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Sandcarving Q&A: The Ins and Outs of Sandcarving

Sandcarving involves much more than a blasting machine and some sand. There are a lot of different aspects to this embellishment process that contribute to the final artistic piece. To really understand the ins and outs of sandcarving, we sat down with a few people who are knowledgeable on the topic to ask them about the process.

The Basics of Sandcarving

Q: Can you describe the basic technique of sandcarving?

Sandcarving is the process of using high pressure and an enclosed machine to methodically “chip away” the surface of the subject with a specific type of sand. Using a special film printed with the design, the surface of the object being carved is removed more the longer it remains exposed to the pressurized sand.   

—Greg Rice, Topmost

 

Sandcarving is equal parts air and abrasive under compressed air blasting away the open or designed areas of your image. The abrasive is propelled under controlled pressure, impacting the surface and removing surface material of whatever you are sandblasting, creating depth.

—Liz Haas, Rayzist

Q: What are some sandcarving best practices?

Make sure your substrate has a clean surface for the mask to stick to. Keep in mind that you can only blast as deep as the line is wide in your artwork. Make sure the mask being used can withstand the depth of the etch you want to achieve.

—Darin Jones, IKONICS

 

Start with quality vector artwork—quality artwork is a must for every project. Vector artwork will provide sharp lines and good stencil reproduction. Use correct blasting media such as Aluminum or Silicon carbide. Attend trade shows and invest in education.

—Liz Haas, Rayzist

Q: Where can sandcarvers exercise some creativity in the actual application process?

Advanced sandcarving techniques such as stage carving, halftones and color-filling all add creativity to the process. A couple rules: you can blast as deep as the width of your line. The thinner the film, the higher the detail; the thicker the film, the deeper you can etch. 

—Andy Hromatka, IKONICS

There is a lot of room in the creative process itself—play with carving different depths and using color-fill techniques in a variety of combinations. The rules should be followed in the preparation phase and the technical execution. 

—Greg Rice, Topmost

Q: What problems should awards shops be aware of when sandcarving?

A pitfall that does occur is investing twice in a sandblasting system, such as purchasing a basic sandblaster then having to purchase a second system with greater capabilities or one specifically design for glass etching.

—Liz Haas, Rayzist

First, be aware of the lighting in the shop. Photoresist film is sensitive to light and there are steps one can take to reduce the negative effects on the film. Second, be aware of the machine. A user should have a basic knowledge of the sandblasting cabinet and how it works. Finally, be aware of the connection between the artwork, the film and the final product. Poor artwork will affect the film, which in turn will affect the final product.

—Matt Bovee, IKONICS

Q: Can you offer some sandcarving tips for beginners?

Take your time. Practice, embrace and build from your mistakes. Ask your client questions and pay attention to the answers.

—Carol Hale, HaleOnGlass

Start small. Experiment with less costly pieces and simple designs to hone skills. A big thing that newcomers to sandcarving should know is how to market this process to their customers. Because it can cost more, retailers need to know how to educate their customers about the different marking methods.

—Greg Rice, Topmost

Keep the blasting nozzle at 90 degrees and keep it moving during the carving process. Also, choose the appropriate grit size—if you are blasting fine detail, use a mesh size of 180 to 220.

—Peter Norman, IKONICS

Equipment, Tools and Accessories

Q: What are the key pieces of equipment needed for sandcarving?

An air compressor, air hoses, sandcarving cabinet, dust collector. You’ll also need abrasive nozzles, foot pedals, tape, masking and duramolds. [CrystalBlast Sandcarving Machines (2)] (Image courtesy IKONICS)

—Darin Jones, IKONICS

The main items of equipment needed are a sandcarving system and a mask-making kit. A sandcarving system will require an air compressor to operate and the mask-making kit will require a graphics program such as CorelDraw or Abode Illustrator along with an inkjet printer. Another item to consider is an automatic washout system. 

—Liz Haas, Rayzist

Q: How will climate and environment affect equipment?

The only climate that will affect a sandcarving system is humidity. We recommend adding a moisture trap/water trap on the air compressor. We also recommend draining the air compressor at least once a week. The pressure pot should also have a moisture trap, as well.

—Liz Haas, Rayzist

 

Moisture is abrasive’s biggest enemy. Dry abrasive eliminates blasting issues.

