You can etch or engrave glass in several different ways. Traditional methods involve the use of copper wheels and abrasive compounds to create images on the glass surface. Diamond-tipped tools allow the artist to do intricate engraving work, and power tools make the work faster and easier.
Another method of engraving uses corrosive chemicals to etch the pattern on a stencil onto the glass. This method of engraving requires the use of heavy gloves, eye protection and a lot of ventilation as the chemicals involved can be very dangerous.
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The oldest method of engraving glass is intaglio. This method involves the use of copper wheels, steel needles and scribes to cut away the glass in different patterns. Glass makers use the wheel to press a mixture of linseed oil and emery powder into the glass. The pressure from the tool causes the abrasive mixture to grind away the glass to make a picture.
Some engravers use small power tools with differently shaped heads to achieve differently shaped cuts in the glass. Carbide-tipped scribes and sharp steel needles scratch the glass to form patterned images.
Professional chemical engraving uses a mixture of distilled water, ammonium fluoride, hydrogen fluoride and hydrochloric acid to corrode the glass. The engraver places a stencil over the glass and applies the etching solution over the stencil.
The corrosive chemicals etch the glass at approximately 1 micrometer per second. The engraver will have determined how long to leave the solution on to achieve the desired engraving. This method is only for use by trained professionals.
Etching cream is an easy alternative for the hobbyist. This substance is available in most any hobby or craft shop and is safe and easy to clean up. These creams are good for engraving names or small images on glassware.
Costs and Benefits
Engraved glass is a good hobby to enjoy as a craftsman and as a collector. The cost of tools to engrave glass ranged from £13 to £19 in 2010 for diamond-tipped, hand-held engraving kits to more than £65 for some chemical etching setups. You can find electric engraving tools with an assortment of burins, wheels, and polishers for less than £65 online.
Engraved glass is fun to make and profitable to collect. Engraved glass from the 19th and 20th centuries has a value in the thousands of dollars.
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