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Metallographic Ceramic Etchants

The anti-corrosive properties of most ceramics make them difficult to etch by standard metallographic etching techniques. Most useful etching techniques for ceramics include: thermal, molten salt and plasma etching. A good resouce for additional etchants can be found with the etchant database provided by PACE Technologies:

http://database.metallographic.com/pace-etchant.php

Sample Preparation: Ceramic materials must be properly prepared to reveal the true metallographic microstructure. A number of recommended procedures can be found at the following links:

http://www.metallographic.com/Metallographic-Preparation-Procedures/Class-10-Description.html

http://www.metallographic.com/Brochures/Met-Manual-2b.pdf

CAUTION: Safety is very important when etching. Be sure to wear the appropriate protective clothing and observe all WARNINGS on chemical manufacturers SDS (Safety Data Sheets). Also review COMMENTS Section for each etchant.

Recommended Etchants

Oxide Ceramics (e.g alumina, zirconia, etc.)

Etchant

Conc.

Conditions

Comments

Thermal etching in air


Minutes to hours at 100-200°C below the sintering temperature

AL2O3,
Al2O3-MgO

Molten Salt
Potassium hydrogen fluoride melt


5-10 minutes in Pt crucible

Al2O3,
Al2SiO5

Distilled water
Phosphoric acid

15 ml
85 ml

Boiling for 5 minutes to
2 hours

Al2O3

Distilled water
Sulfuric acid

50 ml
50 ml

Boiling for 1-5 minutes

ZrO2


Carbide Ceramics (e.g silicon carbide, tungsten carbide)

Etchant

Conc.

Conditions

Comments

Molten Salt
Sodium or potassium bicarbonate melt


10 minutes in Pt crucible

SiC

Hydrochloric acid
Hydrogen peroxide (30%)

10 ml
10 ml

Seconds to minutes

WC


Nitride Ceramics (e.g. silicon nitride)

Etchant

Conc.

Conditions

Comments

Thermal etching in high purity nitrogen

 

Several hours at 1600° C

Si3N4

Molten Salt
Potassium hydroxide melt

 

Seconds to minutes in Pt crucible

Si3N4


Hydrofluoric acid

100%

10-15 minutes

Si3N4


Boride Ceramics (e.g. zirconium boride, titanium boride)

Etchant

Conc.

Conditions

Comments

Latic acid
Nitric acid
Hydrofluoric acid

30 ml
10 ml
10 ml

Seconds to minutes

ZrB2 ,TiB2


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