The effect of roughening an initially polished aluminium surface using the Forest Products Laboratory chemical etch on the adhesive joint strength has been determined. It was found that while the lap shear strength increased rapidly with etching for short times, the fracture energydid not increase significantly until etching had occurred for at least 15 min. An atomic force microscope (AFM) was used to study the surface/interface morphology and to quantify the surface roughness. The AFM images showed that etching occurs heterogeneously across the aluminium surface anda correlation was found between the fracture energy and the fraction of etched surface. A model based on Griffith's fracture energy approach has been proposed to explain this observation. The lap shear strength was found to be more sensitive to a finer scale roughness which is generated atshorter etching times. Other observations regarding the mode of fracture and the variability in joint strength as a function of the surface roughness are explained on the basis of varying stress concentrations at the crack tip. © VSP 1997.