The Fine Art of Acid Etching Brass

If you were building a recreation of the James Watt micrometer, where would you start? If you’re [rasp], the answer would be: “Spend a year trying to find the best way to make etched brass discs.” Luckily for us, he’s ready to share that information with the rest of the world. While it’s rather unlikely anyone else is working on this specific project, the methods he details for getting museum-quality results on brass are absolutely fascinating.

The process starts with sanding down the bare brass and applying a layer of clear packing tape to the metal. [rasp] then covers the piece with LaserTape, which is a special tape designed to make laser-cut masks for sandblasting. But the masking principle works just as well for painting or chemical etching.

With the LaserTape in place, the piece is then put into the laser and the mask is cut out. Once cut, there’s the tedious task of peeling off all the cut pieces of tape, which [rasp] does with a dental pick. Once the pieces are pulled off, the brass is ready for its acid bath.

Anyone who’s etched their own PCB with ferric chloride will recognize these next steps. The piece is put into the acid bath and agitated every 10 minutes or so. It’s interesting to note that [rasp] places the piece in the bath upside-down, using little 3D printed “feet” to suspend the brass sheet off the bottom of the container. This allows the debris from the etching process to fall down and away from the piece. After about an hour out in the sun, the piece is pulled out of the bath and carefully washed off.

Once clean off, the piece is sprayed with black spray paint to darken up the etched areas. The moment of truth comes when the paint has dried and the layers of tape are carefully peeled back to reveal the etching. [rasp] then wet sands the piece with 1000 and 2000 grit paper, and a final pass with polishing compound brighten up the surface to a mirror-like shine. It’s quite a bit of manual labor, but the end result really is spectacular.

In the video after the break, [rasp] breaks down the entire process, including the additional machine work required to turn these brass plates into functional components of the final machine. As an added bonus, he even includes a lot of his failed attempts in an effort to keep others from making the same mistakes. Something we love to see here at Hackaday.

The process used here is similar to the snazzy brass name plates we showed earlier in the year, and has even been done without a laser using photoresist.

[via /r/DIY]

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Three Ways to Etch Snazzy Brass Nameplates

It’s the little touches that make a project, and a nice nameplate can really tie a retro build together. Such badges are easy enough to make with a CNC machine, but if you don’t have access to machine tools you can put chemistry to work for you with these acid-etched brass nameplates.

The etching method that [Switch and Lever] uses to get down to brass plaques will be intimately familiar to anyone who has etched a PCB before. Ferric chloride works as well on brass as it does on copper, and [Switch and Lever] does a good job explaining the chemistry of the etching process and offers some tips on making up etching solution from powdered ferric chloride. But the meat of the video below is the head-to-head test of three different masking methods.

The first method uses a laser printer and glossy paper ripped from a magazine to create a mask. The toner is transferred to the brass using an office laminator, and the paper removed with gentle rubbing before etching. For the other two candidates he uses a laser engraver to remove a mask of plain black spray paint in one case, or to convert special laser marking paint to a mask in the other.

We won’t spoil the surprise as to which gave the best results, but we think you’ll be pleased with how easy making classy nameplates can be. You can also use electrolytic methods for a deeper etch, but we think acid etching is a little more approachable for occasional use.

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Military Surplus Repurposed for High Energy Physics

Performing high-energy physics experiments can get very expensive, a fact that attracts debate on public funding for scientific research. But the reality is that scientists often work very hard to stretch their funding as far as they can. This is why we need informative and entertaining stories like Gizmodo’s How Physicists Recycled WWII Ships and Artillery to Unlock the Mysteries of the Universe.

The military have specific demands on components for their equipment. Hackers are well aware MIL-SPEC parts typically command higher prices. That quality is useful beyond their military service, which lead to how CERN obtained large quantities of a specific type of brass from obsolete Russian naval ordnance.

The remainder of the article shared many anecdotes around Fermilab’s use of armor plate from decommissioned US Navy warships. They obtained a mind-boggling amount – thousands of tons – just for the cost of transport. Dropping the cost of high quality steel to “only” $53 per ton (1975 dollars, ~$250 today) and far more economical than buying new. Not all of the steel acquired by Fermilab went to science experiments, though. They also put a little bit towards sculptures on the Fermilab campus. (One of the few contexts where 21 tons of steel can be considered “a little bit”.)

