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Etched Nickel Components

It’s been a quiet summer in my studio.  My little ones are home and it’s a slower time for sales, plus there are things going on behind the scenes that have hijacked my attention, so I enjoyed having a little break from making jewelry.  But preschool is starting back up and I’m itching to work on ideas that have been swirling around in my head.

I have etched copper using chemicals or saltwater, but there is an unused sheet of nickel silver that has been sitting in my studio for years.  I bought it on a whim back when I used to be able to hop on a train and shop for supplies in New York City for the day.  (I laughed out loud when I saw how little I had paid for it!) Because it contains nickel, an element that causes a skin irritation for some people, I hadn’t used it in any of my metalwork yet.  It’s not as soft as sterling, doesn’t actually contain any silver, and doesn’t polish up as brightly either, so it is kind of the black sheep of the white metals family.  But I remember making a note to myself that this stuff can be etched like copper with supplies found at Radio Shack, unlike silver.  And thanks to my trolling Pinterest during summer break (ahem), I got the idea to make etched nickel silver components for drop earrings.  The earwires would be sterling silver, and no other part touches skin.

I had another unused product I had bought a while ago, a StazOn ink pad, which is supposed to stick to all kinds of non-paper surfaces.  I applied it to a rubber stamp, then stamped that on the cleaned surface of the metal.  After that dried I filled in a little with a fine Sharpie, then let it go swimming in ferric chloride.  (Parents, please do not let your children swim in ferric chloride. It will stain their swimsuits.)

After etching and neutralizing I oxidized it with Black Max, which was surprising because it doesn’t work on copper, but I prefer it on silver because it’s faster, easier, more color-neutral, and less smelly than liver of sulfur (and reusable).  Then I polished off the raised areas and am really tickled with the results.  I can tell which leaves were added with the marker, but I’m okay with that.

I had intended to make fat rectangles for the earring components, but after I cut one I decided it would look better (and go further) halved into long rectangles.  I like linear earrings anyway; they’re more flattering to the face and less likely for the nickel to touch the skin as well.  I don’t mind the muted gray of the nickel, as opposed to the bright white of the sterling silver.  It pairs well with labradorite, which has its own interesting, stormy look going on.

Here is another pair with white freshwater pearls.

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More Sedona

The next pieces in the Sedona series…

Etched copper caps

 

 

Raku glazed ceramic

 

 

 

The last pair is my favorite so far, inspired by what Kristi Bowman did with her copper components.  The copper components have oak leaves and acorns, and sterling silver rivets attach it to the turquoise wheels.

It took me as long to photograph, post, and describe those earrings as it did to actually make them.  This is why I am so grateful to outsource my selling.  That being said, I’m building up my inventory for a fall grouping at the shop, which means these will be sitting in my studio until then.  If you’re dying to have something, let me know.   Earrings are around $28-36 to give you an idea.

A word about Sedona…  Although featuring copper and turquoise, I don’t intend for this line to look “southwestern.”  The turquoise isn’t the bright, clear stuff from Sleeping Beauty mine that is commonly found in inlaid Native American jewelry.  There will be no silver feathers, squash blossoms, or scalloped bezels.  I wanted it to have more of a “western” feel… My inspiration includes horses, their leather tack and silver stirrups, a little bit rustic and rugged.

Here’s a question for the lurkers: Would you wear copper earwires?  For example the raku glazed ceramic earrings above have only copper so I think it might look odd to put sterling hooks on, but I think some people are unable/afraid to wear anything but gold or sterling (which is silver+copper).

Stay cool out there and THINK FALL!

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Etched Monogram

A couple years ago I told you about a project involving a custom texture sheet and metal clay to recreate a bride’s wedding invitation on a pendant.  Full story here.  I’m so glad I posted the graphic I used, because I was able to use it again to make an etched copper disc for the same gal. 

Etching is a whole different animal, especially challenging for me when creating custom pieces.  I’ve only accepted etching orders from returning customers and dear friends, but I still kick myself every time I get halfway through a monogram piece and something goes wrong.  Eventually I come up with something I love enough to pass on to my customer, so it must be the end products that compel me to try it again. 

