How to Make a Steampunk Altoids Tin

Making the Steampunk Altoids Tin

von Slatt uses copper sulfate to copper plate the Altoids tin.
von Slatt uses copper sulfate to copper plate the Altoids tin.
Courtesy Jake von Slatt

At this point, we should say that the techniques von Slatt uses can be extremely dangerous; they require the use of acids, strong chemicals and electric currents. Make sure that you understand how to apply these processes properly before attempting to replicate von Slatt's methods yourself.

To start, von Slatt uses a strong paint and epoxy remover to get the paint from all parts of the Altoids tin. He warns that epoxy remover can burn the skin [source: von Slatt]. Use heavy rubber gloves for this step to protect your hands and forearms. Once the paint is removed, von Slatt roughs up the metal surface of the Altoids tin lid with a piece of Scotch Brite scrubbing sponge and thoroughly cleans the surface with alcohol. It's now ready for copper plating.

Von Slatt found that applying copper sulfate (called blue vitriol during the Victorian Age and in steampunk parlance) created a chemical reaction that causes the stripped surface of the Altoids tin to take on a copperplate finish. Once the surface is dry, apply a little rouge (iron oxide) and use a buffing wheel to polish the tin to a high coppery shine. The Altoids tin is now copper plated and ready for etching.

The artist selects a digital image of a Victorian etching and prints it onto a piece of sticky transfer paper. He applies the transfer paper with the image to the top of the Altoids tin lid. It's about here that the process gets a bit dangerous.

Using a heavy plastic bucket, von Slatt dissolves one-quarter teaspoon of salt per quart of water. He uses a 12-volt, 1-amp DC (also labeled 12VDC, 1A or 1000uA) wall-mounted transformer with the wires separated and stripped at the end. With the power supply to the transformer shut off, von Slatt attaches the positive cable to the copper plated Altoids tin and the negative cable to another dummy Altoids tin. He immerses both tins in the saltwater solution and turns on the power supply as soon as he's clear of the water supply.

In short order, the water should begin to bubble and turn a murky greenish brown. After 10 to 20 minutes, von Slatt cuts off the power supply to the transformer, ending the electrical current to the saltwater solution. He carefully removes the Altoids tin from the solution and the cable, rinses it and removes the remnants of the transfer paper with paint remover.

After the tin is dry, he follows the previously mentioned copper plating process again, using copper sulfate, rouge and a buffing wheel to polish the tin. The result is a one-of-a-kind steampunk Altoids tin etching.

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  • von Slatt, Jake. "Copper plating and etching Altoids tins." The Steampunk Workshop. January 20, 2007.
  • von Slatt, Jake. Personal correspondence.