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Ink-Filled Machine Badges Score Respect for Your Gear

Remember the good old days when machines had a stout metal badge instead of cheap vinyl decals, and nameplates on motors were engraved in metal rather than printed on a label with a QR code? Neither do we, but these raised brass labels with color filled backgrounds look great, they’re surprisingly easy to make, and just the thing your gear needs to demand respect as a cherished piece of gear.

The ‘easy’ part of this only comes if you have access to a machine shop like [John] at NYC CNC does. To be fair, the only key machine for making these plates is a laser cutter, and even a guy like [John] needed to farm that out. The process is very straightforward — a brass plate is cleaned and coated with lacquer, which is then removed by the laser in the areas that are to be etched. The plate is dipped in an electrolyte solution for etching, cleaned, and powder coated. After curing the powder coat with a heat gun rather than an oven — a tip worth the price of admission by itself — the paint is sanded off the raised areas, the metal is polished, and a clear coat applied to protect the badge.

Plates like these would look great for a little retro-flair on a new build like this Nixie power meter, or allow you to restore a vintage machine like this classic forge blower.

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Copper, Brass, Mahogany, and Glass Combine in Clock with a Vintage Look

No two words can turn off the average Hackaday reader faster than “Nixie” and “Steampunk.” But you’re not the average Hackaday reader, so if you’re interested in a lovely, handcrafted timepiece that melds modern electronics with vintage materials, read on. But just don’t think of it as a Nixie Steampunk clock.

No matter what you think of the Steampunk style, you have to admire the work that went into [Aeon Junophor]’s clock, as well as his sticktoitiveness –he started the timepiece in 2014 and only just finished it. We’d wager that a lot of that time was spent finding just the right materials. The body and legs are copper tube and some brass lamp parts, the dongles for the IN-12A Nixies are copper toilet tank parts and brass Edison bulb bases, and the base is a fine piece of mahogany. The whole thing has a nice George Pal’s Time Machine vibe to it, and the Instructables write-up is done in a pseudo-Victorian style that we find charming.

If you haven’t had enough of the Nixie Steampunk convergence yet, check out this Nixie solar power monitor, or this brass and Nixie clock. And don’t be bashful about sending us tips to builds in this genre — we don’t judge.

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Making Metal Dominoes

Nearly as versatile as a deck of playing cards, dominoes are a great addition to any rainy-day repertoire of game sets. [Apollo] from the Youtube channel [carbide3d] has manufactured for themselves a custom set of domino tiles replete with brass pips.

Cutting the bar stock to the appropriate size, [Apollo] ran a few test engravings and hole sizes for the brass pips. That done, all they had to do was repeat the engraving and milling process another couple dozen times, as well as all the requisite wet and dry sanding, and buffing. [Apollo] opted to use paint marker to add a little extra style to the tiles, and advises any other makers who want to do the same to set their engraving depth to .01″ so  the paint marker won’t be rubbed off when buffing the pieces.

When it came to installing the brass balls, [Apollo] undersized the holes by .001″-.002″ for a snug press fit — adding that the hole depth is a little greater than half the ball’s diameter. They used 1/8″ balls for the pips, and 3/16 balls for the center of the tiles which also allows the tiles to be spun for a bit of fidgeting fun during play. Check out the build video after the break.

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For Your Binge-Watching Pleasure: The Clickspring Clock Is Finally Complete

It took as long to make as it takes to gestate a human, but the Clickspring open-frame mechanical clock is finally complete. And the results are spectacular.

If you have even a passing interest in machining, you owe it to yourself to watch the entire 23 episode playlist. The level of craftsmanship that [Chris] displays in every episode, both in terms of the clock build and the production values of his videos is truly something to behold. The clock started as CAD prints glued to brass plates as templates for the scroll saw work that roughed out the frames and gears. Bar stock was turned, parts were threaded and knurled, and gear teeth were cut. Every screw in the clock was custom made and heat-treated to a rich blue that contrasts beautifully with the mirror polish on the brass parts. Each episode has some little tidbit of precision machining that would make the episode worth watching even if you have no interest in clocks. For our money, the best moment comes in episode 10 when the bezel and chapter ring come together with a satisfying click.

We feature a lot of timekeeping projects here, but none can compare to the Clickspring clock. If you’re still not convinced, take a look at some of our earlier coverage, like when we first noticed [Chris]’ channel, or when he fabricated and blued the clock’s hands. We can’t wait for the next Clickspring project, and we know what we’re watching tonight.

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