Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How-to Tuesday: Sandblasting with Victory Stone Engraving


My parents run a stone engraving business (Victory Stone Engraving), so when I go home for visits, I get to play with the sandblaster. This time I took some pictures of the process. Here's how it works. 


Start with a rock. I'm guessing this one is granite. Any geologists reading this who can tell for sure? 
 

We'll engrave some little bits of tile, too. 


The first step is to come up with an engraving design that will be transferred to a self-adhesive rubber stencil. This can be done by hand, but doing it on the computer is faster and designs can be used again and again. The images need to be vector graphics--Adobe Illustrator or the open-source Inkscape are good programs to try--so that the lines are clearly defined for the cutting process. 


This is the plotter. Think of it as a printer that has a razor blade instead of ink. It cuts out the designs for you. 

Here's a little video of it in action:

video

I never get tired of watching it cut out masks. There's a lot to be said for doing things by hand…but if one machine turns a 45-minute process into a 45-second process, sign me up!


Of course, you still have take a few minutes to remove the parts of the stencil where you want the rock to be exposed during blasting. This process is called weeding. I find it oddly satisfying, but that's probably because I only do it a few times a year. 


Then you tape over the entire design so that all the little squiggles and cutouts stay in place when you peel the plastic backing away from the stick side of the stencil. 


Here are our tiles, all masked up and ready for blasting. 


And here is the masked rock. 


The sandblasting is done in a blast cabinet, which is definitely up there on my List of Coolest Inventions Ever. It resembles the glove boxes used for dangerous chemistry experiments. With your arms in the rather bulky, sand-resistant gloves, you engrave using a jet of compressed air and sand. It's awkward at first but the setup keeps you from breathing the abrasive, which is actually made from an aluminum ore, not beach sand. 


Inside the blast cabinet. 


Here's my dad, pretending to sandblast the rock. He's pretending because I stuck my head and camera in one end of the cabinet to get this picture. 


After the blasting, the rock and tiles are etched and the rubber masks look a little worse for wear. Now we just peel away the stencil and protective duct tape and…

… voilà! Tiny engraved tiles. 


And a rock that looks like a fossil. Cool, huh?

*****

p.s. If you're looking for engraved stuff, the fish skeleton rock in this post can be found in my parent's Etsy store, custom-made rocks are available on their website, and there are some engraved stone pendants here

31 comments:

  1. This is a very concise and easy to understand article. It's an easy process, just lots of steps, and you described them very well.

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  2. It's hard to tell from a picture. Could be granite, or could be something called granodiorite. All depends on the percent composition of different minerals. But really, saying granite is close enough :)

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  3. What type media is used in the blaster.

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  4. Hi Dave -- It's aluminum oxide, also known as alumina.

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  5. I am just starting to sandblast and having fun with it. However I have trouble with the stencil coming off the rocks when I blast. Do I need to use a glue? If so what kind and how do I get the glue off? And is there a glue made that is water soluble?

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  6. Hi Wanda -- You might have better luck if you try a stencil material that is adhesive on one side. Both 3M and Anchor Continental make them. I know you can buy those products from Granite City Tool (granitecitytool.com), although you might be able to find smaller quantities elsewhere online. For the items in this tutorial I used a 1/16" Anchor Continental stencil material. I hope this helps -- good luck!

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  7. Hi Wendy, great feature looks realy good.
    I was just wondering, do you think this method would work in the same way on metals?

    Marcus.

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  8. Hi Marcus -- Most metals are pretty hard, so it can be slow going if you want to sandblast to engrave the metal deeply. If you just want to frost the surface of an otherwise smooth/shiny metal, I think it would work pretty well. You may also want to check into different kinds of abrasives -- I'm sure there are some really hard ones out there that are more suitable for engraving metal. Good luck with it!

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  9. Thanks for posting this Wendy. I would love to do this. Isn't a plotter rather expensive. Is there another way to go? I would love to do this kind of stuff as a hobby.
    Mike

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  10. Hi Mike -- It's true, plotters (and the software to run them) are pretty expensive. But as a hobbyist, you can always do things by hand. Get some of the adhesive mask material and draw your own design on it. You can also design something on the computer and print it out, then either tape that directly to the mask or transfer the image by tracing over it with pencil several times and then rubbing that on the mask surface. Cut along all the lines with an exacto knife and proceed as described above to put the stencil on the rock and blast it. It takes more time than using a plotter and sometimes it can be hard to make straight lines when cutting by hand (like for fine lettering), but it works pretty well. Good luck!

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  11. Hi Wendy

    We have a Roland plotter and I would like to know if you can share any more infor on the stencil material you use. Do you buy sheets or rolls and what size or mil? I have looked on line for both 3m and Anchor Continental there are different kinds, what would you recommend? Best product best price? Thanks from Tucson

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  12. Anonymous--the stencil used in this post is Anchor brand, item 116, roll. It works well.

