Sand blast etching

Originally, I had given little thought to providing this as a ‘How To’ article, but, so many people have asked about this, even though I don’t have any pictures of the ‘process’, I’ll explain it the best I can.  It’s simple enough, it should be a no brainer.  As long as you have a little time, and a sand blaster, you can do the basics.

So, you might be wondering what the heck I’m talking about.  It’s simple, creating graphics, logos and the like on small items made of glass or metal.

Where did this come from?  It started out after finding myself with about a dozen nice glass beer mugs that I think were a door prize of some sort, and the promotional graphics on the mugs wasn’t really something I wanted to provide to guests.  So, it was either give them away, or make them more to my liking.

This was the simplest of projects.  I simply grabbed a role of duct tape, covered anything I did not want to damage, and within literally a couple mintes start to finish, I had quickly removed the unwanted graphics, and created a simple ‘frosted’ area on both sides of the mug.

Having found this such a simple thing to do, I couldn’t resist the temptation to step it up a notch and try to create something with a little detail to it.  Having recently broken yet another ceramic mug out in the shop, this seemed like the perfect challenge.  After all, it would be in the shop, so what’s to worry about.  Being that the glass had etched so easily, I figured it was worth trying something a little more durable, like stainless steel.  There are lots of different mugs out there to select from,  Usually, under $5 will get you something to play around with.  Glass mugs can be had for a buck or two.  Wanting to keep it fairly simple to begin with, I decided to etch the IAFF logo onto the side of a few different mugs and see what I could come up with that was a reasonably simple process.

For one off, or very low production numbers, this is what I came up with.  Grab that duct tape and cover the whole darn thing, most specifically, get a nice edge to edge fit of the tape in the area you want to etch.  Next, I headed over to the computer and printed out a black and white version of the logo I wanted to etch onto the mugs.  I used a little glue, just about anything will do, and glued the paper logo on top of the tape where I wanted it and let it dry for a bit.  I think a spray adhesive would probably work best for this if I was to do it again as it’s quick, sticks like crap, and stays put virtually immediately.

Next, get out your razor knife, exacto knife or what have you, and carefully cut through the paper and tape, and remove the areas you want to etch.  Thus the black & white image which makes it much easier to decide what to cut, and giving a nice clear edge to follow.  Try to avoid lines finer than 1/8 inch as it gets quite tricky to cut and blast.  You can do it, but, it takes a little more effort and can be finicky.

Once you have the image cut and removed, your all set.  Head over to the sand blaster and give er..  I should point out that while it’s nice to have a cabinet, which makes this a very neet and simple process, you can do this with the most simple blaster, that you jamb a siphon tube into a bucket of sand.  This isn’t rocekt science.


It wouldn’t hurt to take a scrap piece of anything, throw a little tape on it, and blast away to get a feel for the pressure, distance from the work and the duration to blast.  A glass jar or a tin can will work just fine for a test piece.

In about a minute, you will have your finished product.

The duct tape holds up surprisingly well to the sand because of its resilience.  But, if you get carried away, you can cut right through it and screw things up.  Starting with a lower pressure, is better than starting on the high side and making a mess of it.

As you progress, you can make things more complicated if you choose.  You’ll soon find the level you want to take this to.

You should pay attention to the shape of the material or item you’ll be blasting.  Here’s two of the stainless mugs I did.  One is barrel shapped, the other is flat sided.  This shape will impact the application of your graphics if there is a curve to it, you may have to make some adjustments to get a good fit.


Out of curiosity, I contacted a local decal company, and had them do up  a few samples using their heaviest vinyl material with a self adhesive backing.  They had a computer controlled cutter, so all I had to do was peel & stick, then pick out the bits I wanted exposed.  This worked, but, you REALLY have to watch your pressure as you only get a few passes before you blast right through the vinyl.  But, it’s workable, which would allow you to generate a little revenue if you wanted to have a little money maker side line.


A few other things worthy of mentioning.  With glass, you can actually cut quite deeply and create a very interesting 3D effect.

If you try doing a car window (tempered glass), support the glass from behind, and ease up on the pressure.  If you take it easy, you can do it, but get heavy handed and you’ll have a pile of glass cubes.

It might be worth trying a little etching on aluminium parts before anodizing is performed.  It could create a very nice effect.  If I get around to this, I’ll post an update about it.  Probably about the time I get around to setting up the anodizing tanks..

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