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Experimenting with Etching Artwork onto Steel

One of the marks of a quality saw, at least back in the day, was the presence of an etched logo on the blade.  These etches were more than the laser-printed logos of today that practically wipe off the first time you use the saw - the etch was an acid process that actually ate into the metal, leaving the logo behind, etched right into the metal.

I have long searched for a economical way to etch a logo into the sides of my saw blades, and here's what I've found - here's my take on one of those logos: 

The Artwork

First is to design the artwork.  I had several iterations of logos and what-not, but this is the one I finally chose.  Here's the original artwork for the logo:

This is a viking ship that my mother drew not long before she passed away.  My original idea for this artwork was to use it as a base for some carving or marquetry.  It's a bit busy for either of those, so I cleaned it up a bit.  Cleaning it up was easy - the first thing I did was get some transparencies, and trace the art onto it, then scan that image back into the computer.  When I looked at that tracing, I thought it would also make for a great logo, and - I thought it would be a nice tribute.

Here's what I came up with:

I think it looks pretty fair...  One thing to remember is the more detailed the artwork, the more the possibility exists that it won't transfer properly.  Try keep it simple, to be easier on yourself later.

Transfer Film

Now - how to get that image onto the saw.

The technology to do etching like this actually comes from computer enthusiasts  who make their own printed circuit boards.  There are a couple of different processes, which I will get into at the end of this article.  The basic idea is to mask the area you don't want etched, and leave exposed those areas you do - and to use a mask that won't be eaten by what you are etching the metal with, usually some sort of plastic or wax.

The first element of the particular technique I chose first involved getting some "transfer film" - a sheet of a sort of which is used by computer hobbyists to make their own printed circuit board.  For this article, I'm using a product called "Press-N-Peel Blue" made by Techniks, Inc. (see web site at techniks.com).  This product uses the properties of the toner used by laser printers and copiers to effect a precise mask over the areas you want etched - known as "resist".  This resist will keep the etching solution from eating away the area you don't want etched.  You iron it on to the steel with a standard iron - though there are more commercial solutions that are supposedly much more consistent.

I first print out a mirror image of the logo I want to use on the transfer film:

I cut out a single logo from the paper, and tape it into its desired location on the blade.  Note - the blade must be CLEAN!  I used Scotch brite pads, followed by an alcohol wipe to remove any of the grease from the saw blade that might remain from my hands.

Using the iron, I transfer the pattern onto the blade below.  I place a sheet of paper between the resist and the iron so it slides more easily over the pattern.  It makes it more difficult to see what's going on, but I found that if you move the pattern the image will become muddy, losing some of its detail.

Following the directions, when I finished ironing the pattern onto the blank, I quickly dunk the whole blade into some water to quench it:

Generally, it took about 3 to 4 minutes of ironing with the iron near its highest setting.  It was difficult to obtain a decent image - I believe the quality of the photocopy or laser image printed onto the film has the greatest affect.  I do believe that I didn't get quite as much toner on my images as I should have.

When cool and dry, I remove the transfer film.

As a result, the image I got with this blade had a few spots missing - fortunately, the missing pieces weren't anywhere near the image, and can be fixed in the next stage with the resist I use for the rest of the blade.  Check when pulling the film off - if you don't get the entire image transferred, you can place it back down and re-heat it.  Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't.  Worth a shot though.

Comments

Comment: 

 

I have used basically this same procedure principally for replacing lettering that had been removed from the original by refinishing.
 
With some differences:
 
I prepare my work, lettering, design, art, etc in the computer and print it on the Press & Peel film with a laser printer.
 
I mask off the protected area with a plastic bag, by cutting out an area large enough to reveal the work, then, with scotch tape, taping it to & around the work so as to seal off the area.
 
I then electrolytically cut the work by submerging it in brine, connecting DC current (negative) to it and positive to a small lead electrode.  I use 3 to 6 volts.  Flashlite batteries will do.  In ten to fifteen minutes it will cut several thousandths of an inch deep.  I have shot a video of the process.
 
 

Comment: 

Thanks for the comment!

I have experimented with electro-etching, with moderate success.  I set up an etcher using a plan like Bob Warner's plans as illustrated by Chris Crawford (google for terms "Bob Warner", etch, and "Chris Crawford" - you'll find it)- I haven't had time to get back to it, as I believe my problems with the process I was having were related more to the resist I was using - a light sensitive affair that wasn't the same as used in the above article (I'm still experimenting with different processes from time to time).  I'll have to post about it sometime, when I can get it set up again...

 Would love to see your video...  Perhaps you could post it on you-tube?  I know there are other clips of the etching process there as well...

 Leif

Comment: 

I feel if you are going to show and tell you should reveal in its entirety or do not tell at all.  I do not see how you hooked up the electrodes and I do not know the solution mix. This article is useless to me. I do not see the final product picture.

Lets see a you tube.
I found a gold mine but, I will only give you half of the map so you can look for it, HA HA..
 

Comment: 

Did you read the next page?

Comment: 

Never thought to etch other metals, cool idea Here I just etch copper thanks for writing this.