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TECH: Making Your Own BRASS TAGS - BRASS ETCHING at HOME!

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by KIRK!, Dec 15, 2010.

  1. KIRK!
    Joined: Feb 20, 2002
    Posts: 12,031

    KIRK!
    Member

    By popular demand I am redoing a tech piece on etching brass. I have used it for timing tags, dash inserts and decorative pieces.

    Anyway, it's not hard to do, but it's hard to get perfect. I haven't been going for perfect yet so it's been great for me. Everything I've used the technique for has been fine to have a "patina'd" look. Although, the dash inserts for the Legion Special came out very nice.

    This piece is a head tube badge for my new "drag" bike and is intended to help get the name of my buddy's bike building shop, C-51 customs out to the world (http://www.c-51customs.com/)

    OK, on with the tech...

    Supplies:
    -Brass or copper sheet (I used .032 I think)
    -Press-n-Peel Printed Circuit Board Transfer Film (PnP Blue. Available at techniks.com)
    -PCB Etchant (available at Radio Shack or Fry's)
    -Flat-bottom plastic dish
    -Copier
    -Block of wood
    -Clothes iron
    -Scotch tape
    -Packing tape
    -Spray paint (from the auto paint supply, not cheap spray paint)
    -Sand paper (320, 500, 800, 1000, higher)
    -Metal polish
    -Paint polish

    The etchant - Radio Shack's version and Fry's version. Either will work fine.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    The PnP Blue...

    [​IMG]



    1. Design your tag. I have been on the Mac for 21 years, so that's where I did this one. If you are going for an older look, keep it simple. I like to mark the holes to be drilled with center dots.

    When you're happy with your design you need to print it out in reverse and in negative. It needs to be stark black and white - no grays.

    2. Put your PnP Blue into the copier and copy your design onto the matte side. Try to get the black as dense and rich as possible.

    [​IMG]

    *Helper is optional

    [​IMG]


    3. Cut out one image and set it aside.

    4. Cut your piece of copper or brass slightly larger than the desired final size. You need the extra metal to tape the PnP Blue onto and that way you can trim up to the design for a nice edge. Otherwise the etchant will eat away at what you want to be your "finished" edge. The better the quality of the brass the better the finished piece. This is cheap stuff from Ace Hardware and it ends up with a mottled coloring when finished. I'm OK with that for this piece.

    [​IMG]


    5. Scuff the metal with steel wool to smooth it out and to give the metal some "tooth". Rinse it off with brake clean, then wash it with soap and water to get your grimy fingerprints off of it. That means don't touch the flat surface again, dummy!

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

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    6. Now, tape the PnP Blue design-side down so that it can't slide around on the surface. Make sure it does not have any wrinkles or kinks. Sometimes for this step I pre-heat the brass a little so that the PnP will kind of stick as I lay it down.

    [​IMG]


    7. Lay the metal with the PnP Blue facing up on a burn-proof countertop or piece of flat wood. The plate needs to be flat while you iron. I put a paper towel under it. Then lay a doubled-over paper towel over it to keep the iron from touching it directly because it can melt and scratch the PnP with direct contact.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    8. Set the iron to the highest setting and iron with medium pressure for 3-4 minutes. The idea is to get the plate hot while applying pressure, incase you couldn't figure that out. For this particular tag I used a twisting motion to keep the pressure and heat even.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

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    9. When you are done ironing, the design will show up much better than it did before. See how the image is nearly black? That's what you want.

    [​IMG]


    10. IMPORTANT: Let the metal cool completely before peeling off the PnP Blue. If you do it too soon, it will not leave the resist image. You can cool it with water on the back. Just be sure not to get any on the design side because it can wash off. Peel slowly and evenly.

    [​IMG]


    11. There will likely be pinholes in the design. This is easily fixed with a nice Sharpie. Yes, that means that you could draw a design with a Sharpie and do this same technique. The Sharpie is not as resistant to the etchant as the PnP, but it works pretty well.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2010
    dana barlow likes this.
  2. 'Bout time. Sheesh!

    Thanks KIRK!
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2010
  3. KIRK!
    Joined: Feb 20, 2002
    Posts: 12,031

    KIRK!
    Member

    12. Cover the entire back of the tag with packing tape. This keeps the etchant from eating away the back. Try to get a perfect adhesive seal around the edges because the etchant likes to seep under the tape. It's usually not the end of the world if the back of the tag gets etched a little, but just remember that it will eat any of the brass that it touches. I like to leave a loop of tape on the end to act as a handle to lift it out of the etchant.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    13. Trim the excess tape off.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    14. Place the tag(s) in the flat bottom plastic container and pour in the etchant. I like to make it about a 1/4" deep for tags like these. The more the better since as the etchant eats the brass it keeps the dissolved metal suspended in the solution and is therefor constantly diluting itself as the process goes on.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    15. The etchant works better and faster when it's warm, so partially fill a pan or another flat dish with water to be heated. If you use two plastic dishes you can fill the bottom one with hot water from the microwave - exchanging hot for cold as it cools. If you are using a pan on the stove like I did here, make sure there is enough water that the dish floats - not touching the metal of the pan so it won't melt. I turn the stove to almost the lowest setting. The water should not boil. Be sure to turn the stove's fan on because heating the etchant produces semi-smelly fumes.

