Design/Etch By Richard Smith
Questions and Answers Version 8
June 17th, 1998

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Please Note:

If you could check through my previous Q&A pages before you email me with a question it would save me some time! Many of the questions that I have gotten lately I have already answered in previous versions.

If you have an etching question, email me, and I will attempt to answer it here, if I can't, or have no experience in it, I will post it under questions below. My answers are based upon personal experiences. There are many variables to consider when sand etching, I do not guarantee results, and assume that you take appropriate safety precautions when working with glass and sand blasting or acid.
I prefer to use your name, and city, for your questions, but will not include your email address.

Quick links for Version 8: Answers | Questions | Responses | Hint | Useful Links

Answers #8 from me:

From skr in British Columbia:

"I am a metal fabricator and would like to try etching glass and using it to compliment stainless steel or brass projects. I would like to know how difficult it is to drill clean holes in glass for the purpose of fastening it."

How I "drill" a hole in glass, is to tape a metal washer on the surface, and then just blast through it with the blasting abrasive. If you don't have etching equipment, it can be drilled: I've seen the guys at one of the local glass shops drilling it with a drill press and diamond tipped bit (there should also be water or oil used as a lubricant/coolant) - the down side is that I've also seen them breaking it!) By the way, in case you don't know, tempered glass should not be cut or drilled after it is tempered - it will shatter to small pieces. Any sizing or machining has to be done on the glass before tempering is completed by the glass tempering company.

How do you tell if a piece is tempered? there are little pock marks along one edge of the glass which the sheet has been hung from during the tempering process. Also many newer tempered pieces have a printed mark on them saying that the piece is tempered.

Further to drilling holes, I would also suggest that you use a vinyl sleeve through the glass, so that the weight is spread, and the glass is not resting right on the bolt, but has a cushion on which it rests.

From P. Xayasane:

"I have this friend whom I work with. She has previous sand etching experience. But is having problems on finding the equipment she needs to get into sand etching again. I was wondering if you could help her out, on finding this equipment (i.e. catalogs, specialized businesses). "

From J. Prid in Ontario:

"I just started into etching mirrors and glass ..and I enjoy reading your home page it has help me.. I'm in Ontario. and I'm looking for suppliers if you know of any I would like to hear from you ...thank you for your time in this matter... "

I very seldom get material or equipment from specialty companies - it's too expensive! :-)

Most of the suppliers that I use are local ones - I don't get into too many glass blanks and the like (except for drinking glasses and mugs, but it still is cheaper to get these locally, rather than paying the shipping on a cheaper price from a distance). I get my abrasive from a local sand-blasting shop, pricing I think is quite reasonable: $8 for a 40 Kg (80 lb) bag of silica sand (any grit size from 3 to 00), $38 for 23 Kg (50 lb) of magnesium oxide (180 grit) or $60 for 23 Kg (50 lb) of aluminum oxide (220 grit). So, check locally first and see if the supplies that you need can be obtained.

For hand-cut resists, I use again, local stores - I find the Yellow pages very helpful :-) Tool wise, a number of years ago, I made my own blasting cabinet, and photo resist exposure machine; as far as parts for my etching equipment, all these can be obtained from auto supply shops (they are used for auto body work).

The only material that I do not get locally is photo resist from Photobrasive, although I am trying to find another product which will do the same thing, and not cost as much.

There is a list of some suppliers at the GlassLine Newsletter site, you might find it helpful.

From L. Tuladhar, in Nepal:

"I would like to learn how to start business on glass etching. Can you give me some information on how to go about it."

From K. Woolley:

"I am very interested in getting into the business of glass etching. This would be a part time home business. I would like to know more about the art and the equipment that is needed. Thank you,"

If you can ask me some specific questions, I'll do my best to answer them. To answer a question like these would require a book more than an email. Many of my earlier Question and Answer updates have information and links on how to go about starting etching. Click on the earlier versions (1-6 above). I could suggest you start there, and then email me if you have specific questions again

From A. Khatib, Riyadh - Saudi Arabia:

"I am using masking and electrical tapes for masking blasted objects, This takes a long time to apply and remove. What other ways do you know of that can speed things up? I use photo resist film and do large quantities of miscellanies items.
Thank you for taking the time to answer questions and maintaining this great web page. "

The only suggestion that I could make for speeding up masking, would be to use self-adhesive vinyl (it has a backing sheet, which is removed, and the back of the vinyl is sticky; the rolls are 46cm wide and come in various lengths). It is sold in Canada as shelf or wall covering (also called contact sheet). Because of the high cost of the Photo resist, I only use a piece just large enough to cover the positive, and then protect the rest of the glass surface with either this vinyl, or tape paper on to it (but, don't shoot the abrasive on the paper when you are blasting!)

