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Etching Vs. Using a Jewelers Saw


#1

I need- and would appreciate- advice on the best way to “cut out” a
pattern from silver sheet metal (guage ranges 20-26). I have been
transferring my drawings to the sheet metal and then piercing and
sawing out the pattern using my jewelers saw. My designs are very
detailed and time consuming to cut out so I was wondering if I could
acheive the same result by etching. Is it possible to let the acid
etch its way all the way through the metal? Or does this create
undesireable effects? Any other suggestions?

Thanks in advance.
Sami


#2

Sami

Can’t offer you much on the etching idea, but if you have pets, the
chemicals could kill them if they step in a spot and then lick their
paw. Maggie has been in the tub twice over stuff like that and both
times I bled well. (Maggie is a cat who had a bad experience with a
toilet as a child)

I know this is expensive but it works really great.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0001VNRGC/theganoksinpr-20

This was my answer to short time and long sawing projects. I
currently have a 4/0 blade in the saw and believe it will work with
6/0 and the speed is adjustable from about what I do with a hand saw
to holly cow. I have used it for copper, brass, silver and nickel
silver, it really cut down my sawing time. You still have to
drill/pierce to get it going but the ability to follow detail in a
timely manner is excellent. Sandwiching metals together for overlay
and insets also works well even the boo boo’s match. The saw works
with pin-less blades (jewelry blades are pin-less blades so you
won’t have to buy new ones) and comes with a very good blade clamp
system which is adjustable and the tension on the blade is fully
adjustable. You will have to find a piece of Plexiglas or something
to replace the stock insert covering the blade hole, there is a
considerable gap around the blade and step between the insert and the
table work surface, this is one modification I would make first,
small pieces drop through the hole and on thin stock it catches on
the lip. The cover on the bottom that pulls out is very good for
catching the sawdust (?). However the saw comes well oiled and so is
the cup, I didn’t clean that part on first use and wound up with a
greasy silver paste that I have found no use for. The work holder
downer thing may have to be touched up, mine had a little burr on it
the first time I used it and it scratched my work, but a file, some
600 grit followed by a good buffing cleaned it up pretty well.

As the cup is plastic it cleans well in the top tray of the
dishwasher and you can put your freshly cut rock slabs on the bottom,
but don’t let my wife catch you at it, I am pretty well band from the
kitchen except to eat and get coffee. I think she is still holding a
grudge for burning up dinner when she put it in the oven to defrost,
how did I know, I had silver to bake, it is amazing how badly a steak
and plastic wrapper can smell at 500 degrees in as little as 30
minutes. :slight_smile:

I think you would really like this, it greatly speeds cutting things
out and there are no chemicals to worry about. The only negatives are
the burr on the backside of your work, which you have from normal
sawing anyway, and replacing the stock table insert with a piece of
Plexiglas or aluminum. I really do recommend this saw, its nearest
competitor is the DeWalt at $565.00 all the others I looked at
required pinned blades. And NO I do not work for Delta, Amazon or
anybody else who peddles tools, just a happy user.

Terry


#3

Sami,

Any other suggestions? 

You could have the pieces laser or waterjet cut. Can be very
economical this way if you are doing lots of them. Or you could have
them stamped out, or do it yourself with a diecutter and press.

Matthew Crawford
www.MatthewDesigns.com


#4

look into die striking with a pancake die made by Dar Shelton of
Shel-Tech; use in a hydraulic press.

Elaine

Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay


#5

Although it is possible to etch through metal, and you may even want
to try it, it’s very tricky to do. Everything has to be just so, to
get the piercing without messing up the surface, or piercing too
much in the wrong places. There are other options - I can’t refer
you, but there are etching services that have spray etchers and such.
There’s also water blast, laser, and the like. All of which, of
course, costs money. But I have done much piercing, and I know how
laborious it can be. However, I’ve also played around with etching,
and it’s perfectly capable of doing what you want, after a LOT of
trial and error and practice. And setting up an etching department -
acids, resists, fumes, etc.


#6

Sami,

This can be done. I recall using a company called Micro-Etch quite a
few years ago to do this for me. I provided the art work and they
produced the parts for me. Go to http://www.micro-etch.com/ and check
them out. Of course you could do it yourself once you learn the
process.

Joel

Joel Schwalb
@Joel_Schwalb
www.schwalbstudio.com


#7

Sami -

I can tell you from my nitric acid experience that you do not want
to do this. I tried to etch 28 ga sterling with a 1:3 nitric to water
bath. The acid was quite scary when the toxic smoke was pouring off
of it and even though I was working outside and not breathing around
it, I still felt the effects later. An acid resist will not hold up
long enough to etch all the way through your sheet. I can’t even
count how many times I kept checking and repainting my resist.
Because my sterling sheet was in the acid bath for at least an hour,
I had also succeeded in getting rid of all the zinc content in my
sterling which resulted in a severely pitted plate. (Zinc etches at
a much faster rate in nitric acid)

If you really want to experiment, I would recommend trying to slowly
etch your sheet in a ferric bath, but I think you will still have to
watch your resist very closely and you will have to touch up your
resist every so often. Ferric gives a much cleaner etching action
than nitric but it’s a lot slower. Since you are etching such thick
plates, you will probably spend more time than it is worth etching,
putting on your resist, and cleaning up your intricate designs. After
my disaster experiment I was happy to go back to the jewelers saw and
cut out my intricate designs by hand.

I too am interested to hear about other people’s etching experiences
or if they’re are any other alternatives.

good luck,
kerri

Kerri Parker
2461 Santa Monica Blvd.
Suite 855
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 449-4471
www.kerriparker.com


#8

Samantha - I’ve used commercial etching in the past to both pierce
and cut out designs. I found the etcher by querying for drop out
acid etching thru MJSA. I wouldn’t try to do it in my studio. It is
described as using heated acid under pressure, not something I want
to handle. It uses a photographic process with resist applied to
both sides of a sheet of metal. Using thin metal such as 24 or 26
gauge is ideal because the thinnest line that can be etched thru the
metal is the dimension of the thickness of the metal. You can however
do embellishment that does not pierce the metal. I’m not sure if the
company I used is still around, but it was called Silhouettes and
was in Rhode Island. My phone number for them is 401-762-1853 or
401-762-7849. They did a great job for me with a line of snowflakes.

Judy Hoch


#9

This may not be what you want but photoetching is a common industrial
tool for making what you want. Google photoetching parts. I don’t
know of any small scale jewelry parts manufacturing but-- There is a
lot of heRe: this pertains to making parts for model RR
cars but the work is the same

http://www.prototrains.com/index.html#equipment

see: http://www.metaletching.com/
a commercial opperation

jesse


#10

My opinions on replacements for hand piercing. At the age of nearly
60, I still love hand piercing. There is nothing that equates to a
finely pierced original. I admit that piercing thick materials is
boring sometimes, but when I am piercing anything from 1mm thick or
thinner, I find that I am drawing with the saw blade. I have been to
many demonstrations of the new tecniques that are being suggested to
replace piercing, and when you add the relative working times
together, for one unique piece the machines are un economical.
Scroll saws can be good for large flat area piercings, such as clock
faces and there are some lazer cutters that can give a good
representation of piercing, and they work very quick on thin metals.
I was impressed when I was demonstrated the lazer cutter in action,
so I asked a company to give me a quote for cutting out a pair of 2
inch wide butterfly wings, in 1mm thick 18ct. gold, the pair of wings
had 30 various shaped cells in each wing, to be pierced out for
plique a-jour enamelling. To give you an example of my labour times,
I will draw, engrave and pierce these type of butterfly wings in 20
hours. The price quoted to me for just writing the computer program
to enable the lazer to cut the wings equated to the cost of 40 hours
of my labour time, add to this the actual lazer cutting time. I would
think that these machines are great if you want hundreds of the same
design, as the cost would even out, but this system is not
recommended for one off unique pieces. One last gripe is that with
lazer cutting, router cutting or etching the one thing they cant give
you, that piercing can, is sharp pointed interior corners, especially
when the corners are less than 90 degrees, sharp interior points was
something that I was taught to be an important part of my piercing.
Take a look at the Easter egg on page two of my orchid gallery, to
see some of my piercing, and ask yourself if a lazer could do this,
marking and piercing out the two eggshells took me 60 hours labour.

May I wish all orchideans happy holidays and good health.

James Miller FIPG
https://www.ganoksin.com/orchid/jmdesign.htm


#11
I can tell you from my nitric acid experience that you do not want
to do this. I tried to etch 28 ga sterling with a 1:3 nitric to
water bath. The acid was quite scary when the toxic smoke was
pouring off of it and even though I was working outside and not
breathing around it, I still felt the effects later. An acid resist
will not hold up long enough to etch all the way through your
sheet. I can't even count how many times I kept checking and
repainting my resist. Because my sterling sheet was in the acid
bath for at least an hour, I had also succeeded in getting rid of
all the zinc content in my sterling which resulted in a severely
pitted plate. 

OK, first of all, sterling doesn’t contain zinc.

Second, I have been etching silver with nitric acid for years
without seeing any smoke at all. The fumes are nasty, it is true,
so appropriate ventilation and/or mask are important, but it can be
covered with a lid, as well. Your acid may have been too
concentrated. I’m not sure what strength mine is-- I use it as it
comes from Rio.

Last, I have etched all the way through, without any kind of trauma!
When I did it, I made a pattern by photocopying my drawing onto
acetate and ironed the copier ink onto the metal. Before I
transfered it, I flipped it over and made a flopped image on another
sheet of acetate. I had drawn register marks on the original outside
the size of the metal sheet. I put one acetate on each side of the
silver, matching up the register marks, and ironed them on. That
way, I could let the acid work from both sides to the middle. It
took about a half hour, I think, to etch through 28 gauge silver-- I
was actually using fine silver, I think. The two images matched up
almost perfectly, and a little filing was all that was needed.

It is very easy to get pitting on nitric-etched silver, but it has
nothing to do with zinc. Nitric is a vicious devourer of silver, and
will go through the tiniest flaw in your resist. It helps a great
deal if you etch your sheet for one minute before you apply your
resist. This creates a “tooth” for the resist to cling to. Wash and
neutralize the sheet, dry it (no touching!) and apply the resist. If
you use the photocopier transfer method, touch up the image
thoroughly with a paint pen, if you want to avoid pitting. Even a
sharpie pen will help reinforce the resist some.

When I am especially concerned to get a clean etch, I apply a second
copy of the image on top of the first one, matching it up perfectly,
to double the amount of toner that ends up on the silver as resist.
This is painstaking, and usually not necessary-- I’m a bit of a
fussbudget.

I know a lot of people prefer ferric nitrate, but I don’t like it.
You can’t see through it, and, if I remember correctly, it leaves
"smut" (precipitate) on the silver which must be removed frequently
or it stops the etching (I know ferric chloride on copper does that.
Adding citric acid to ferric chlotide is supposed to eliminate the
precipitate, but I haven’t had good luck with it. But that’s a
different issue.)

Anyway, don’t get freaked out about nitric acid, just use it
carefully, don’t breathe it, don’t get it on your skin unless you
like to turn black.

Noel


#12

Another power saw alternative to the one mentioned by Terry Ogden.
Micro-Mark sells a scroll saw that is designed to fit Jeweler’s saw
blades, and is smaller than most scroll saws. It sells for $155. I
am considering this due to the physical difficulties I have with
sawing from Arthritis. The direct link to this item:

http://www.ares-server.com
Item Number: 60514

If this doesn’t work, go to www.micro-mark.com. They also sell lots
of etching supplies in small amounts, but is designed for the
modeling craft business. Hope this helps.

Jim


#13

Noel. thanks for sharing your experience with acetate and nitric
acid etching on silver. I am interested in trying your method using
acetate as my resist. What brand of acetate do you use? I have a
Canon copier and an old HP laserjet printer. Both of these, I
understand use a carbon base toner. Is there a special acetate I
should ask for at our local Office Depot. Also, does your method
require a particular thickness of acetate?

I have been using PNP and ferric chloride for copper etching with
great success, but etching silver is another matter, and my batch of
ferric nitrate is just not doing a good job.

Alma


#14

Jim,

The Micro-Lux power saw looks interesting, but will it cut through
heavier gauges of metal? Do you happen to know the heaviest gauge it
can handle?

Thanks,
Bonnie Cooper


#15

Bonnie

Jim had said the Micro-lux was one he was looking at and I found it
interesting also. The site on the saw says it will cut
1/32 inch (0.03125/20 gauge) brass or 1/16 inch (0.0625/14 gauge)
aluminum. I think the brass would be closest to cutting silver.

An answer that will allow you to find how thick a piece most saws of
this type will cut depending on the motor. The maximum thickness
that can be cut by a saw like this is 1/2 the stroke length. That
means if the saw has a 1 inch stroke it will theoretically cut 1/2
inch. With wood it is not much an issue, but metal is. If the swarf
(the material removed by the teeth on the saw blade) can not clear
the kerf (line created in the work by the width of the saw blade)
before the beginning of the next stoke, the material cut will build
up, heating the blade and leading to failure either due to the heat,
or, in my case, the operator trying to push harder on the blade to
get it to cut. Ran into this after cutting 28 gauge and then cutting
10 gauge with the same blade, it was a lot slower. The saw I was
using had sufficient stroke and power for the metal thickness, but
the blade was loading up. On thin metals, you have to have 2 to 3
teeth in contact with the metal, fewer teeth in contact will cause
the blade to break, bend your work or both. On thick material you
need to change your blade to keep in this range. More teeth on thick
metal and it will load up with swarf and the remaining teeth will be
pushed away from the cut face. Sawing speed in this case would be
very slow and generate a lot of heat which will also lead to blade
failure. I have found 6 tooth contact to be acceptable for 1/4
(0.250/2 gauge) copper, 2 or 3 teeth on that thickness takes a lot of
filing.

As a side note, this will apply to any saw, the maximum rate of cut
is dependant of on the ability of the blade to clear its waste
products and the power rating of the motor.

Terry


#16

Hi, Alma,

What brand of acetate do you use? 

I hope you find my comments useful. I don’t use any special kind. I
just buy the acetate sheets that are for copying or for overhead
projectors. I’ve never encountered a kind that didn’t work.

When you transfer the ink, there needs to be a layer or three of
paper towel between the heat and the acetate, or the silver itself.
I either put the silver on newspaper, top with image, then paper
towel, then iron (highest setting), ot more recently, put the iron
upside down in a vise, lay the silver on it, then the image, so I
can press it down with a steel burnisher. It is done when the lines
start to spread out a bit. Let it cool, then peel back a corner to
see how much of the ink has transferred, repeat if necessary.

Some copiers (probably actually brands of toner) don’t seem to work,
for no obvious reason. If you have trouble getting a good transfer,
and it isn’t too cool an iron (if the acetate shrinks or curls, it
is too hot), try a different machine.

Good luck!
Noel


#17

Hi Bonnie,

The Micro-Lux power saw looks interesting, but will it cut through
heavier gauges of metal? Do you happen to know the heaviest gauge
it can handle? 

The picture of the Micro-Lux saw looks a ot like the Proxxon scroll
saw model DS 115/E that I’ve got.

I’ve used my saw to cut from 30 ga to 18 ga sterling with no
problems. The nice thing about the Proxxon is that the top portion of
the blade holder can be relocated to 3 different positions. This
makes it possible to get more use out of the blades. When a blade
breaks or gets worn in one area, the top part of the blade holder can
be lowered to accommodate the shorter blade section. I usually just
save my worn/broken blades. When I’ve got a few of the same aprox
length, I change the position of the top blade holder & use the
shorter blades.

Dave


#18

Hi Samantha,

It seemed from your question that you were asking about using
etching to “pierce” one of a kind pieces. This made me think of Carol
Webb’s gorgeous work:

http://www.carolwebbstudio.com

She etches through a top layer of copper to a bottom layer of fine
silver. I don’t know if some variation of her technique might work
for what you’re trying to do, but you might want to contact her and
ask, since I know she sometimes teaches workshops.

I also thought about Don Friedlich’s SNAG presentation on using
industrial processes to make production jewelry. If this is where you
are headed, you might want to contact him. He passed around the
original plates for the “clothes pins” he designed specifically so
that they could be etched via an industrial process. Other posters
have mentioned some of the ways this can be done, but these really
seem only to be appropriate for production (unless you have a trust
fund you’re looking unload).

Good luck!
Lisa Orlando


#19

Bonnie

The Micro-Lux power saw looks interesting, but will it cut through
heavier gauges of metal? Do you happen to know the heaviest gauge
it can handle? 

I don’t know specifically how much metal the saw can handle, since I
don’t have one yet, but the catalog description states “…1/32"
brass, 1/16” aluminum". Since silver (and gold) is softer than both,
I imagine it could handle thicker sheets of both. But this is not
made clear. Since it says it can use any of the standard jeweler saw
blades, I would guess it should be able to handle most grades up to
16 or 14 gauge (but that’s a guess). Their website does have a
contact section so you should try that. Since this is a good
question, I will contact them also before I by it. Let me know if
you find out anything also.

Jim


#20
OK, first of all, sterling doesn't contain zinc. 

Sterling can contain zinc. Sterling has more copper in it than zinc
and nitric will quickly dissolve both metals before it eats through
silver.

Second, I have been etching silver with nitric acid for years
without seeing any smoke at all. The fumes *are* nasty, it is true,
so appropriate ventilation and/or mask are important, but it can be
covered with a lid, as well. Your acid may have been too
concentrated. I'm not sure what strength mine is-- I use it as it
comes from Rio. 

I have been mixing all of my acid baths and using nitric on copper
and zinc for the last 7 years and nitric on silver for the last 2. I
must stress that if you see smoke or no smoke the vapors that come
off silver in nitric are highly poisonous. Masks do not filter out
nitric acid when you are exposed to higher level than recommended by
the MSDS, Only a self contained breathing apparatus is recommended
for high exposure to nitric. And yes you should be covering the acid
bath with a lid whenever possible but you still have to open it up
occasionally to do your work. Also, being a contact lense wearer
with very sensitive eyes I know that nitric acid vapors definitely
effect the eyes even when I am dealing with much weaker acid baths
(1:7) as well.

Last, I have etched all the way through, without any kind of
trauma! When I did it, I made a pattern by photocopying my drawing
onto acetate and ironed the copier ink onto the metal. 

I do agree that this is the most accurate way to transfer your design
on the front and the back, but you also have to remember that ferric
chloride had a much cleaner bite than nitric. The biting (etching)
action of nitric will not only bite straight down but also outwards
as well. Masking the front and back is a great help to keep your
resist on and to prevent the acid from going under your resist and
inside the lines. Nitric’s advantage is that it is a quicker etch.
Though I must stress again that nitric is a lot worse for your health
than ferric and after 7 years of using it, I’m trying to make a full
switch to ferric.

I have also heard great things about the ferric, citric acid bath as
well, although I haven’t tried it yet.

Good Luck
Kerri Parker