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Do-It-Yourself

Etching Can Spruce Up Plain Glass

April 03, 1999|ASSOCIATED PRESS

If you've ever stopped to admire an etched-glass door, window or mirror, you know that the effect is stunning. The combination of clear polished glass with a delicately contrasting, frosted geometric or pictorial design enhances just about any setting.

What you may not know is that you can etch glass--in your home or shop--with a few simple, easy-to-master techniques.

Glass etching involves frosting or abrading the glass surface to create a dull, nontransparent area. The three most common methods are acid-cream etching, sandblasting and diamond-burr engraving. Each of these techniques can be taken on with a modest investment of time, space and money.

Etching glass not only makes an enjoyable project, but the results also add character to a home or office. Whether you choose to etch an entry door, sidelight panel, bathroom window or mirror, you have the ability to transform ordinary architectural and design features with distinctly personal detailing.

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When choosing glass to etch, keep in mind that the best material is one-fourth-inch-thick plate glass or laminated safety glass. Standard one-eighth-inch window glass can be used, but the results will not be as good. Thinner glass is much more apt to break when placed under the mechanical stresses of diamond-burr engraving and sandblasting. To work with 1/8-inch glass, the best technique is acid etching.

The only type of glass that should not be etched is tempered glass. Tempered glass has been heat-treated in a way that creates great tension within the material. When the surface is etched, internal stresses may cause the glass to shatter. Generally, tempered glass is labeled as such in a corner of the pane.

If you plan to etch a door or window with double-glazed panes, check with the window manufacturer to see if you will void any warranty by doing so. In this case, it might be better to etch another panel and mount it over the insulated pane.

There are many sources of designs for glass projects. Check libraries or bookstores for books that feature stained-glass patterns and traditional designs. Of course, you can develop your own design to give your project a personal touch. The only limitation is to keep in mind that block designs with broader etched areas work better than thin-line drawings.

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Regardless of the technique you choose, begin by making a full-size drawing of your design to transfer to the work.

While you're in the planning stage, consider whether the lines and areas you draw will be etched into the glass surface or whether the background will be etched and the design left clear.

Often the ultimate use of the panel will be the deciding factor in this regard. When the design is to serve as a decorative embellishment on a window or mirror, the design itself is etched to maintain broad transparent areas.

For increased privacy, etch the background and leave the design in clear glass. Experimenting with these variables is the best way to decide which result you want.

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