If you use the self adhesive vinyl, you may have to test the product that you get if you are going to use it for a resist itself. I use a Canadian made vinyl, and can use one layer of it for a resist. There is a Chinese vinyl available here, but it is quite a bit thinner, and I would have to use two layers to use as a resist. If all you are doing is using it for over-spray of the abrasive, a single layer would work fine though.

From E. Murphy:

"WoW! Was I happy to see you on the net. I have just started a home based glass etching business and today I went to the local flea market with hopes of making some contacts. Although my sales were dismal, I did make some good contacts which I can hope to turn into sales. I am charging $24.95 for a beer stein. With the high cost of photo resist and the time consumed, do you think this is a fair price?

I only have a small mini system set up now as my living area is tiny, but the small container which holds my 220 aluminium oxide continues to clog up, even though it is not humid. There is a moisture reservoir on the unit, but it is inadequate.." "I am having trouble with my resist coming up while blasting, thus the project looks bad. Perhaps it is the moisture causing this also? I will keep watching for your updates, thank you."

Pricing: that is a difficult question to answer, as I don't know what you etch onto the glass. I usually figure out my total cost on a project, then figure how long it will take me, and charge accordingly. Some things that I have tried to etch, if I charged a decent hourly rate, nobody could afford them, but on the other hand, I figure my time and work is worth more than $1 or 2 an hour. So it sometimes is difficult to find the fine line between keeping the customer happy, and keeping yourself happy.

Re clogging: There is a problem with aggregate as fine as 220: even if it is perfectly dry, because it is so fine, it can create a hole in the aggregate just around the take up hose. I don't know how a mini system works (is it siphon or pressure?), but if it is siphon, and your blasting unit does not have enough suction, it will only pull the aggregate that readily falls into your take up hose. So, you may have to keep giving your reservoir a shake to knock down the Aluminium Oxide into this "hole".

What kind of resist are you using? What is the substrate that you are blasting on? How long do you leave the resist after gluing, before you etch it? Also, what air pressure are you using for blasting?

Later: "I am using 50 micron resist from "Aicello North America Inc." as well as their glue and aluminum oxide 220 grit. I am waiting about 2-5 minutes before placing it onto my glass mugs. Usually I will etch right after I attach and tape the resist to the mugs/steins. I am using pressure of about 40psi as I am using a 3/4 hp system with a mini blast unit and attachments from SCM USA.

Also I am having lots of problems with clogging as it appears that the moisture trap isn't doing it's thing. I live in a very dry climate. Perhaps the moisture is causing the resist to lift???

Well! thanks again.

I haven't heard of the resist that you use. I am currently using the 75 micron PhotoBrasive resist (their thinnest), and found that if I leave the piece overnight before I etch it, the glue will hold much better. You might want to try this with a sample - unless of course the manufacturer, states not to leave it.

40 PSI should not be a problem - I've used up to 60 PSI with 220 Alum. Ox, and not had a problem, but as above, my resist IS slightly thicker.

Are you sure that it is moisture that is clogging the aggregate, and that it is not just clogging on itself? Also, remember that the moisture trap on the blast unit will only remove the moisture from the compressed air, not the oxide, so make sure that the oxide is dry. I live in a rather humid area, and have not had any problem with moisture clogging my aggregate.

I would think that the humidity would have to be very great to have a lifting effect on the resist - and you say you live in a dry area. Can you see that the oxide is damp or wet, as you are etching? You might also try and see if you can obtain an aftermarket air line filter for your air line if this happens to be the problem.

From N. Girard in Québéc:

"I use Armor Etch Cream and I do not know the technique of sand blasting. I make my own stencils with mactac which I cut out with an x-acto [knife].

Why, when my mirror is finished, are there sometimes spots of various sizes on the etching? Is this due to defects, invisible with the eye, in the mirror? Do I cause it when I remove the surplus acid with a scraper before washing it with water? Since I have used a brush to apply my product, I find that there are less of these undesirable spots. I re-use my acid before to throw it out because it is so expensive.

If I have understood the English part, is it possible to put some color on the etching? What type of paint is it necessary to use? What is the technique to be followed? Which tools should one to be using? Where can one find these products?

Can you provide me some addresses where I can get the products which I need in Canada? I know that Armor Etch Products is in the USA but I find obtaining it difficult because of the rate of American exchange, of the expenses of the transport charges and especially the language...

