Doing this kind of work upon copper, in imitation of engraving, at a much less expense, is something worthy the attention of sketch-artists and draughtsmen, who will find it very useful in getting duplicates of their work. You first make a correct tracing with a black lead pencil of the drawing which is to be etched, then screw the copper plate into a small hand vice. It must be understood that the copper is perfectly free from scratches, or other blemishes.
Warm the plate from the back with a torch, which must be kept moving over it in all directions, until it becomes gradually heated. It should be just hot enough to allow your hand upon it for a second or two. Take the etching ground - which is in-closed in a silk wrapper - and rub it as evenly over the surface of the copper as you can. Before the plate cools, take the dab-ber and dab over the etching ground until it becomes perfectly flat, and indeed assumes the appearance of a thin transparent wash, through which the bright copper appears. The etching ground must be equally spread over the copper, not thick in one part and thin in another. Should the copper become too cold ere the dabbing has been finished, you may warm it again; be careful, however, not to make it so as it will burn the etching ground - this would be a great blunder, because it would not then resist the action of the biting-in liquid, which is aqua fortis of different decrees of strength.
Now take a wax torch and smoke the whole surface of the copper thus prepared; keep the torch at a fair distance from the copper, and move in all directions, until the whole plate becomes black with the smoke. Let the plate cool, then slightly dampen the tracing, and lay the penciled side upon the smoked plate, and run both through a printing press. Upon removing the tracing paper, you will find a perfect fac simile - reversed - of the drawing, transferred to the copper by means of the smoke.
Now place the copper on the table, which must face the light, and put up between the light and your plate a shade of tissue paper, which will cause every scratch you make on the copper apparent. The shade is simply a sheet of tissue paper stretched upon a common wooden strainer. Keep it constantly up during your work. The plate may be laid flat upon the table, or inclined a little, just as you please.
Now get a piece of thin mahogany, or common deal, longer than the copper, and sufficiently broad for your hand to rest upon while working, for the hand must not come in contact with the plate, otherwise the tracing would be obliterated. The rest for the hand must have two pieces of wood glued on each end, so as to raise it off the plate an inch or so; or you may place a book on each side of the copper - not on it - and lay a flat piece of wood across it, and resting on the books; all that is required being to keep the hand off the plate while etching in the outline.
Have a looking-glass near, and place the original drawing or tracing before it, which will thus be rendered just as the reversed outline on the copper. Now take an etching point and slightly go over all the outline, simply scratching the copper, not digging deeply in it.
When all the etching is done, put a border or wall, about an inch high, all around the plate, to contain the biting-in fluid,
The composition for bordering must be warmed, and laid down on the plate, taking care that it adheres sufficiently, or else the fluid will escape and burn whatever it touches. The aqua fortis is now to be laid over all the etching, and according to its strength so must its continuance be. It may be kept in motion with the feathered end of a quill, and when it bubbles up, you may be sure it is in active operation.
When the distances and delicate lines have been etched in sufficiently, pour off the liquid, wash the plate with cold water, and when dry, cover up with the preparation - made for the purpose of resisting the action of the fluid - all the parts which, according to your judgment, are sufficiently bit in. Lay on the fluid again, and rebite the next delicate parts, then pour off as before, and wash the plate with cold water. Stop out and rebite again, and so continue to do until the whole work is accomplished.
The darkest parts of the etching always require more biting-in than the light parts. Clear off all the etching ground from the plate, and the work is done.
Many ladies do this work for amusement, but they give the plate out to be bitten-in, as the fumes from the aqua fortis are unhealthy.
The materials for the art of etching can be obtained in any village. There are also professed biters in, who are employed by engravers.
Etching on steel is done in precisely the same manner, only the biting-in fluid is much weaker.
Etching Fluid for Copper. Mix two ounces aqua fortis with five ounces water. Another is verdigris, common salt, and sal ammoniac, each four ounces, alum one ounce, (all in powder), strong vinegar, eight ounces, water, one pound; dissolve by boiling for a moment; cool and decant,