It is much more fun for me to etch when the results don’t matter, like these pendants (already sold – sorry!).  If the etched design doesn’t turn out I can just repurpose the copper.  Making jewelry should be FUN and not stressful!

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Etching

You can read about my initial foray into etching in earlier posts, saltwater and acid.  I finally had the time to do the real commissioned piece, and my customer chose the chiseled font (which we agreed looks better with her initials than a script).  However, that also meant I needed to find a way to transfer the image from my computer onto the surface of the copper to act as a resist.  Because I have known how to etch in theory for years, I also have a collection of websites with helpful info.  This one explains how to use a printer or photocopier for image transfer, and it worked successfully.  This piece looks pretty on its new owner with her beautiful red hair.  Copper is so perfect for fall, and this is a unique monogram pendant that is not available in stores.

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Acid etching

I used the same sample piece of copper for etching with ferric chloride since it was still masked with duct tape from Etching Round 1.  I traced over the monograms with a Sharpie oil-based paint marker as the resist, which seems to have a more consistent application than a regular Sharpie but is much easier to use than nail polish.  (Available in three thicknesses where art supplies are sold, in my case at Michaels.)  I let the copper plate sit in the etching solution for about an hour, checking it every 20 minutes or so to see how it was going.  It’s hard for me to tell how much etching is happening because the resist itself is three-dimensional, but finally I couldn’t wait any longer so I rinsed the piece off and removed the resist with acetone. 


You can actually see both rounds of etching in the top of the closer monogram and the circles around both (which were only salt water etched).  Etching is a much more subtle texture than what I normally do with PMC.  And, like I said, it’s hard to tell how much etching is happening during the process, so I guess salt water etching was more effective than I thought. 

At least now I can honestly say I can etch copper.

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Salt Water Etching

My friend Trice, who sews and will monogram anything that isn’t nailed down (and does a great job), sent me this picture and asked if I could make her one.  I could tell it is a copper pendant, most likely etched.  In theory I can do copper etching, and I have the bookmarked web pages to prove it, but in reality I had never tried it.  Most of my customers want this type of look in silver, so I normally use PMC with a custom texture sheet.  (Note to self: write a tutorial for that.)

I wanted to try salt water etching because I aim to be The Lazy Etcher, so I’d prefer to just pour the solution in the sink when I’m finished and “chase it down with plenty of water,” as my organic chem professor used to say.  I dragged my husband, whom I met in that o-chem lab, to Radio Shack to obtain a single D cell battery holder and a couple of alligator clips.  I noted that The Shack also carries ferric chloride in case this method didn’t work.  (Ferric chloride just needs baking soda to neutralize it anyway, not that bad.)  I also noted the irony that it’s usually the husband dragging the wife to Radio Shack.  Thank you for not being an electronics geek, sweetie.

Which of these does not belong? 

Well, they all do in this case.  After sanding a piece of 24ga copper with steel wool I cleaned it with acetone (okay, nail polish remover), then alcohol.  I freehanded the monogram with a Sharpie, which didn’t look awesome but this was just a test run anyway.  I put a spot of nail polish in the margin to note the difference in masking quality.  I wrapped the back and edges of the copper in duct tape to keep them from being eaten away, then I cut another piece of copper to be the cathode.  A spoonful of salt, a glass of warm water, and some wirework skills to attach the clips to the leads on the battery.  Clippy clippy, dunk dunk, battery in, and I was in business.  Bubbles started forming on the cathode, which was a good sign.  After about 10 minutes brown sludge appeared around the anode side (another good sign).  After 20 minutes I still wasn’t seeing much etching going on, so I added more salt.
Sigh.

I let it go for over an hour (instructions found on the web suggested etching for 5-60 minutes), then used acetone to clean off the resist.  My design was still shiny while the negative space was matte, which indicated that my resist was working, but there was no cut (nothing was really etched away).  Stay tuned for Round 2.