I have much difficulty with fixing prices for my pieces. Somebody who works in cabinet work said to me that they charge the price of the material x2 for his time. For example: material: $30 x2, total price $60. Which is a good way?"

I was very disappointed with the results that I got from the acid cream, that is why I started using the sand blasting. The spots on the mirror, could be from defects in the glass, I also had this problem using the acid. If I can remember, the acid is supposed to be kept moving as it is working.

There are many different products that you can use to color the etch. Since you are not removing the silver from the mirror, it will be more difficult to color it. I have used permanent markers on the face of mirrors, with good results (but you have to be careful not to overlap too much). If you use a paint, you will have to remove any that goes on the glass.

Armor Etch is available from Lee Valley Tools in Ottawa ( Telephone: 1-800-267-8761) , and The Glass Place in Pointe-Claire ( Telephone: 1-800-363-7855).

Pricing is difficult, see above (E. Murphy).

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Questions #8 for you:

If you have information, or can answer a question for these etchers, email me, and I will post it in Responses next version.

From F. Lopez:

"I collect Baccarat lead crystal. Recently I purchased from a private seller a large block of Baccarat crystal with an engraved horse's head on the back of the piece. I believe the whole work is possibly a trophy and the etching is signed by "John Milson Smith" and also has a limited edition number included. I have been trying to find any information on this artist, but have not been successful. Do you know of this artist or have any information about him? The horse etching is exquisite and according to the plaque on the wooden base the crystal block sits on, the horse is Genuine Risk, the 1980 Kentucky Derby winner. I would like to know if the artist was independently commissioned to do the sculpture, or perhaps the artist is employed by Baccarat. "

If anyone knows of John Milson Smith, you can email F. Lopez directly at: (if you'll send a "carbon copy" to me also, I'll post it for the next update.

From K. Braul:

"Hopefully you can help me find a glass artist by the name of Darryl Spilchin who exhibited in Nova Scotia [Canada] at the Annapolis Royal Gardens Gallery and at his studio under the name "Small Boys" . Apparently he moved to Toronto about three years ago.
I wonder if you know anything of his whereabouts and could help me contact him. I bought one of his pieces eight years ago. Thanks for your help."

If anyone knows of Darryl Spilchin, send me an email with the particulars, and I'll let K. Braul know, and post it next update.

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Responses #8:

From: D. Forman

"I came across your web site while doing a search for glass etching. I like to see what others are doing in the etching field. I am still an amateur and have not had a lot of spare time to blast of late. I see from your question page that others are interested in the etching of glass. I started with a small desktop blasting setup. I saw some "3D" affect glasswork and inquired about it. I was told it was multistage carving and that I should contact Norm Dobbins of Santa Fe, NM. I did so and arranged to attend a 3 day hands on seminar for learning to etch and carve glass. He has been teaching for quite a number of years all over the US. He has produced a series of 4 videos of about 1 &1/2 hour each on the techniques of etching. He and Debra Oxley have produced two books that cover basics of etching and contains patterns. If you care to pass this information to your inquirer's he can be contacted at Professional Glass Consultants, 2442 Ccerrillos Road, Suite 350, Santa Fe, NM 87500, telephone 505-473-9203.

For a blasting medium, I prefer silicone carbide over the aluminum oxide. It does not generate the static electricity aluminum oxide does as well as being harder and sharper than aluminum oxide. It does cost more. You do good work and wish you continued success."

You are correct about the silicone carbide lasting longer than other aggregates. Interesting though, about the aluminum oxide and static - I haven't noticed a problem with it - although I do have a vacuum connected to my etching booth, which pulls out all of the dust.

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Hint #8:

Tempered glass (heat hardened, not laminated) should only be surface etched after tempering has occurred. If you have to deep etch a tempered piece, this should be done prior to the tempering process.

If you have a hint that you would like to pass on to others, you know what to do.... click here.

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Useful Links #8:

If you know of a link to a website or suppliers dealing with some aspect of glass etching, email me, and I will post it here next update. Some interesting links I have found since the last update:

There is an article Sandblasting of Tempered Glass on the PPG Glass website that gives information on tempered glass, and how to sand etch it (or how NOT to sand etch it!).

The Art Glass World Billboard is now available for posting questions. An interesting place to spend a while and see how others do things. It mostly deals with stained glass, but there are topics of interest to all.

The article: Upgrade Your Glass Etching Techniques By Norm Dobbins has suggestions on how to change your techniques from just surface etching, to more advanced types. Placed on the web by A&E Magazine Online
They also have a searchable suppliers directory.

Glass Line's Bulletin Board - has messages posted from the last month, deals mainly with hot glass, but many helpful answers.

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