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What equipment is used for etching?

Abrasive etching equipment is still called sandblasting equipment, in spite of the fact that sand is rarely used to etch glass anymore. However it is not just any sandblasting equipment. Blasting equipment used to etch glass has evolved for its specialized purpose in the past twenty years. Compared to regular blasting equipment, the equipment designed for glass has smaller, more easily manipulated hoses and nozzles, special foot pedal controls, specialized lighting in the cabinet, and other improvements.

When you are purchasing equipment for etching glass you are much better off to purchase it from one of the few companies who specialize in equipment for glass. It won’t cost you much more, if any more, than equivalent equipment used for other purposes, but it will save you hours of time converting the other equipment for glass, not to mention the cost in dollars to do it. Lets take a closer look.

There are three major components to a glass etching setup: 1) an air compressor (at right), 2) a sandblaster (in the middle), and 3) a blasting cabinet with dust collector (at the left). The air compressor produces the pressurized air that powers the sandblaster and must do so in adequate quantity for the blaster you will be using. The blaster stores the abrasive and provides a method of combining the abrasive with the compressed air and directing it effectively at the glass. The blasting cabinet provides a contained environment in which to blast, so that the spent abrasive and blasting dust are controlled, while allowing full vision of the project being etched.

Air Compressors
A complete discussion of air compressors could take a whole book, but a short introduction will have to suffice here. Compressors are rated in terms of how much air they put out at a given pressure. This is usually expressed something like: Output - 11 CFM (cubic feet of air per minute) @ 90 PSI (pounds per square inch of air pressure). These numbers are always used together, because when one changes, the other changes as well.

You should never buy a compressor by the horsepower because there are small consumer compressors and large industrial compressors that have the same horsepower rating, but which put out vastly different amounts of air. Always buy a compressor based on how much air it puts out. When you purchase equipment, you should get a compressor that puts out at least 2-3 times the volume of air required by the blaster you will be using, at the desired blasting pressure. So, you have to know which blaster you will be using, before you buy a compressor.


There are only two types of blasters, siphon blasters and pressure blasters. Siphon blasters are cheaper, but inefficient and use a lot of air. Pressure blasters are more expensive, but are much faster and easier to use. Pressure blasters also use less air from the compressor, which allows you to use a smaller compressor or causes less wear and tear on an existing compressor. A standard sized pressure blaster is not prohibitively expensive for most people, but should be especially set up for use on glass. This means you should purchase from a distributor who specifically configures their equipment for glass etching. Read the specs for the blaster (nozzle size and air requirements) to find out how much air you need from the compressor.

Blasting Cabinets
Blasting cabinets come in all sizes and configurations. The ones best for glass are wider and taller (with respect to their depth from front to back), than ordinary cabinets. This accomodates flat sheets of glass best, without requiring that the person doing the blasting have extra long arms.

Most cabinets allow blasting of only as large a piece of glass as will fit through the door, so the door has to be as large as possible. However some cabinets are especially made for larger pieces of glass and have slotted openings in the sides and top of the cabinet, allowing large pieces to be passed through, blasting a little at a time. Gaskets on the moveable slots keep abrasive from getting out. These cabinets are really your best investment because they can accomodate both large and small pieces of glass equally well. They are the most expensive cabinets, though.

Blasting cabinets for glass should have incandescent, point source lighting rather than fluorescent lights. A dust collector is essential, to keep the dust level low enough in the cabinet so you can see what you are blasting. Again, there are many manufacturers out there, but only a few that set their equipment up especially for decorative blasting on substrates such as glass.

Blast rooms
Of course, you can build a whole blast room to blast large pieces of glass. But that means you have have space for it in your shop (most blast rooms are at least 8' long x 8' high x 6' deep). You also have to equip it with a large dust collection system and a source of clean breathing air, because you will be going inside the room to blast. You always have to wear protective gear for your face and exposed skin.

Equipment is a big subject to tackle, and it is explained much more in depth in our books and videos.