Back in May I did a mini tutorial here on Art Elements about creating leather purses to showcase some of my larger bead embroidered pieces. In that post I had etched some bullet casings to use as end caps for the strap on one of the purses. I promised a tutorial on etching those bullet casings so here it is finally….
You can find empty bullet casings for sale on etsy or if you are lucky enough to know someone who goes to a shooting range regularly just ask for the empty shells.
The first thing I do is cut them down to a size I want using a pipe cutting tool I bought at Home Depot for copper pipes and tubing. The brass is harder but this little tool still works well. You could also leave them as is if you want the original size and shape of the casing.
Next, I sanded the cut ends smooth with sandpaper or you can use a buffing attachment on your dremel tool. Then I drilled a hole into the top so I can thread wire through it to use it as an end cap or earrings. I have heard that some people use a tool or nail punch to poke the center out of the top of the casing. Well, let me just say that it is so much easier to use your dremel tool fitted with a 3/16″ bit (for metal).
After drilling, the casings have to be cleaned to rid them of any dirt and oils or the stamping/etching process does not work as well. They can be washed with soap & water then use alcohol to remove any oils but I just use Purell hand sanitizer to clean them. I saturate them in the sanitizer, roll them around to make sure every inch is coated then rinse them clean. Trust me, it works fine.
The next step is the tricky part. Rolling the casings across the inked stamp! It takes a bit of practice to keep from smearing the ink. If you do smear, just wash them again in the Purell or use alcohol to clean off the ink and start over. I have found that inserting the end of a Sharpie, pencil or chopstick into the casing and putting a bit of pressue on the pen/pencil/stick itself while rolling across the stamp works pretty good. Keeping slight pressure while rolling and NOT sliding across the inked stamp is the key!
As for stamps to use…I tried an assortment for this tutorial to show you the wide range of results you can get. I do like the stamp above but the pattern is so close together that it doesn’t leave much exposed metal to be etched. I really like the lattice pattern as it leaves much more open space for etching and my favorite etched pieces are done with text. I used 3 different text stamps. A very large cursive, a very small cursive and then a small typewriter font. (below)
You can also draw your own design directly onto the bullet casing using a Sharpie. I decided to try it on one of the casings and I have decided I want to explore this further!
Once the casings are stamped and the ink is dry I use wire so I can keep them suspended in the etching solution (Ferric Chloride). I cut a length of wire and create a couple of loops to secure it inside the casing.
I attempted to find a container that would be tall enough to suspend the casings in the solution yet not so large that I would have to use a large amount of solution. You can use the Ferric Chloride more than once but you should keep a record of how many times you have used it and once it starts to get thick and muddy looking it should be disposed of. (You can google how to safely dispose of the Ferric Chloride) ***And always remember to have adequate ventilation and use gloves when working with Ferric Chloride.
Ideally, the casings should be covered on the open/exposed end so the solution does not etch the inside also. I used packing tape on the bottom as you can see in this photo above. That darn tape did not stay put so the inside of my casings were ‘eaten’ away as well. The last time I etched bullet casings the tape stayed put. I will try balling up the taping to stuff inside next time or maybe small corks? Or putty?
I left these casings in the solution for 2 hours. There were two smaller bullet casings that were thinner and since my tape fell off and the inside was etched as well they ended up with nice little lacy holes through the wall of the casing! So it’s a good idea to check them after about an hour.
Once I removed them from the solution I dropped them in plain water first, then I washed them in a solution of baking soda (to neutralize) and water and used a brass wire brush to scrub them clean. After drying, I let them bathe in some liver of sulphur for a bit, then put them in the tumbler. If you don’t have a tumbler you can just use sandpaper to sand down the casing until you are happy with the finish.
Once all the casings are tumbled or sanded, the FUN begins! Playing with all your beads & components as well as deciding what to dangle from the open end of the casing.
Here’s a few I put together. The 2 on the far right were etched in the last batch when I made my end caps for the leather purse. The Ferric Chloride was getting past it’s prime plus I got impatient & only left it in the solution for an hour. The etching isn’t nearly as deep on those two.
I want to credit Marsha Neal with that swirly ceramic donut (2nd from left); the glass pewter looking donut (3rd from right) is by Nikki Thornburg as well as the dark purple/swirly glass headpin on the far right. I also used freshwater pearls, Mykonos metal bead, faceted glass bead, brass chain and brass charms along with some silk sari ribbon. Anything goes when dressing up these little brass bullet casings! I actually created a couple of matching pairs (same length/same stamped design) to use as end caps for a strap in the future. I think these would also make great end caps for a kumihimo corded necklace or for a beaded rope necklace or bead crocheted necklace. The possiblities are endless.
I hope you will try etching some bullet casings to use in your jewelry. If so, please share them with us.