Metal Etching for Jewelry Makers: a step-by-step guide

August 24, 2015

Learning a new jewelry-making skill expands your creative options! Metal etching is a fairly simple technique that offers endless possibilities! With just a little experimenting, you’ll be creating unique and personalized components you can add to all sorts of DIY jewelry! Read on to find out more. Rings & Things’ Metal Etching Kit is a perfect way to get started!

The above Metal Etching Kit includes the following supplies:
Additional supplies:
If you’re cutting your own shapes from metal strips or sheet, you’ll also want:

Before getting started, take a moment to review some safety suggestions featured in our post titled “Safety considerations for etching metal with chemicals”. Once you’ve reviewed the safety considerations, you’re ready to get started! Copper, brass, and nickel silver are perfect metal choices for this process. For the best results, select metal that is 20 gauge or thicker.

How to make etched jewelry - selecting metal for your project.

First, select the metal you want to etch. You can either cut sheet metal or use prefabricated blanks. Copper, brass, and nickel silver are perfect metal choices for this process. For the best results, select metal that is 20 gauge or thicker.

If you’re making your own shapes from metal sheet, use metal shears to cut out your shapes. Then, flatten the cut metal with a nylon mallet and steel block.

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Metal shears make cutting metal sheet a quick and easy task. The Lindstrom® shears will cut through up to 20 gauge thick soft metal sheet. Once you have cut your metal to size, use a nylon mallet and steel block to flatten it.

Filing the edges of hand-cut metal shapes will get rid of any sharp edges!

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File the cut edges of the copper with a jeweler’s file to create a smooth finished edge.

Before adding the design you want to etch, make sure the surface of your metal is clean.

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Clean your metal piece before etching. Begin by applying Penny Brite® Copper Cleaner to the surface of the metal.

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Gently scrub with Penny Brite® Copper Cleaner and a scouring pad to remove grease and residue from the metal piece. Thoroughly rinse the piece with clean water and dry with a lint-free towel.

A “resist” is what you use to add your design to the metal. StazOn® ink and Sharpie® permanent markers are both great resists to use. The inked portion of the metal will be protected from the acid, resulting in a raised pattern. For more information on resists, read our “Metal Etching 101” Tutorial.

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StazOn ink works great as a resist if you want to add rubber stamp patterns to your metal.

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Sharpie pens work great as a resist for hand-drawn designs.

You can add finishing details using an extra-fine-tipped Sharpie pen. Make sure to let the ink dry thoroughly after you’ve applied your design.

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Adding the final touches.

Make a “boat” to allow your metal blank to float in the acid tub:

How to etch metal for jewelry - make a boat to float the metal piece in the acid.

First, take a piece of styrofoam and wrap it in duct tape with the sticky side facing outwards.

Make a styrofoam boat to float your metal etching blanks in acid.

Wrap the duct tape entirely around the styrofoam boat, bringing the ends together.

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A second short piece of duct tape can be added to hold everything together and form a tab-like handle.

Place your metal blank onto the face of the styrofoam float with the patterned-side out. The sticky side of the duct tape will also act as a resist, preventing acid from etching the back side of the blank.

DIY metal etched jewelry -- use duct tape to protect the backside of the metal blank from acid.

Use a Sharpie pen handle to securely press the blank in place and seal the edges.

make a floatie for copper metal etching

Ta dah! The metal blank is ready for etching.

Now you’re ready to place your float boat into the ferric chloride!

Use ferric chloride to etch copper and brass for jewelry.

Pour ferric chloride into a plastic container. The ferric chloride can be re-used several times, so a resealable container works best. If you are etching several items, mark the time each piece was added to the acid. Etching usually takes 20 to 30 minutes.

Make sure to use gloves to avoid getting acid on your skin.

Always wear gloves when handling ferric chloride during the metal etching process.

After about 20 minutes in the ferric chloride, check your metal piece. When handling the acid, wear gloves (and not just one glove like us!). Don’t risk getting acid on your skin.

