How to Etch Stainless Steel Jewelry

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The classic method of etching stainless steel uses caustic chemicals like ferric chloride, hydrofluoric acid, nitric acid. Dangerous is an understatement. You can also try using an engraving tool, but unless you have a really steady hand, you end up with something that looks like chicken scratch. Etching doesn't have to be dangerous or take nerves of steel. You can etch your stainless steel jewelry simply and easily.

Things You'll Need

  • Insulated Wrapping Wire (30AWG)
  • 12V Lantern battery
  • Two alligator clips, one red and one black
  • Wire strippers
  • Piece of jewelry you want to etch. Dog tags are a good starting place.
  • Green scouring pad
  • Surgical plastic gloves
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Black fine-tip Sharpie
  • Clear packing tape
  • Exacto knife
  • All-natural, non-iodized sea salt
  • Small bowl or coffee cup
  • Tap water
  • Cotton balls or cotton swabs (depending on the size of the etch)
  • Cut two 15-inch pieces of wire.

  • Using your wire strippers, strip about 1 inch of the insulation off both ends of the wires.

  • Attach one wire to the red alligator clip and the other one to the black alligator clip.

  • Attach the other ends of the wire to the battery. The wire with the black alligator clip needs to be attached to the negative (-) terminal and the wire with the red alligator clip needs to be attached to the positive (+) terminal.

  • Scrub the side of the dog tag you will be etching with the green scouring pad.

  • Put on the surgical gloves and wipe the freshly scoured tag with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol. (It's important that you do not get any oils from your skin on the dog tag.)

  • Draw your design on the dog tag using a Sharpie.

  • Cut a piece of clear packing tape slightly larger than the dog tag and press it firmly on to the dog tag. Cut out your design using the tip of the Exacto blade and lift off the pieces of excess tape that are part of the design. It's like creating a stencil. The part of the dog tag that is covered with tape will not be etched.

  • Mix about two tablespoons of sea salt with ½ cup of warm water.

  • Hook the red alligator clip somewhere on the dog tag. Dip either a cotton ball or a cotton swab into the sea salt mixture. You are going to rub the cotton ball or swab across the surface of the design, so choose the best size for your piece. Hook the black alligator to the cotton ball, making sure the clip is touching the wet part of the cotton.

  • Gently wipe the cotton across the design. Your etch starts taking place. The cotton and the metal will turn black during this process, so wipe the dog tag with a clean wet cotton swab (plain tap water). Also, replace the cotton dipped in the sea salt. Keep wiping until the design reaches the depth you desire. When the etching process is done, remove the rest of the tape and wipe the dog tag with a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol.

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