—Andy Hromatka, IKONICS

Sandcarving Various Substrates

Q: Other than glass, what substrates can be sandblasted?

Marble and other stone, wood, acrylic—just about any hard surface.

—Greg Rice, Topmost

Companies can sandblast almost anything. If the substrate is brittle, you can carve into it and get depth with the blasting. Common items that companies sandblast include marble/granite, ceramic, stone, brick, wine bottles, wood and metal.

—Peter Norman, IKONICS

Q: Can you explain the difference between blasting glass versus wood?

Glass is made up of sand, lime, etc. and wood is made up of long and short grains, so when you sandcarve glass, you will get a nice, even deep etch. When blasting some woods like oak, you will get a more rustic grain-type deep etch appearance.

—Darin Jones, IKONICS

Blasting glass gives you the ability to blast a surface etch, moderate or deep etch. The etch on glass provides contrast. Blasting wood materials can have different results depending on the type of wood. Blasting wood does not provide contrast. Paint or stain will need to be added to the etch area to create contrast. 

—Liz Haas, Rayzist

Q: Can you explain the difference between blasting glass versus stone? What about metal?

Stone is harder than glass so it requires a thicker mask. Metal just allows a surface etch that changes the appearance but doesn’t allow for depth.

—Andy Hromatka, IKONICS

Stone surfaces are considered an unpolished surface and a photoresist film will require additional adhesive. The additional adhesive will add a greater bond between the stone and photoresist mask. We recommend adding paint to the etch area to bring contrast in the etch area. Sandblasting metal will not achieve depth.

—Liz Haas, Rayzist

Q: What should shops keep in mind when working with small, delicate substrates?

Something to keep in mind is the amount of time spent handling the objects. This increases the chance for chipping and breaking to occur, especially in more delicate glass and crystal substrates. Another thing to be aware of is proper masking and taping of the pieces to ensure a clean finished product. 

—Greg Rice, Topmost

Well-lit and dust-free cabinets help with etching smaller substrates, so buy the largest dust collector available on the market.

—Andy Hromatka, IKONICS

Q: When working with large substrates, what should sandcarvers keep in mind?

Oversized (4 feet by 8 feet) carpeted worktables are important. A well thought-out work environment is key to working with oversize projects. Larger substrates may require larger photomask/stencils. You’ll need proper blasting gear—a larger blasting system and a customer pass-through blasting system as well as portable pressure pot systems for exterior sandblasting and/or blasting rooms.

—Liz Haas, Rayzist

Is the substrate going to fit into my cabinet or do I need to use a portable pressure pot? Is the substrate too heavy to move, i.e. would it be better to blast it onsite?

—Darin Jones, IKONICS

The Business of Sandcarving

Q: What’s the benefit of offering sandcarving services to customers?

Sandcarving is clean, easy and efficient. Unique effects, attainable only through sandcarving, add elegance and value, making every carved substrate stand out among the rest. Techniques such as color-filling, stage carving and shading allow for images and textures that will be sure to turn heads. 

—Peter Norman, IKONICS

Sandcarving produces dramatic results, and can add more value to the product than any other marking method. Sandcarving is suited for those customers who are looking to make a strong statement with their award/recognition/gift.

—Greg Rice, Topmost

Q: What makes sandcarving unique from other embellishing disciplines?

With many other personalization/marking methods, you are simply putting a piece into a machine and letting it run its course. With sandcarving, there is constant interaction between the artist and the piece, making it a true artistic endeavor.

—Greg Rice, Topmost

It produces a permanent etch that will never fade away and is the only etching method that removes pieces of the substrate in the etched areas.

—Andy Hromatka, IKONICS

Q: In your opinion, what’s the best thing about sandcarving?

The best thing about sandcarving is the end result: a quality product and the sincere gratitude of a satisfied customer.

—Carol Hale, HaleOnGlass

I think the best thing about sandcarving is the ability for complete customization with the material, especially when sandcarving glass or crystal. 

—Greg Rice, Topmost

It is fun, easy to do and can be learned at any age. It’s profitable and a great business model, but the best thing about sandcarving is that you have a hobby type of mindset when doing your job, so it’s rewarding in many ways.

—Darin Jones, IKONICS

Diversity is one of the best things about sandcarving. Any hard surface can be sandblasted—glass, crystal, stone, wood, metal and many other materials. 

—Liz Haas, Rayzist

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