Can I use a pen engraver (the kind that's like a tattoo gun with a diamond tip) to engrave my initials on labware without compromising it? I am in a lab space with a shared acid wash, and my glassware keeps getting boosted. I'm worried about e.g. heating a beaker and having it shatter because of the propagation of microfractures potentially caused by the engraver.

  • $\begingroup$ Many beakers / Erlenmeyers have a square of etched surface where one may write e.g., with a graphite pen #2 / HB. It does not come off with organic solvents, you have to use an eraser as in school (or one of the softer rubber stop cocks) to remove these writings prior to bringing the glass ware to the dish washers but leaves the beakers mechanically intact. Would this be an option suitable for you? $\endgroup$
    – Buttonwood
    Mar 11 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ I think folks would balk at having graphite introduced in the acid bath. $\endgroup$
    – user278411
    Mar 12 at 4:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ What you are experiencing is a common practice occurs in busy and large research groups. To scratch, do not use diamond tips. But sharp steel tips ate okay. It won't initiate glassware breaking (my personal experience). $\endgroup$ Mar 12 at 4:39
  • $\begingroup$ Not my problem, but they should be really "your beakers". $\endgroup$
    – Alchimista
    Mar 12 at 10:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Alchimista - Yeah I'm the PI. Ya know, just a tenure track prof at an R1 asking rudimentary lab questions on stack exchange. oh god I'm such a fraud. $\endgroup$
    – user278411
    Mar 15 at 9:38

Any scratch weakens glass somewhat. However, a vibratory engraver is very likely to shatter the vessel.

You can label glass permanently by etching with warm concentrated $\ce{NaOH}$ or room-tempeerature $\ce{HF}$, perhaps with a stencil. Use great caution with $\ce{NaOH}$, and even more caution with $\ce{HF}$. Both are very caustic, and $\ce{HF}$ can release toxic fumes and cause deep tissue damage.

There are commercial etching creams with HF that might be less likely to splash.

Note that etching weakens glass slightly, but less so then engraving.

  • $\begingroup$ I think you're right that a vibratory tool is the wrong approach. I need either a rotary tool or just hand-scratching. But I don't think etching borosilicate glass with NaOH works. And I am certainly not going to mess with HF for the sake of $1k of glassware. $\endgroup$
    – user278411
    Mar 15 at 9:46
  • $\begingroup$ NaOH works, in my experience, but slowly at room temp. If a concentrated solution is left on borosilicate glass at 25°C for a few weeks, the glass becomes cloudy. It might not be worth weeks to wait, though. There are commercial etching creams with HF that might be less likely to splash, e.g. walmart.com/ip/Armour-Etch-Etching-Cream-10-oz/12347708 $\endgroup$ Mar 15 at 22:07

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