Techniques for Etching Stainless Steel

Written by elisabeth johnson
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Techniques for Etching Stainless Steel
Chemically etching stainless steel can provide fine images from which to work. ( Images)

Etching stainless steel is done for a variety of reasons including the creation of prints, decorations and personalisation. The etching process is the result of a chemical reaction that removes a layer of steel in the exposed area of a chemically coated steel plate.

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What It Is

Metal is etched through the use of a mordant, or acid solution, which eats the metal away in places where it is not protected by a chemical resistant to the mordant's chemical reaction. The traditional steel etching process has been too toxic to perform outside of a very controlled environment.

Early Etching Methods

Early methods of etching steel involved a recipe of various high strength acids. Other formulas involved mixing nitric acid and muriatic acid together. The steel to be etched was covered in asphaltum that resisted the chemical process. The places where the asphaltum was scraped away or not present were the areas the mordant would eat away. These early methods often put off a lot of vapour and were highly toxic.

New Etching Methods

In recent years, a new method evolved out of the necessity to create non-toxic printmaking methods that would not cause an artist severe health problems. These methods are also much better for the environment and are executed in a way that does not require a lot of specialised equipment for its disposal.

Saline Sulfate Etching

Saline sulphate etching involves the use of two readily available compounds, copper sulphate and table salt. Mix equal parts of each compound together in hot water to yield a mordant that works well on stainless steel without any hazardous byproducts or harmful vapours. The etching quality from the use of the saline etch is very crisp and fine. This method can be used to etch aluminium and zinc as well. When stainless steel is etched with the saline sulphate, there is orange-coloured residual material which will easily break free from the metal. This material is corroded metal and can be carefully cleaned away if a deeper etch is needed. Stainless steel is rust-resistant but not rustproof, so dry the etched steel immediately after etching to prevent rusting. Etching steel is no longer a toxic process. The advent of a non-toxic method ensures inexperienced artists an easy method of etching stainless steel.

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