For Christmas of 2012 I decided to make something small and handmade for my family. I am leery of giving people handmade gifts and imposing my idea of what's attractive on them, so I wanted it to be something useful as well. I found an online tutorial about how to saltwater etch designs into Altoids tins, which I thought was perfect. If people didn't like the designs, they could still keep something in them and throw them in a drawer somewhere.
The tutorials I used were the following, by Jake von Slatt:
- Etching Tins with Salt Water and Electricity - Complement to the Steampunk Article
- Copper Plating and Etching Altoids Tins
The following are some things that I did differently from the article:
- I was never able to get the copper sulfate plating to work. I used Zep Root Kill in distilled water, but the result was always very thin and suffused with a dirty gray. I ended up using copper colored Testor's paint and copper-colored Rub-N-Buff, and got pretty good results.
- When the saltwater etch ate straight through the lid (which it did sometimes) for some of the lids I used lead-free electrical solder to reinforce the lids.
- I used Mod Podge to add paper liners to the insides of the tins, to hide where the electrode had been attached. I quickly found that adding paper liners to the inside of the tin tops made them impossible to close, so I painted them instead.
- For my first set of Altoids tins, I burned the paint off with a propane torch. This was effective, but I later realized that it was better to leave the lacquer on the edges of the boxes to protect them from the etching.
- I bought some plain tins online from Specialty Bottle but they would not etch. It turned out that they were coated with a thin layer of lacquer. I used a wire brush attachment with an electric hand drill to remove the lacquer from the tops and bottoms of the tins, as well as from an area on the inside big enough to attach the electrode.
- One of the tins was etched all the way through the lettering but the tin seemed to be basically sound. I put a color-changing led lamp inside the box so that you could see the light through the missing lettering.
- I tried to pound the embossed "ALTOIDS" text flat with a hammer but it did not work very well, and the slight emboss still left on the tin made it impossible for it to hold the toner mask. For one of these, I painted on a mask with Testor's paint, but I could not get nearly the level of detail that I got with a mask created on my laser printer.
- I made the rounds of all of the local thrift stores looking for ugly muisic boxes. Luckily, they were in good supply. I took the movements out of the boxes and threw the boxes away. A standard Sankyo movement will just fit in an Altoids in. All you need to do is drill three holes. The tin boxes resonate the music nicely. Sankyo seemed to be the best brand of music box movement available in a $3 or under music box. There were a few others that looked similar, but they usually didn't work as well.
- I bought a spray can of clear gloss lacquer and used it as the final finish layer over the Rub-N-Buff or Testor's paint. After letting some boxes sit for a little while so the fumes would dissipate, I put them in the oven set at about 200 degrees for half an hour or so. This seemed to help set the lacquer.