So my love/hate relationship with etching sterling silver continues. I've tried a few times now and always end up with different results most of them not that great to be honest. I've tried connecting the silver and a piece of copper to a 9v battery and also heating the ferric nitrate. Sometimes the results are good sometimes not so good. I currently have an etched piece of silver sheet waiting to be reticulated and rid it of the mess that is the etched "pattern".
I now know that using stamps and Stayz On ink just doesn't work with silver - the time needed to etch using ferric nitrate is much longer than etching copper and the ink starts to wear away after about an hour. This results in the pattern being patchy as the resist is eaten away and the silver ends up quite lumpy and course looking. I have yet to try using pnp paper. I don't know why but it all seems a bit of a faff to do. I don't have a laser printer so would need to find somewhere or someone to do the printing for me. The transferring of the pattern to the silver looks tricky to do too. It would by far be the most sensible way to go though so maybe I will get over my reluctance and just do it one day.
Nail varnish has been the most successful resist I've used so far so thinking about it a while ago I pondered on how to get designs in nail varnish onto silver. I'm not blessed in the drawing department so apart from doing dots, attempting to draw patterns freehand in varnish was not even considered! I did remember a project in Art Jewelry magazine from a while ago where the designer Dana Evans etched some silver using nail art stamps. At the time I didn't really get it, the process looked complicated and I hadn't done any etching at that point so it didn't really grab me that much. But now it seemed a great way to get some patterns on silver so I researched nail art stamps and bought the stuff I needed.
This photo shows the metal plate etched with various designs, a nail art stamper (top right), a scraper and a WH Smith clubcard that I never use! I used the card instead of the scraper as I found it easier. I bought the nail art plate from Amazon - it's a Cheeky brand plate. The stamper and scraper came from ebay. Don't do what I did and order one of the cheap pattern plates on ebay as they are poor quality copies of the brand versions, the etching is shallow and the edges are very sharp and will shred your fingers if you're not careful. I still have the scars on my thumb. I spent a couple of hours one morning driving myself mad trying to get the stamper to pick up the design from the cheap plate which just didn't work as the pattern isn't deep enough. I thought I was destined to be a nail art failure! That was until I bought a genuine design plate and when I tried using it with the stamper it was so easy. I didn't think the ebay seller of the faulty plate would want it returned with remnants of my blood on it (quite a lot of blood) but I did leave relevant feedback for a shoddy product which made me feel better.
So, how does it work? It's really simple - you apply nail varnish along one side of your chosen design (the one-coat varnishes are recommended or you could use an old varnish that has thickened), use the metal scraper or plastic card to spread the varnish over the entire design then press the stamper onto the design. The stamper picks up the pattern in varnish and then you stamp your metal (or if you're normal your nail).
I practiced on a bit of paper first and also swapped the nail varnish as the green one started peeling off the metal for some reason. You have to work quickly and have a supply of cotton pads/buds and nail varnish remover ready to clean everything after each use. It's a bit fiddly but I did get quicker as I got used to it. If you mess it up you just remove the nail varnish and start again. There are lots of videos on YouTube demonstrating the technique by people who have lovely nails unlike me :D You can't make metalwork jewellery and have lovely nails......
Stamped and ready for etching. I will admit I didn't think the nail varnish would hold up, it seemed pretty thin but after 4 long hours of being immersed in ferric nitrate the silver came out pretty well. I think my ferric nitrate may be on it's last legs as it is very cloudy and sludgy looking now. It might be time to replace it and find out from the council where I need to take the old stuff for it to be disposed of safely.
The silver after I'd removed the nail varnish and cleaned it with steel wool. You can click the images for a larger version for a better look.
It's still got a pink tinge from the nail varnish but that will disappear with the heat from my torch once I start using the silver. It etched pretty well and cleanly so I am pleased with it.
The obvious drawback is the small size of the designs - they are about 17mm wide. I bought the "jumbo" size design plates but as they are meant for use on nails they aren't going to be very big. I think a bit of careful thought when it comes to how you are going to use the silver will mean you can make the most out of what you have. Which all sounds a bit cryptic! I like making small things so I'm happy with them :D