How to Hand Carve a Zippo Lighter

Metal etching is categorized in an art form called intaglio.
Metal etching is categorized in an art form called intaglio. (Image: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Intricately designed Zippo lighters are more expensive than those with plain metal cases. However, the smooth metal case can be considered a blank canvas to create a one-of-a-kind work of art. With a few metal etching supplies and your imagination, you can make a Zippo lighter case with a personalized design and enjoy the compliments you receive with your handcrafted project.

Things You'll Need

  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Resist lacquer
  • Tongs
  • Small paintbrush
  • Etching solution
  • Etching needle or burin
  • Toothpick
  • Glass or plastic container
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Respirator with a chemical fumes cartridge
  • Safety goggles

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Preparations

Disassemble the Zippo lighter and thoroughly clean all surfaces with isopropyl alcohol to remove all dirt and oil residue. Rinse the lighter case and use paper towels to completely dry all surfaces.

Apply a coat of resist lacquer to the tongs with a small paintbrush. Set the tongs aside and allow the lacquer to dry completely.

Brush a coat of resist lacquer to the Zippo casing that will not be etched. Make sure to cover all surfaces thoroughly since any exposed area will be exposed to etching solution. Allow these sections to completely dry.

Prepare the metal surface to be etched with a coat of resist lacquer. Wait until the lacquer becomes tacky before proceeding to the next step.

Starting Your Design

Using a burin or an etching needle, gently scratch off sections of lacquer in the design of your choice. Apply more lacquer if the coating becomes too dry or to cover mistakes.

Widen the ruts in the resist lacquer with a toothpick for thicker lines. Alternate between using the burin or etching needle while the lacquer is still tacky and the toothpick to avoid reapplying lacquer on an already carved section.

Allow the resist lacquer to completely dry before proceeding with subsequent steps.

Pour the etching solution into a clean glass or plastic container. Make sure that there is a sufficient amount of the solution to cover the Zippo case.

Etching Your Design

Submerge the prepared Zippo case in the solution using the tongs. Avoid dropping the case in the solution so the fluid does not splash.

Allow the Zippo case to sit in the solution for a few minutes before removing it with the tongs. Etched lines will become deeper as more time elapses, so extract the case at regular intervals to ensure that the marks don't get too deep.

Rinse the case under running water while lightly brushing the etched surface with an old toothbrush.

Repeat steps three and four until desired depth is reached.

Finishing

Thoroughly rinse the lighter case to ensure that all of the etching solution is neutralized. Dry the case with paper towels.

Apply lacquer thinner to the Zippo case to remove the resistant lacquer coating. Rinse off the lighter case with running water to remove the thinner.

Polish the case with a clean, dry cloth and reassemble the lighter.

Tips & Warnings

  • Wearing latex gloves during all of the steps will prevent skin oils and fingerprints from adhering to the metal surface.
  • Ink can be added to the etched areas to create a more dramatic effect.
  • Etching templates are available from several different art supply retailers.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area.
  • Always use safety equipment.
  • Read all warning labels and steps within this article before you begin.
  • Do not use etching products near a stainless steel sink.
  • Do not allow the etching solution to contact your skin. If you accidentally splash the chemical on your skin, immediately rinse the area with water.

References

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