Etching Tutorial

Etching Tutorial and FAQ

Tracy Mickley –

Bob Warner has allowed us to incorporate two of his tutorials, Making a light box and Making an etch machine.

Mike Fitz. – researched and compiled the supplier listing at the end of this tutorial.

The equipment you will use is:

 An etch machine. These can be constructed for around $25 to $50 in parts or purchased commercially for up to $900 for a complete kit. Most knife makers purchase a machine for around $100 to $200. eBay often has etching machines for sale. I picked up mine, a Marking Methods 300a from eBay at a very good price. Later in this tutorial, we include Bob Warner’s tutorial on how to make your own etch machine for around $50. A lot of people have made this machine and it works very well from what they say.

 You will need a stencil. The stencil is roughly, a rubber coated piece of fine mesh fiber screen maybe 2”x3”. You can make a stencil or have them commercially made from a half dozen different companies. Making your own requires you make a light box to expose the stencil and then developing them in a solution. I have made stencils by putting them under glass and going outside on a sunny day and exposing them to sunlight but it is hard to get consistent results. Cost to make your own stencils will be around $25 in supplies and a home made light box for another $25. You will be able to make a couple dozen stencils using your computer printer. Producing you own stencil will take 15 minutes. You can also purchase stencils commercially by just calling up one of the suppliers and telling them what you want. Often there is an art or setup charge ranging from $25 to $40. The stencil costs vary widely but can be averaged at around $35 to $40 for 4 to 6 stencils on a sheet. A typical individual stencil might be 2”x2”. Have a look at the supplier listing Mike Fitz assembled for more.


These are Marking Methods, Inc© commercially made stencils in the green and gold. The green is the most popular material although Marking Methods will ship the gold stencil also. In this case they came 6 to a sheet. Cut one out and use it. Marking Methods has great stencils but can be, at times, difficult to work with as they are geared for the larger manufacturing company. I will use their green stencils for my makers mark in place of any that I might make. They are simply excellent stencils. They do have an assortment of stock stencils on hand with various scrolls, flourishes, boxes and animal images available. If you order from them, ask for the knife makers information kit.





Etching solution. This can be as simple as salt water solution and some do use that successfully. Most makers purchase etch chemical from one of the various suppliers as there is a difference between etching stainless and carbon steels. A quart of commercial etch solution runs from $6 to $15. One quart will get you through several dozen impressions. A neutralizer solution is often available and I use it all the time. Windex and a good soap and water scrubbing will also work to neutralize the etch solution when you are done. There are different eletrolyte solutions for different base metals. Make sure you get one for carbon steels and one for stainless steels so you can do both.


Here are etch chemicals from both IMG and Marking Methods. The 5 pack you see is a knifemakers special from IMG of differing chemicals for various knife compositions. This will allow you to experiment to get the best etch. IMG is very interested in servicing the knife makers market and you should seriously consider giving them your business. I wish I got something for the plug for IMG, I didn’t and won’t. I just think they are a good outfit and deserve the business. Looking closely in the upper right corner of this picture you will see a marking block connected to a black wire. It has an etch pad already attached to it using a rubber band. Note the cotton squares from Wal-Mart are also used.

Etch pads. Think of a cotton cosmetic pad or thick felt approximately 2”x2” square. These can be cotton, felt type material or synthetic can be purchased from one of the suppliers again. I’ve used cotton cosmetic pads when I ran out of commercial pads. It worked good enough. These are use once, and throw away. The process is very simple once you have what you need.

Your etch machine will have two power leads. One lead will connect to the knife with an alligator clip. The other lead connects to your etch lead. The etch lead is a piece of carbon or steel covered with an etch pad. Use a rubber band to wrap the etch pad around the metal or carbon end of your etch lead.

Clean the knife to be free of oil, grease, wax etc. Place your stencil exactly where you want it on the knife. Use tape to hold it flat and in place. I have used masking tape but etched right through it so now I use electrical vinyl tape. It is important that it is flat and doesn’t move around. If it moves, you will get a fuzzy or doubled up etch.


Your set up is not going to look like this unless you are using a Marking Methods machine. But it will be pretty close. One lead is clipped onto the knife, the other lead is plugged into a clear lucite block that holds a piece of graphite. Over the graphite is a pad that will hold etch solution as it is pressed over the stencil. I use vinyl eletrical tape to mask off the area and to hold the stencil in place.

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