[Melka] wanted a track bike, but never quite got around to buying a nice one. Then he found an inexpensive abandoned project bike for 10 Euro. He had to do a lot of work to make it serviceable and he detailed it all in a forum post. What caught our eye, though, was his technique for electroetching.
The process is simple, but [Melka] says the procedure caused hydrochloric acid fumes as a byproduct. Your lungs don’t like HCl fumes. Apart from the danger, you probably have everything you need. He used electrical tape to create a stencil on the metal (although he mentioned that Kapton tape might come off better afterward) and a saturated solution of common table salt as the electrolyte.
Power comes from a bench power supply set to about 24V. The positive lead was connected to the metal and the ground to the sponge. From the photos, it looks like the particular piece and solution caused about 600mA to flow. After 10 minutes, the metal etched out to about 0.2 mm. After the etching, [Melka] brazed some brass into the etched area to make an interesting looking logo.
If you have a laser cutter, you can skip the chemicals. We’ve even seen laser etching combine with a 3D printer to produce PCBs. [Melka’s] method is a little messier and probably would not do fine lines readily, but if you need to etch steel and you don’t mind the fumes, it should be simple to try.
What do you do when you have a 10-gallon brew kettle (or any other stainless steel or aluminium thing) with no volume markings (or Hack a Day logos)? If you’re [Itsgus], you use science to etch some markings with a few household items and a 9V and you call it a day.
[Itsgus] used 1/4c vinegar and 1/4tsp of salt to form an electro-etchant and applied it with a Q-tip connected to the negative terminal of a 9V. He used tape to connect a wire between the positive terminal and the kettle. The vinegar dissolves the salt, creating negatively charged ions. Connected correctly to a 9V, the process removes metal where the current flows. If you were to connect it in reverse, you would add a small amount of metal.
The process only takes a few seconds. When the etchant starts to sizzle and bubble, Bob’s your uncle. Even though the stainless steel’s natural coat re-oxidizes over the etches, you should probably wash that thing before you brew. If you prefer adding metal to removing it, try electroplating copper on the cheap.
[Tyler] has had his electrochemical machining hack up for a while now. His final version uses a pump to move electrolyte out through the etching head and onto the workpiece. This keeps fresh electrolyte in the etching region and clears out the insoluble material. We see how this could be attached to a CNC system and used to etch PCBs without the use of a special inkjet printer, toner transfer, or laser etching machine.