Etch Steel with... apparently you only need a wet paper towel. No mustard or vinegar. lol

After posting about Vinegar and Mustard (Both Mustard & Straight Vinegar INDEED etch stainless..perfectly! See ya Ceramark) etching steel we made a rather amusing discovery. Seems my use of the paper towel was actually more of a discovery than the acids. Thanks to @jgf making the simple attempt to use a plain water soaked paper towel as a control, he found that the results were JUST as good as with vinegar… no acid needed! I guess it prohibits the reflection and maybe the moisture helps… Anyone way smarter than me able to speak to this?

I tried it and it is true… I actually think it might even be crisper than with the vinegar if even a tap lighter!!
Maybe because there are no fumes trapped under the towel! I also tried it to make sure it wouldn’t etch directly with nothing… it does but it is VERY light and spotty even with multiple passes.

If it is properly wet (really damp not dripping or anything) you won’t need to attach it… the water seemed to hold it on fine in this instance. The water does dry super fast where the vinegar didn’t.

This is on speed 250 on Full Power 320lpi!



The Boss (she who must be obeyed) didn’t want me to play with vinegar due to the smell. I can’t wait to try water!


There should be ZERO smell if it is venting correctly… and I love vinegar, but I don’t remember it smelling at all other than the paper towel itself. Tell her she’s no fun. :wink: Water is easier anyways,


Vinegar must be acting as a wetting agent & preventing the evaporation. I find with glass that using wet paper towels dries fast too. I use wet newsprint instead as it takes a bit longer to dry out. Wonder if a) wet newsprint would work with slower drying on steel and b) if vinegar paper towels would work with slower drying on glass…:thinking:


I would bet the answer to both is yes! :slight_smile:

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just tried wet paper towel, and it looked pretty dark, but lost detail. Then I scrubbed with a brillo pad and dish soap, and found the detail but lost some of the color. looks better at some angles than at others. (pics are from after scrubbing)


Oh crap! There goes the stainless. :smile:

Great experimenting @rubbersoul79 ! This will be fun. :ok_hand:


Now you’re making me wonder… What if we skipped the paper towl? E.g., take a small piece of steel, submerge it in 1mm deep water (like putting the steel in a tin and then barely covering the steel with water). If the towel is only needed to hold the water in place, and the water evaporates too fast, then submerging it might just do the trick.

It’s still snowing here, so I won’t be able to test this until it warms up tomorrow or Thursday. (Unless someone beats me to it.)

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I did try the other side of that knife with a film of water and no paper towel.

It wasn’t working too well anyway, and then the air assist moved it around, so I stopped the test.

both tests were using @rubbersoul79’s settings on a pro.


Thanks @jbv. Now I’m wondering if different types of paper make a difference. Paper towel vs newspaper vs printer paper vs tissue paper…

I’ve got some aluminum, steel, and copper pieces to play with. (As soon as it gets above freezing.)


thinking more about this… the quality of the stainless, the particular type of paper, and water quality all must have something to with it, right, because… chemistry?

I have very hard water, and far as I understand it, “The mineral in hard water will act as a buffer which will reduce the amount of acid in the water.”( source )
Maybe @rubbersoul79 has softer/more acidic tap water?


If that is the case maybe use distilled water?

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I tried on mild steel with water and there was barely a shade, tried again with vinegar and I think I see a difference.
Tried brass with vinegar and could barely see it. I expected a better mark on brass just because copper is quick to oxidize, but maybe because copper is almost a perfect mirror to this wavelength… :thinking:
Looks like a constituent of a stainless alloy is more reactive. I’m sure we are dealing with an oxide deposit here.


I’ve got a little over an hour left on an engrave, then maybe I will try the test again with water from the water cooler. Not distilled, but certainly softer (and cleaner) than the stuff from my tap.
I used a normal white paper towel roll from kirkland. Maybe I should also try a test using the cheap u-line c-folded paper towels from the restroom.
I also have no idea what type of stainless steel this knife was made from. It just has the word “stainless” stamped on one side, and no other markings. Pretty sure it was in a box of kitchen stuff that I inherited from my grandma.


Using Alhambra drinking water from the water cooler,
before cleaning:

after cleaning:

darker in the later part of the engrave… after the water has started to evaporate?
the paper towel was wet enough to not char at first, but by the last couple dozen passes it was charing a small amount.


I engraved my stainless steel bottle opener with only a piece of painters tape covering the metal while being lazed. Its not super dark, but very crisp and dark enough to easily see.


This entire thread is fascinating! Going to be experimenting with some of these ideas.


I’m in Tennessee… moonshine? (:grin:)


Dont you dare, send that to me


Too flammable!

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