Making a $70 Glass Etching Tool for Less Than $10 Comparable to the Air Eraser




About: I'm the kind of person who's mind doesn't stop. Literally, I take medication to fix that just so I can sleep at night. I have an unhealthy obsession with making things and believe, firmly, in sharing what I ...


Can you create a safe, effective, air powered, glass etching tool, that is comparable to air eraser for under $10 and using materials readily available in any home?

This instructable is in response to the many people who've had a difficult time finding the Paasche air eraser (or clone model) and is a sister tutorial to "Etching On Any Surface Cheaply And Without The Use Of Chemicals". As well as extensive photo's, I plan on adding brief vids to try and clearly explain my process.

As an air tool, the air eraser is extremely complex, and beautifully constructed. As such, it'd be nearly impossible to duplicate it exactly, however , with some basic supplies, and some lateral thinking, we can apply some of the principals of the air eraser to an effective etching tool of our own.

The fundamental goal is to simplify. With some expensive parts, and a well stocked workshop, I'm certain that a high grade etching tool can be fabricated, however most do not have access to a shop, and are often limited to items scavenged from around the home.

This instructable is for those folks.

Step 1: Converting the Air Eraser to Theory

In theory, it should be pretty simple to use air to push a powdered abrasive through an airline, however, there are always the unknown unknowns. These are the unforeseen issues that can arise and turn hours worth of work, into another failed project and a grand do-over.

There are three methods that I want to look at. They are not, by far, the only way to create the etching tool, such as using suction, etc, however, as our intent is to keep the project as small as possible, they are the most practical for our needs.

Fig. 1 - Air is fed in and passes through the body of the tool. The etching compound is gravity fed, like an hour glass, into the body and is picked up by the air flow.
Advantage -  Simple design, easy to construct
Disadvantage - Uneven flow as air will inevitably push the compound back up into the resevoir restricting flow.

Fig. 2 - Air is diverted through the resevoir base, agitating the compound into a mist, then blowing it through a down tube to the tip.
Advantage - Better flow as tool will not need to be shaken to keep a constant flow of abrasive.
Disadvantage - Higher, possibly unsafe pressure. As air turns corners, it slows and thus pressure needs to be raised to compensate.

Fig. 3 - Same as Fig. 2, however a second air line line is diverted to the tip of the tool.
Advantage - Lower pressure. The compound is agitated, as in Fig. 2, and the second line acts as a 'booster' accelerating the compound as it leaves the tip.
Disadvantage - More difficult build. More intricate parts means more problems.

**Important Caveat - As usual, I have to give fair warning. The basis for my design is low, safe pressure of, up to 45psi. Exceeding that, while using makeshift parts could be hazardous and is highly unrecommended. If you choose to build fig. 1 or 2, you do so at your own discretion, however, you have been warned.

Step 2: Testing Various Parts for Our Build

In creating the tool, I had to break it down into three parts; The air supply manifold, the reservoir, and the delivery system. I don't plan on giving a definitive parts list, as the supply of materials from one person to the other can differ greatly. Rather, I intend on looking at the tool as a series of problems and concepts, in hope that each person can, independently come up with solutions on their own.

Of the three, the delivery system was the easiest to duplicate. In essence, the tip acts as a bottleneck, taking the flow of compound and air, and restricting them, not unlike the spray nozzle on a water hose. As you can see from the second pic, this was accomplished by using the tip of an ordinary pen, and pressing two hoses side by side, then sealing them in place with some 5 minute epoxy. The smaller of the two lines goes directly to the manifold, and the larger is our feed tube for the compound in the reservoir. The white tip, on the smaller line is simply a pen part that I used as an adapter to fit both lines into the tip.

The reservoir was the second easiest, and was dependent on what I could come up with for the manifold. One line is fed through the lid and acts as the down tube for the compound being fed to the tip. There needed to be another air line coming directly from the manifold that agitates the compound and forcing it down through the down tube.