After about 20 minutes, check to see if the etching is deep enough.

Etch copper metal sheet in ferric chloride acid, DIY

Carefully lift the metal piece out of the acid, and check the depth of the etching. If the etched pattern is too shallow, just place it back in the acid. Check again after 5 minutes.

Once the etching is at the depth you prefer, it’s time to neutralize the acid and clean off the design:

Neutralize and clean the acid from etched metal with baking soda.

Once the etching is completed, remove the styrofoam float from the ferric chloride and rinse it in a bath of water and baking soda. This will foam a little bit while the acid is neutralized.

How to make personalized etched copper pieces for jewelry makers

Use a wire brush and baking soda to clean the detailed etched design.

Metal etching DIY for jewelry makers from

Once the initial neutralizing and cleaning is complete, remove the metal piece from the styrofoam float.

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And yes, it doesn’t hurt to clean the metal a bit more.

Polishing is the final step. If you have a tumbler, it makes your work easy! Otherwise, you can hand polish using sanding sponges and polishing pads.

Using a Lortone tumbler to polish etched metal pieces.

A tumbler can be used To quickly polish the etched piece(s) with a tumbler, add the etched piece(s) to the tumbler barrel filled with steel shot, water, and a few drops of ShineBrite. Securely close the tumbler barrel.

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Be sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s operating instructions when using a tumbler.

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This etched piece of raw copper comes out of the tumbler bright and shiny. If you prefer a darker, antiqued look, you can patina the etched metal with your favorite antiquing solution before adding it to the tumbler.

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Etched-metal components can be combined in a variety of ways to create unique, personalized jewelry! Etched-metal pieces are drilled and cold connected with jump rings to make this geometric bracelet by Polly Nobbs-LaRue.

Bullet necklace by Rings & Things Jewelry Designer, Mollie Valente

Found objects made of brass, copper, or nickel silver can also be etched. A brass bullet is the perfect object for creating this corked-vessel necklace by Mollie Valente.

For more fabulous etching inspiration and creations, visit Tiffany’s blog post, “DIY Etched Bullet Necklaces”.
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  • Amanda Thompson November 18, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    This tutorial is very helpful. Thank you for explaining everything so concisely. I have always made jewelry with beads and various components am branching out with metal and going with the learn as you go route. Thanks for the internet! So far I have drawn designs with a fine sharpie for a resist and they are looking better as I learn and read more,
    I have a couple questions — I don’t have a tumbler yet, though I hope to get one. What is the best technique for hand polishing and which of your products do you recommend? If necessary I could use my dremel, but I have not used it much and learning about it as well.
    Also, I have noticed that the etched part of my pieces has a texture. Is this normal? I’m wondering if it’s because I am not agitating as when etching. It’s not necessarily bad, I just don’t notice this with other people’s work I’ve seen online

    • Polly November 20, 2017 at 10:06 am

      Hi Amanda,
      Texture: Ours have texture in the background too; often in lines extending in from the edges. I kind of like it, so I haven’t tried experimenting with agitation to get rid of it. However, I’m sure that this texture is the result of our lack of agitation. The most common 2 suggestions I’ve heard are: a fish tank bubbler (not directly in your etching container/liquid, but underneath or next to your etching bin, just to agitate the container). Or, put it on a washing machine. Washing machines can be unpredictable, so if you do this, don’t leave it unsupervised, or you could come back to a mess on the floor.
      Polishing: Etched items can be a little rough, so if you aren’t tumbling them, I suggest starting with a light sanding. If you’re making just a few items, then the Vintaj reliefing blog is convenient. Personally, I like the assortment pack of 400 to 8000 grit polishing papers, just to have the full range of grits on hand for other jewelry projects as well. And then finish with the EuroTool ULTRA polishing pads. (They really do give an AWESOME shine!) Here are our cleaning & polishing supplies: