Etched Copper Pendant

Barbara Louise Bowling demonstrates her etching process on her copper pendant.


Barbara Bowling was always interested in science. Although she dabbled in all things artistic, she followed the calling of her left-brain and spent much of her adult life as a professor at Penn State.

Materials and Tools:

20-gauge sheet of Nugold (an alloy of brass)
sterling tubing
photosensitive film
picture printed onto a piece of acetate
light box made from a metal toolbox, 2 black lights and a piece of glass
developer (1 tablespoon washing soda in 1 liter water)
vinegar, household ammonia
duct tape, carpet tape
float (piece of plastic foam)
ferric chloride etchant and etching setup*
jeweler's saw, jeweler's drill, files, 220-grit sandpaper
pendant wire and brooch findings
permanent marker, straight edge
scouring powder, sponge, spray bottle with water
soft cloth, paper towels
safety glasses, rubber gloves
craft knife, tweezers, hammer
wood dowel
metal mandrel
pickle solution in heated crock-pot
brown patina solution andwire brush
rotary tool
jewel and purchased sterling silver chain
*Etching setup: 2 fish tank pumps and a glass container, all under a hood



1. Decide on a black-and-white photograph, a piece of clip art or an original piece of art to be etched onto the metal. Tip: Black-and-white images should be very clear and have very dense black where it is supposed to be black and should not have any gray coloring. Print the photo on acetate.

2. Select a piece of metal. Anything with substantial copper in it (copper, brass) or sterling can be etched. The etchant used for copper containing metals is ferric chloride. Tip: For etching with sterling use ferric nitrate.

3. Cut the metal to desired size using a jeweler's saw.


4. Sand the metal surface thoroughly with 220-grit sandpaper. Clean the metal with scouring powder, making sure that the piece is well rinsed and very clean. Water should "sheet" off the metal.

5. Cut a piece of photosensitive film slightly larger than the piece of metal. Spray the surface of the metal with water. Remove the piece of protective plastic from the matte side of the film and lay this side on the moistened piece of metal.


6. Squeegee the film onto the metal. Trim the film to the exact size of the metal using a craft knife. Rub the film well with a soft cloth. Keep the film away from sunlight.

7. Allow the prepared metal to dry thoroughly. Dry overnight upside down, so it's not exposed to light or dry with a hairdryer for several minutes.


8. Make a handmade light box from a metal toolbox with two UV fixtures mounted into the bottom with a glass shelf over them. Place the acetate with the selected picture on the metal on the shelf in the light box. Then lay the metal on top of that. Put the tool tray from the toolbox on top of the metal to ensure that everything's very flat. Close the light box and turn on the lights for 90 seconds.


9. Remove the exposed metal. The result is a shadow of the picture used on the film.

10. Remove the top piece of plastic from the film.

11. Develop the picture on the metal by putting it in a glass container filled with basic solution of one tablespoon of washing soda to one liter of water for seven minutes.

12. Check the piece by using a sponge to gently rub the piece while wearing rubber gloves. The film will come off of the areas that weren't exposed (the black areas of the picture) and will adhere to the areas that were exposed (the clear areas). If the lines are not crisp, leave the piece in the developer for another minute and check again.

13. When the outlines of the picture are clear, spray the metal with vinegar, as acid stops the developing process, and rinse well with water. You're ready to etch.


14. Cover the back of the metal with duct tape. This prevents the etchant from attacking the back of the piece.

15. Mount the piece onto a piece of 1/2-inch plastic foam using double-stick carpet tape.

16. Pour the etchant (ferric chloride, in this case) into a glass dish on top of 1-2 fish tank pumps. The pumps keep the system vibrating, which eliminates the development of bubbles on the piece. Plug in the pumps.


17. Float the plastic foam/metal on the mildly vibrating surface of the etchant with the metal side down in the solution.


18. Always wearing rubber gloves, check the metal for the depth of the etch after four hours. Check again every hour or so until you get the depth of etch desired.

19. Once the desired etching depth is achieved, rinse the metal well under running water. Remove the plastic foam and the duct tape from the metal. Set the piece in household ammonia with water. This will remove the remaining film from the piece. Clean well and dry.


20. The piece is now ready to be made into a piece of jewelry. Use a template or draw the desire shape onto the metal.

21. Saw out the shape with a jeweler's saw. Cut out a piece of sterling tubing.


22. Solder on tubing for setting a stone into the pendant using solder and a torch. Place the pendant in a pickle solution and rinse well.

23. Shape the piece of metal by hammering it between a mandrel and a dowel.

24. Solder on the findings (pendant bail wire and brooch findings). Pickle it to clean and rinse with water.


25. Place the pendant in brown patina solution. Remove it and brush it with a wire brush and water to remove the patina from the surface, leaving the brown color in the deeper crevices.


26. Sand and finish the etched copper pendant using a flex shaft rotary tool with a split mandrel and hand sand the copper pendant with sandpaper. Clean with water.


27. String a sterling necklace chain through the bail.


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