    [​IMG]

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    16. Leave the tags in the etchant for 20-60 minutes. The longer, the more pronounced the design. Agitate often. You can tilt the container to see how they are doing. You can actually see that the areas with the resist are higher, if not, you can run your finger across and feel how deep the etching is getting. Don't rub hard as you may rub off the resist. I have never had that happen, but I suppose it could.

    The solution will get darker as the process goes on and will become nearly completely opaque. For very deep etching I have replaced the etchant after one hour and gone for another hour.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2010
  4. KIRK!
    Joined: Feb 20, 2002
    Posts: 12,031

    KIRK!
    Member

    17. Drain the etchant. Be careful because it will make a puke-yellow mess on anything it touches. Remove the tag and rinse it under running water. You can rub most of the resist off with your thumb. If it doesn't all want to come off, you can rinse it with brake clean. The Sharpie marks will not rub off, you'll need the brake clean for them. Remove the packing tape before you spray it with brake clean or you'll have a sticky mess. After all of the resist is gone wash the tag with soap and water again to get any oil off so the paint will stick better.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

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    18. Try to use just enough paint to cover the background. The more you put on, the more you'll have to sand off. I work in multiple very thin layers until it is covered.

    [​IMG]

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    19. After the paint is thoroughly dry, use wet sandpaper and an undamaged sanding block to sand the tag on a nice flat surface - I prefer my garage floor. Like any other sanding job, start coarse and move up to finer. I use the grits listed above, but use whatever you prefer. I like to leave the excess brass around the tag to aid in holding while I sand.

    You may accidentally scratch the background of the tag - I did. Just spray another VERY light coat, let dry and start sanding again. This time be careful, stupid!

    [​IMG]


    20. After I have as much paint off as I want, I trim it down and use Nev-R-Dull to polish it. This seems to smooth the metal and painted surfaces alike. Polish the film off with a soft towel. If you have used cheap paint, the Nev-R-Dull may rub it right off.

    To finish the tag off I use Meguiar's Paint Polish. I apply it with my finger to make sure I don't scratch it. This really seems to smooth out the paint well and gets rid of minor scuffs. I suppose you could go to a wax too if you wanted. If you have used cheap paint, the polish will very likely rub it right off.

    This time I actually left the brass with a brushed look. See how the cheaper brass has a mottled color.

    [​IMG]


    21. Drill the marked holes, mount the tag, rule the world!


    DO NOT use it for aluminum!

    It has a very violent reaction to aluminum. It's entertaining, almost scary and makes crazy toxic clouds. I wasn't thinking one time and tried to do this in a pie tin. The chemical ate through the bottom in about 10 seconds!

    I have heard of using other chemicals for aluminum with the same resist.



    Here's a points cover I did for the bike...

    [​IMG]


    The Legion Special

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2010

  5. Chuckles Garage
    Joined: Jun 10, 2006
    Posts: 2,366

    Chuckles Garage
    Alliance Vendor

    Kirk, thanks for posting this. Awesome tech.
     
  6. nocoastsaint
    Joined: Jan 5, 2006
    Posts: 413

    nocoastsaint
    Member

    An enthusiastic thumbs up. Very cool.
     
  7. JeffreyJames
    Joined: Jun 13, 2007
    Posts: 16,612

    JeffreyJames
    Member
    from SUGAR CITY

    Awesome tech! I'm loving that cover for the bike.
     
  8. Wicked50
    Joined: Apr 14, 2008
    Posts: 882

    Wicked50
    Member

    Nice to know Thanks
     
  9. SuperFleye
    Joined: Jul 17, 2005
    Posts: 2,039

    SuperFleye
    Alliance Vendor

    A friend tried to tell me how to do this....but I didn't understand what he was trying to say at all....now I know :) Thanks a lot for the guide
     
  10. -Brent-
    Joined: Nov 20, 2006
    Posts: 6,017

    -Brent-
    Member

    Thanks, Kirk!. I appreciate it.
     
  11. delaware george
    Joined: Dec 5, 2002
    Posts: 1,246

    delaware george
    Member
    from camden, de

    that's pretty sweet...thanks a bunch for posting.
     