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  13. Hi Wendy,

    I am having my designs cut for me by someone with a plotter. Can I use some kind of rented sandblasting equipment so I can do this in my backyard for a couple of projects? I'm carving my designs into flat flagstone. Thanks for this great page!

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  14. Steve--Renting a sandblaster sounds like a great idea, but I have no idea where they're available. You may have to take the stones to the sandblaster, rather than the other way around. Good luck!

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  15. Hi Wendy
    I have the sand blaster pot ,the compressor that puts out a high volume of air (used for a jack hammer) at 95 lbs of air pressure. What i need to understand is how much pressure and what nozzle to use.I am cutting into granite and 4500 psi concrete. Can you help me? My other question was about the media to use but i think you answered it in another post. Thanks ~Frank

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  16. Hey Wendy, it's me again -Frank
    Duh! probably need to tell you what depth and width i want to blast right? Ok than- My 1st projects will be no more than 1/2 inch in width and in depth and be as small as 1/4 inch in depth and width. I am attempting to inlay stone and will be using both the negative and positive parts of the vinyl. I will use the "cut out" portions to cut the inlay peaces. I have worked with stone for 30 years but this is my 1st time with a sandblaster! Thanks again~Frank Locatell

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  17. Frank, this is from Marvin, Wendy's dad. I'm the one who does the engraving. If your compressor put out 95 psi that should work fine. For softer rocks I sometimes go as low as 50 or 60 psi. The higher the pressure the more chance for it blowing off the stencil. I have never cut 4500 concrete, but the rocks in it might be harder than the concrete mixture. Careful you don't cut too much concrete and leave the rocks. Nozzle size is determined by how much air the compressor will put out. The one you describe will take a 1/4 inch or bigger. You will get better detail using a smaller one, but it will take longer to engrave. If you are using a presure pot it will work much faster than a siphon blaster. Hope this is helpful.

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  18. Hi Wendy and Marvin. Thank both of you for posting this information. I plan on buying a compressor, and blast cabinet for other purposes. My wife and her friends are always asking me to build signs and such, and I thought this would be a great idea for them. But i was wondering what plotter you were using, and if you had any experince with bargain priced ones. Not wanting to invest to much into one, so any information you could provide would be great. Thanks in advance, Randy

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  19. Hi Randy. The plotter pictured here is from Graphtec America. I think it's their F7000-75, which has since been discontinued (they have the F8000 series now). Research to buy this one was done several years ago, so prices/quality may have changed. We don't have experience with other plotters, unless you count the ultimate discount plotter -- cutting by hand. Good luck to you!

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  20. Wendy this is Steve again with the blasting project for fairly large (16x24") stone tiles. I have tried a couple of local companies but they treat me like I'm nuts because my art looks a little whacked to them. I just keep getting back burnered. Anyway, with at least 40 designs to blast, I'm thinking about setting up on my own. PLEASE help recommend a system that will cut designs this large practically into soft stone like sandstone and be big enough for the tiles. I have the plotter already and software. Thanks again!!!

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  21. burwell dot com dot au for sandblasting cabinets!

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  22. Hi Wendy,

    Thanks for all the info, it's great for us "beginners". Can you please let me know what kind of air-compressor is your dad using? HP, Gal, PSI....THANKS.

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  23. Thanks everyone for the questions, but I don't have much detailed information about setting up your own system. Sorry. I'd recommend taking a look at some of the sites that sell sandblasting systems (northerntool.com, tptools.com, eastwood.com, etc.) to get an idea of what you'll need for the blasting you want to do. It all depends on the specific applications. Best of luck to you all!

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  24. Thank you so much for the information! This has been very helpful.

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  25. How much power is needed to operate the sand blaster? Does it just require air pressure for the hoses or is it a machine that requires a separate power source? I only ask because when I worked for a carpenter doing engraving, some of the equipment needed separate generac generators to keep them running at top capacity. Maybe it's a dumb question. Great article!

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  26. Thanks Wendy, this post its very helpful, the more detailed i found in the net.

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  27. Hi wendy we have being following your blog and we think is great info.Advice me on this question do we must have a photo image system set up along with you blasting cabinet and plotter.

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  28. I have been keeping up with sandblast media these past few months, and I have to agree that the sandblasting machine is really cool! I got to use one for the first time last week and it took a while to get used to. Hopefully I can still continue to pursue my hobby!

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  29. I looked on your parents website some awsome products by the way but I had a question about the clocks are they made to be hung on the wall or are they considered shelf clocks?

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    1. Hi James, I believe those clocks hang on the wall.

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  30. Awesome blog over here! Thanks for sharing very useful Sandblasting information.

    Sandblasting

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