Sandblasting For Beginners

Learn the basics of etching glass, including sandblasting materials, techniques and sales ideas.

| January/February 1982

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    A sturdy easel is essential, and two separate compressors are needed: one for the air-fed helmet and the other for the sandblaster
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    Once you have your equipment, glass etching begins with a penciled drawing. Then, once transferred to adhesive material, the design is then cut out with an X-acto-type knife.
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    Etched glass makes a popular gift.
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    Lettering can be either sketched freehand or stenciled.
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    A blueprint for a homemade hopper.

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Etching with sand can be a challenging, creative and commercially rewarding endeavor. Most people think of sandblasting as a purely industrial skill. However, in the hands of a skilled craftsperson, the same equipment that is used to gnaw away paint in auto body shops can be used to cut lovely designs on glass. Furthermore, the artist who can etch shop windows, tops for coffee tables, wineglasses, and the like will find that customers are numerous and eager to pay top prices for his or her work.

Materials For Glass Etching

In order to try your hand at this art form, you'll need glass, masking and sand. (Both sand and acid will produce a frosted look on glass, but sandblasting can offer the artisan a greater range of depths and textures than do the corrosive chemicals.)

Local glass companies will often give away (or sell for next to nothing) broken glass and mirrors, which — at the very least — can be used for practice. Once you've gained some experience, the same stores can supply you with plate glass and mirrors of sufficient thickness (at least 3/16-inch, but 1/4-inch is better) for this craft. The firms can also cut large sheets to your specifications, although they can't trim tempered safety glass, since that material must be ordered precut from the manufacturer. (Federal building codes require that the "heavy duty" panes be used for any installation within 18 inches of the floor or 12 inches of any door. Consult your local codes for additional regulations.) Of course, restaurant supply houses will usually sell mugs, glasses and stemware at a discount if you buy in quantity.

Your design can be cut from any adhesive material including masking tape, contact paper and 1/8-inch rubber resist. This last product works best for heavy blasting, in which a range of depths (and, therefore, of shades and textures) and very clean, smooth cuts are desired. Resists are occasionally available at art supply stores, but you'll probably have more luck locating them at a monument carving company.

However, if you can't find local suppliers and can afford to buy in quantity, the 3M Company manufactures rubber resist under the name "Sandblast Stencils." It is available both in 10-yard rolls (varying in width from 12-1/4 inches to 30 inches) priced at $30 to $74 and in cases of 50 flat sheets (12-1/4-by-24-1/2 inches) that list for $113. The company also produces 9mm and 15mm-thick Flatbush masking tape. Suppliers should also be listed under "Tapes — Industrial" in the Yellow Pages.

For glass etching, the most desirable sand is extra-fine, 90-mesh grade. The coarser 60-mesh is more readily available, however, and does work just about as well for all but the most delicate jobs. Building supply companies sell common types of sand, but it may be necessary to order the finest grades from specialty stores. (Your used sand can be recycled by sifting it through a fine-meshed window screen or it can do wonders for heavy-clay garden soil.)

4/28/2015 8:15:35 AM

Hey, thanks for all of this information on sandblasting! Sandblasting has been a hobby I've wanted to pick up for as long as I can remember. I didn't realize that local glass companies will often give away broken glass and mirrors. You're so right, those would be perfect to use for practice. Megan |

3/27/2015 3:13:21 PM

Doing your own sandblasting seems like a great idea, but from reading this article, it's extremely expensive. The tools costing anywhere from $300 to over $1000 make this hobby one that is hard to have because of the cost. Plus, you get what you pay for, so even if you manage to get a good deal on less expensive tools, it would be better to spend more on the high end models. The work is great, but the cost may not be worth it.


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