Etching your own copper panels #1: Intro.

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Blog entry by splintergroup posted 10-25-2016 07:28 PM 2114 reads 15 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Etching your own copper panels series Part 2: Process Summary »

I’ve been meaning to do this tutorial for some time now, so let it begin….

Etched panels add another dimension to woodworking projects. The great thing is you can create a panel with most any image, no “talent” required.

Some examples of copper.
The first image has the copper cleaned and then protected with lacquer, the next two have a patina applied before sealing.

You can use most any material, if you can find a way to etch it. Metals are a no-brainer, they add unique colors, they are durable, and acids tend to work well as etchants.

I’m (currently) particular to copper, It has many properties that allow it to be easily manipulated. It can be quite expensive, a 12” x 12” plate, 0.062” thick is nearly $40. If you really need the “heft” of a chunk of copper in your project, then by all means, use solid copper.

I’m frugally conscious (a.k.a. cheap). I can get the same look as that sheet of copper by using copper clad fiberglass boards, the kind used for making printed circuits in electronic devices. If only one face needs to show, I’ll use single sided (copper only on one side) printed circuit board (PCB). If both sides show, then double sided PCB gets the nod.

A very common type of PCB is designated “FR4”. “FR” stands for flame resistant and it contains a fiberglass core plated on one or both sides with copper. You have a choice on how thick of a board you want and how thick you want the copper plating. For cost comparisons, a 12”x12” copper PCB, 0.062” thick, plated both sides costs about $12 or less. The other nice thing is you can easily cut PCB stock on a table saw with a plywood (80T) blade.

Etching removes the copper, eating below the original surface. Depending on the effect you want to achieve, you can do several things after etching to help increase the contrast between the etched areas and the original copper surface.

A common technique with an etched surface is to spread a layer of paint onto the object, then sand the surface to remove the paint that is not trapped down inside the etched area. This is the technique I used for the above clock face. The PCB I used had a greenish fiberglass core and I wanted black, so I filled the etched areas with black enamel and resanded the surface.

Well sure enough, after I had finished the clock face, I found some black fiberglass PCB. This saves the work involved with painting and sanding. There are many other colors of cores available so be sure to see if there is something that will let you avoid the extra work!

If you are going to paint and sand, you want the copper plating to be thick enough to provide a place for the paint to collect and avoid sanding through the copper when finishing. Think of it like you would for a veneered piece of plywood. When buying PCB material, the thickness of the copper is listed as “ounces” (oz.). This relates to how much the copper weighs per given area. Common values are 1 oz. and 2 oz.. I like using the thicker 2 oz. since it gives me more leeway for patinas and other treatments.

PCB material is readily available on eBay, already cut to size if needed. I’ve been impressed with the prices and quality from this vendor

Next time I’ll summarize the etching process and begin with an image for a project I have planned.

Stay tuned!

7 comments so far

View Mean_Dean's profile


7048 posts in 3957 days

#1 posted 10-25-2016 08:55 PM

I’ve had an interest in copper clock faces, and this blog sounds very interesting—I’ll definitely follow along!

-- Dean -- "Don't give up the ship -- fight her 'till she sinks!" Capt James Lawrence USN

View AandCstyle's profile


3283 posts in 3067 days

#2 posted 10-25-2016 09:42 PM

Splint, this is a great topic. Thank you for doing it.

-- Art

View Jerry's profile


3423 posts in 2458 days

#3 posted 10-31-2016 03:29 AM

Thanks for sharing this.

-- There are good ships and there are wood ships, the ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships and may they always be.

View oldnovice's profile


7602 posts in 4178 days

#4 posted 10-31-2016 05:44 AM

You are taking me back a number of decades when used to make my own circuit boards for my home built computer.
I still have some of those circuit boards ….!

And, I had never thought about adding etched copper to my projects but now the cat is out of the bag as I still have quite a few pieces of PCB material left!

-- "It's fine in practise but it will never work in theory"

View splintergroup's profile


3870 posts in 2032 days

#5 posted 10-31-2016 02:36 PM

Appreciate the interest guys!

View rustynails's profile


893 posts in 3339 days

#6 posted 11-01-2016 02:01 AM

I look forward as well. Great looking panels.

View stefang's profile


17039 posts in 4144 days

#7 posted 12-17-2019 03:27 PM

Great results! The etched faces on the clock and the other thing look a lot like wood burl.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

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