Finally, the hardest part was the manifold. This went through a lot of variations. In essence, I needed to split the flow of air between the reservoir and the booster tip. Unfortunately, I didn't have the material to create an adapter manifold with two outlets, and so decided to feed my air supply directly into the bottom of the reservoir, with a second line passing through the bottle itself, and exiting through a different hole, in the lid, and attaching to the booster line. The advantage of this is that there are no angles to slow down the air flow. Think of a water slide with a 45 degree turn. There's an abrupt (albeit painful) stop then the turn. What I've done, is more like a bobsled track. Tho there are curves in the line, it doesn't abruptly slow the flow of air, and there's no pressure lost.

Step 3: The Final Form and the Results of Our Experiment

In pic one you can see the final form of our manifold. it's simply an adaptor with one air outlet, and a second hole drilled, at angle beside the first. An air line is attached to the stem, and the entire piece is mounted to the bottom of our reservoir (bottle lid).

In the second pic, you can see the final assembly. As mentioned, the air nozzle is mounted directly to the base, with the booster line passing through the reservoir, and eliminating the need for a manifold. The air line doesn't affect the operation or flow of compound and actually is a benefit as there are no angles to slow the flow of air, allowing us to operate at lower pressures.

Step 4: Testing Our New Air Eraser

I was pretty skeptical at first, as my design represented the air eraser in it's most basic form. Frankly, I only expected a light spray that used a lot of compound. For the test, I set the pressure at 30psi. This would be an adequate pressure to create an etch, but at the same time be completely safe considering the less than optimal parts I'd used. To my surprise, it operated beautifully, as you can see from the test bottle in image 1.

Here's a short vid of the test for confirmation;

Step 5: Conclusion of Our Experiment

I used some pretty makeshift parts in the fabrication of this tool, however it functioned beautifully and should be easily duplicated by anyone, regardless of how equipped their workshop is. As mentioned, before, there is no definitive parts list, as I just used random pieces I had laying around the house, but that's the point. Whether you have few supplies, or access to vast amounts of hardware, you can recreate this tool using the principals I've outlined here, and in fact, could end up being the very person that improves the design making it both essential, and affordable to the average crafter.

I hope you enjoyed the instructable. Thank you for following.

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    12 Discussions


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    No, since you need two air flows, one going through the reservoir to push the compound, then a second to accelerate it at the tip. Check out Fig. 3 in my diagrams and you'll see what I mean. Airbrushes only have one air path and use suction to draw the liquid in. With a powder it would just push it back up into the reservoir and restrict the flow. Also you'd have to make the reservoir air tight which would be tricky.


    Sorry about the delay in responding. I've been on project all week. You could make an airbrush using a lot of the same ideas, but with the availability and low cost of commercial airbrushes, it wouldn't be worth it. Saw a model, identical to one I spent $200 on just 5 years ago for less than $40 the other day.


    Not being happy with the air eraser design, I've been working on a new concept for micro propellent etching, with improved controls/mixing and am getting ready to create a kickstarter for it. The prototype is built, I just need funding so here's a sneak peak at the the beta design. It's called the U.S.C.Etch and it's designed to be universal surface and accept a wide range of propellants. I'm planning an instructable to give folks a chance to build it themselves, or they can participate in the kickstarter and grab a special edition version that comes in a fancy box, among other goodies. The idea is that I'm trying to keep it as a truly open source piece of hardware so that modding will not only be possible, but fully allowable. I'll be announcing the kickstarter to my subscribers as it gets implemented.

    brass texture scetch.jpg

    5 years ago on Step 4

    Don't forget to post the improvements here or in a new ible'


    Nice project

    side question: what is the electronic design tablet that you are using? Do you like this device for design work?

    3 replies

    It's an Asus Transformer running android. The app I'm using is Autodesk's sketchbook pro, and trust me, I can't live without it. Before this I had a Galaxy Tab that I wasn't to fond of. The only one I haven't tried is an Ipad. I hear their capacitive screen is more sensitive so you can use a finer stylus.