Etching Bead Caps

Posted on December 28, 2010

So since I am about 6 hours short every day of getting everything done that I need to get done, I decided to try something new- incorporate more metal into my big holed beads.  I wanted something different, an element that I design, etch, dome and then finish off to my own specifications to create something totally unique.


You will need:


brass and/or copper blanks (I get mine from Ginko on Etsy- link below)

A permanent paint pen- fine point works well

PCB Copper Etchant from Radio Shack

packing tape

A flat Tupperware container (used only for this purpose)

A doming set

A Tumbler (optional)


It’s been a slow process, not having any time and all, but I finally have put together a simple step by step tutorial on how I make my etched bead caps for my “Pandora style” beads.




I investigated many types of etching- salt solution and chemical- and finally broke down and went to Radio Shack and bought this:



I know, what a cop-out.  But I am deadly afraid of electricity running through water, and they all seemed to have the same downside- what to do with the coppery chemical waste at the end. 


I purchased copper and brass discs from Ginko on Etsy ( a great supplier and she has the sterling tubing also) and a permanent paint marker I found at Michael’s.  You will also need some packing tape (I used blue so you could see it).  I fold it over on one end, this acts like a “handle” so you can agitate the discs in the solution.



Line all of the discs up, in pairs if possible, this helps when you are drawing on your designs, unless you are going to make them all the same.  Push them firmly against the tape, this will keep the backs from getting etched.


Make sure you go around all of the edges, the inside hole and the outside of each disc, trying to get a good coating on all of the edges.    If you skip this step, the solution will etch and weaken the edges and your discs will split when you dome them.


Draw on your design- I mostly did this watching NCIS reruns and doodling away.    You can draw anything (I obviously like dots), my marker is too wide for good designs, a finer one would be better.  You can see the benefit to lining them up in pairs:



Now for the etching!  I use an old Tupperware container, make sure whatever you use is large enough to accommodate your tape and discs- they have to lay flat.  Pour in enough solution in to completely cover the discs, make sure your “handle" is sticking out of the solution.    I check them every 15 minutes or so and agitate the tape so fresh solution reaches the discs.    Pull them out periodically to check the depth of the etch.


 This etch took about an hour, this is the second time I used the solution- fresh solution would take about 30-45 minutes.  When they are finished, I rinse them off really good with lots of water and pull them off the packing tape.  You can see they are pretty ugly at this stage:


 Now you can start the doming process.  I use a doming set I bought at Harbor Freight- ($32.99), and have had good luck with it. I also use a leather hammer (thanks Melissa for this tip!), it is gentler on the metals, and won't flatten out your raised design as easily as a metal hammer would:



 I do all the beads caps one step at a time, it seems to go faster.  Stack them into piles as you finish each step, then og onto the next.


First, I dome all of the discs in the top left hole with the #17 (15.4) punch.  I only strike the disc twice during this step, trying not to flatten out the design.    Use just enough force to form the metal, not so much that you are pounding out the design.


 Secondly, I dome them again in the bottom right hole with the #14 (13) punch- I only strike the punch once during this step.


 After these two steps, your discs will fit the sterling tubing- sometimes you might have to clean up one or two, but all of mine fit after this stage




Now if you want the discs to fit the copper core, you will need to dome one more time- using the #10 (9.9) punch in the bottom middle (shiny) hole:



 Now they are all domed and looking pretty rough!  Do not panic - they will clean up just fine (trust me on this).  I cleaned my first two batches by hand before deciding I would invest in a tumbler.  I think it took me about 2-3 hours to hand-polish all those beads caps by hand!   I bought this 3 pound rotary rock tumbler ($30.00) from Harbor Freight:


I tumbled my first batch in it and the belt broke, so I would buy the tumbler and some extra belts (I think they were about $4.00) just to be safe.  You can also get tumblers at Hobby Lobby, or any craft store.  You will also need STAINLESS STEEL SHOT.   If you use regular shot, it will rust and it is hard to reuse- I have used my SS shot 7-8 times now, and it is as perfect as the first time.  You will actually save money and time investing in the SS shot the first time around.  Rio Grande has many different kinds, I have the “mixed” variety- I was lucky enough to have a friend who bought some and split it with me. 


Put your discs and the shot in the barrel of the tumbler and fill with water until it covers the shot- I fill it to about ½" over the top of the shot.  I add in a dash of polishing solution, a tiny bit of Dawn dishwashing liquid works just as well.



I tumbled these for about 45 minutes- they turned out nice and bright- it took all of the scale and all of the paint off the metal, and burnishes the edges.  No hard work on my part, and they turn out beautiful every time- just turn it on and walk away!



You can finish them off any way you wish- silver black, torch fire for a dark finish, liver of sulfur, etc. I have sealed mine with Renaissance wax, brass sealant and Krylon clear gloss spray- I'm still deciding which one I like the best.  The copper etching solution can be reused, but after a while it will lose its potency.  When it's done, I seal mine into a Tupperware container and take it to my city hazardous waste collection day- ours is free- and tell them what it is, they recycle the solution and it does not go into a landfill.



These add a nice textural accent to your beads and really set off the glass nicely!  Have fun and happy creatingJ!  Laura















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