Friday, February 22, 2013

Brass Shell Casing Etching Tutorial

At a Fall 2012 KCPMC Guild meeting, Pat Kuehn gave us a great evening of etching, using PCB Etchant (available for custom etching circuit boards) or Ferric Chloride acid. This stuff is slightly nasty and very stain-inducing, so protect your hands, eyes, clothing and workspace. It corrodes any metal it touches so must be stored in plastic or glass. 

There are many online explanations of etching on copper and brass, so I will not duplicate those. (Some links provided below) or search for etching tutorials on YouTube and any search engine. There are great photos and links to several tutes on a Pinterest board of Janice Thompkins.

Most etching, especially that of very finely detailed designs, is done with PhotoPolymer Plates or Toner Transfers, both which require FLAT METAL. But I love the look of totally tubular bullet casings with designs and have a large bag of spent shell casings from my brother-in-law....
After looking all over the interverse looking for a tutorial on etching bullet shell casings and finding none, I decided to do my own experimenting. The results were demonstrated at the February meeting of the KC PMC Guild and summarized here, with photos.
Materials and tools
  • Brass shell casings, any caliber, of copper or brass
  • Nail punch or awl (must be narrow enough to reach all the way into casing)
  • Hammer or mallet
  • Riveting block or anvil with small hole available from Cool ToolsContenti or Beaducation, which also has a quick tutorial for using it to make rivet heads
  • Vise or vise grip (sometimes needed to pull punch out of hole)
OR you can buy tools from the gun folks – such as MidwayUSA. Check for their hand tools for reloading. They also sell the volume presses for doing thousands….I learned a lot from reading online postings from various "reloaders" - gun enthusiasts who clean and reload shell casings. Many don't agree on techniques, but you can learn a lot from reading their tutorials and conversations.
  • Bamboo skewers
  • Toothpicks
  • Dense foam, sliced to 3/8” thick (I saved blocks from recent carpet cleaning)
  • Wood dowel the diameter of shell openings, or slightly larger (sand or file to fit)
  • Tumbling mediums (ground walnut shells for cleaning, stainless steel for hardening and polishing)  
  • Sharpie black markers
  • adhesive label paper and punches
  • waxed linen thread
  • fingernail polish
  • WhiteOut
  • StayzOn Ink pads and rubber stamps
  • Gel medium
  • gesso
  • experiment!
First, clean brass casings, especially if they've been retrieved from outside and have dirt or leaf debris. The ground walnut shells do this well, used DRY in a tumbler. Fine them at pet stores (used as bedding for lizards, snakes and birds) or at Harbour Freight (used for sandblasting).

If you want holes, make them now. Use a drill press and some type of vise to hold casing while drilling - it is dangerous to hold with your fingers, plus the metal turns and gets hot when drilling. I use a jig made for drilling lentil beads, but you can also use a jeweler's vise or other small vise with leather or foam padding to protect the metal.

Drill two holes horizontally through the brass tube at either end, depending on your need. Note that drilling too close to the closed end is difficult - the metal is thicker there.

Shell casings already have a hole in the bottom for a blasting cap, punching the cap out seems easier to me than drilling and fighting with vises and drill bits.

You can drill though the ends using titanium bits, but punching them out is usually faster and easier. The caps have an inner piece so you are really drilling through a couple layers and you can end up with jagged holes and broken bits. 

Ammo reloaders have their own specialized tools for this step (see sample press here) but unless you are going into mass production, you won’t need this!!

This picture shows 3 same-caliber casings. On the left, drilled with the cap coming out and leaving a messy hole. The middle one was drilled successfully, leaving just a small hole outside. The one on the right was punched, removing the cap and leaving the small interior hole which was already there.

How to punch out spent blasting caps is in the next post - this one is getting long. Click here to jump to next step.


Theresa C. Eldridge said...

I try and click the next step but it says I do not have permission, help lease :-)

bylynette said...

Try clicking the next link in the archive list - Punch Caps from Shell Casings
Check the February 2013 postings list.