  12. Kevin Lee
    Joined: Nov 12, 2001
    Posts: 7,438

    Kevin Lee
    Super Moderator
    Staff Member

    Thanks fro putting some pictures back up with this post.

    I was up until 4am one morning trying to get this thing to transfer right for a show the next day. After half a dozen tries with it half peeling off (or kind of squashing the mask and losing detail) and no way to salvage I gave it "one last shot" and it came out perfect.

    Still don't know exactly what I did differently to get such a good transfer
     

    Attached Files:

  13. KIRK!
    Joined: Feb 20, 2002
    Posts: 12,031

    KIRK!
    Member

    Yeah, sometimes it just works better than other times.
     
  14. Rudy J
    Joined: Sep 28, 2008
    Posts: 1,485

    Rudy J
    Member
    1. Austin HAMB'ers

    Very cool. Thanks for posting.
     
  15. Big Mac
    Joined: Sep 12, 2007
    Posts: 1,567

    Big Mac
    Member
    1. Utah HAMBers

    Love it! Thanks Kirk!
     
  16. THANKS Kirk for posing this info.
    Kevin.....way cooool desk light.
     
  17. nocoastsaint
    Joined: Jan 5, 2006
    Posts: 413

    nocoastsaint
    Member

    This years award for 'Coolest Goddamn Desk Lamp Fucking -Ever-' goes to, KEVIN LEE!

    Applause and all that.
     
  18. 94hoghead
    Joined: Jun 1, 2007
    Posts: 1,290

    94hoghead
    Member

  19. oldandkrusty
    Joined: Oct 8, 2002
    Posts: 2,124

    oldandkrusty
    Member

    KIRK!, thanks for taking the time to try and describe to a bunch of knuckleheads just exactly how to make our own brass tags. Your detailed description, with very clear photos, is just above and beyond. Thanks again.
     
  20. big creep
    Joined: Feb 5, 2008
    Posts: 2,945

    big creep
    Member

    thanks man that was rad! kind of reminds me of electronics class in school! where we made computer boards for i dont remember what! but i remember getting that shit on my hands!
     
  21. Bodger45
    Joined: Jun 25, 2009
    Posts: 371

    Bodger45
    Member

    Kirk,Thanks for taking the time to post this. And Kevin Lee that desk lamp is inspiring! You never know what you're going to learn on the hamb.
     
  22. Casey J
    Joined: May 12, 2009
    Posts: 33

    Casey J
    Member
    from Ada. MN

    Awesome Tech Kirk!
     
  23. Nick Flores
    Joined: Aug 13, 2009
    Posts: 1,357

    Nick Flores
    Member

    KIRK!, thanks for the great tech!

    I do have a question... How thick of material would this work process work with? I would assume you just leave a thicker piece in the solution for more time?

    BTW... I've got half a case of Four Loco's chillin in the garage fridge for your next stop over here in The Valley!
     
  24. KIRK!
    Joined: Feb 20, 2002
    Posts: 12,031

    KIRK!
    Member

    It doesn't care how thick the metal is, it will just keep eating it. The hard part with thicker stuff (like the points cover) is masking off the sides.

    4loko4life!
     
  25. Kevin Lee
    Joined: Nov 12, 2001
    Posts: 7,438

    Kevin Lee
    Super Moderator
    Staff Member

    Ah, all coming back to me now. I forgot to mention that the piece I did was 1/8" plate and the iron would not completely cover it. I'm sure most of my problems were from uneven heating of the piece.

    I think if you had access to a heat press for doing shirt transfers you could do some pretty amazing stuff. I have also seen a guy run the brass through a laminator sans film to heat the piece and transfer the PNP blue.

    KIRK - When I was trying to get that piece done for the light I kept wondering how you got such good results with the dash for the Legion Special. Those were some pretty big pieces as I remember.
     
  26. KIRK!
    Joined: Feb 20, 2002
    Posts: 12,031

    KIRK!
    Member

    I got REALLY lucky on them.
     
  27. dirtbag13
    Joined: Jun 16, 2008
    Posts: 2,540

    dirtbag13
    Member

    another excelent tech kirk !
     
  28. THE-SYNDICATE
    Joined: May 13, 2003
    Posts: 802

    THE-SYNDICATE
    Member

    KIRK,

    Nice write up!! We use this same technique on the little steam trains that I build to make copies of original builders plates etc.... There's a fella from NJ that did a whole series of YouTube video's on the process but your write up is much more clear! Thanks for posting!

    ~Robert M.
     
  29. Bill Van Dyke
    Joined: May 21, 2008
    Posts: 810

    Bill Van Dyke
    Member

  30. burl
    Joined: Nov 28, 2007
    Posts: 739

    burl
    Member
    from Minnesota

    Wonder if this would work on aluminum?I have a horn cap i just turned up i would like to put an enblem in the center.
     

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