soap and a rag
  • Silhouette digital cutting tool
  • Self-adhesive vinyl sheet
  • Transfer paper
  • Etching cream
  • Popsicle stick
  • Acrylic solvent-based liquid masonry sealer (like Masonry Lusta)

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  1. 1

    Lay the headstone on a surface that will not scuff it. Two layers of cardboard may do the trick, but heavy stones may require more than two layers. The stone may have to be propped up at an angle that you can work at.

  2. 2

    Once your digital cutting tool is installed on your computer and hooked up (according to the instructions that come with the tool), select the design and font that you want. If not they are not available on the software, you can download additional fonts/designs. Insert the self-adhesive vinyl sheet into the printer with the backing facing downwards. Keep in mind that the design on the computer will be printed backwards in comparison to what you see on the screen.

  3. 3

    Place the transfer paper on the vinyl and rub it with a Popsicle stick. Peel back the transfer paper so that the vinyl sticks to the transfer paper (sticky side out) as you peel it back. You may have to weed out extra pieces like the circle inside of an "O" or other letter. Apply the sticky side to the stone (onto a smooth, glossy area) and use the Popsicle stick to rub the transfer paper until the lettering sticks to the stone.

  4. 4

    Shake the etching cream bottle. Open the bottle and dip your Popsicle stick to scoop it out. Carefully use the stick to spread the etching cream thickly onto the surface that you want to etch around the vinyl. Wait while guarding the cream and check the progress periodically.

  5. 5

    Rinse off the etching cream. There may be cream hidden around the edges of the vinyl, so remove the vinyl while rinsing. Discard the vinyl. Apply the sealant to the stone to add durability.

Tips and warnings

  • Do not hesitate to rinse and add new layers of the etching cream. People often paint the lettering to make it show up more clearly. For sunken letters, use the sheet that was left over after the letters were removed with the transfer paper. Instead of using the transfer paper at this stage to remove the lettering, simply pick out or "weed" out the letters so that the pieces like the centre of the letter "O", for example, are left in place. You will then use the transfer paper on the entire sheet when you move the vinyl to the stone.
  • Beware of the stone falling since it can break the stone or whatever it lands on (including people's bones). Always wear your goggles during this project. Etching cream is very caustic. Wear gloves whenever you might come into contact with the cream. Wear old clothes and work outdoors away from anything that you don't want to etch in case the cream goes astray (move the car, for example). Wash your hands immediately after you are done working with the cream. Read and follow all instructions on the components that you obtain for this project.

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