23 April 2011

Underhammer Identity - Making Your Mark

Over the past few years of writing The Underhammer Society blog, I have received a number of photos from you readers asking for help in identifying some sort of unusual or unique underhammer firearm. It is so unfortunate that those inspired makers of old did not take the time to mark their work.

Today we see the same situation – underhammer (and other) makers who don’t mark their work. The simple rule should be that if your idea is worthy of the expense of money and labor to make it, it’s certainly worth marking it as yours.

However, doing so in a professional looking manner is generally not considered an easy task. Many of us have seen otherwise beautiful custom-made muzzleloading arms that were marked with poorly aligned lettering stamps or worse yet, marked with a “signature” on the top flat of the barrel that appeared to have been engraved by a dull screwdriver being driven by a 5 lb. sledge. The mark became a witch’s wart on the nose of a bathing beauty.

For years I have used an electro-acid etching system that does provide a very crisp and professional looking trademark. This is an industry standard metal marking process in which a stencil is used along with an electrolyte solution and a marking pad that is connected to a low voltage power source to deep etch metal parts. My marking results can be seen below.

We’ve all seen the results of this process as trademarks on such things as knives, firearms, feeler gauges, drill bits, milling cutters, saw blades, ball bearing races, carbide cutters and thousands of other types of metal tools, parts or instruments.

The problem with most pro-grade systems is that they can set you back up to a $1000. I bought rather used pro-grade equipment way back in ’96 and it cost me over $500 then - definitely out of range for the hobby builder and even some full time professional gunmakers.

The ETCH-O-MATIC comes complete with all you need to achieve professional marking results

Well, I’ve got some good news! Produced by Martronics Corporation, the ETCH-O-MATIC™ is a nifty, professional-grade, compact etching device that provides perfect marking, is quick and simple to use and costs less than $100 to get started.

No, that’s not a typo – it is less than $100. In fact, right now it's only about 80 bucks.

I could go into all the gory details of how the electro-etch process works, but the folks at Martronics had the good marketing sense to include several videos right on their website: http://www.etch-o-matic.com/eom.htm that clearly demonstrate just how quick and simple it is to use their system. Click on the link and take a look for yourself.

The ETCH-O-MATIC™ can be used for marking most any kind of metal including carbon and stainless steels, aluminum, brass, copper, bronze and carbide. It will even mark through black oxide on steel. Several types of marks can be obtained in addition to the simple black mark including the deep etch, a black deep etch and a frosty etch.

We have all seen the ETCH-O-MATIC marks on knives, tools and instruments of all kinds.

In the regular mode, a crisp black mark is left on the metal surface. For those who will be applying their own blue, brown or plating finish over the metal, there is a deep-etch adapter which will provide a mark with depth and will be readily recognized once you’ve finished the metal with your preferred finishing process.

Martronics’ ETCH-O-MATIC™ starter kit contains the ETCH-O-MATIC™ marker with the standard size marking head of 7/8" x 13/4", an electrical cord, ground plate, 2 oz. electrolyte solution in a plastic bottle, 10 special stencils, a neutralizer, deep etching adapter clip and complete instructions. Very simple and thorough instructions, I might add.

But, if that wasn’t enough, they also offer free technical help. Yes, you can actually call and talk with one of their live-person technical people who can help you get the optimum results from your ETCH-O-MATIC.

Martroncis claims that each kit will make approximately 1,000 marks before refill supplies are needed. Doing the quick math, you can see that each of your professional looking trademarks cost but pennies to apply and lends a look of professionalism that puts your work into the category of the big guys.

The ETCH-O-MATIC Starter Kit includes 10 sheets of a special stencil material which can be placed into an ordinary typewriter to make some quick stencils that will provide a good, legible mark. However, for the very best marking quality I recommend using their Dura-Film Stencils.

Martronics also offers a stencil making system that will allow you to make your own high-quality stencils from your own artwork on your home computer. If you’re interested, more information on their Stencil Maker Kit is available on their website.

For those of you who may not use very many stencils, Martronics will even make stencils for you – at a very reasonable price - if you send them your artwork. Talk about a full service company - I really like the way these people think.

Take a look at the website: http://www.etch-o-matic.com/eom.htm and see if you don’t agree that this is the best way to achieve a professional looking trademark on your fine firearms, or putting a good identifying mark on your tools and other valuable metal items as well.

So, that’s the story for the press and I’m sure you all now feel warm and fuzzy about it.

However, the real question on my mind is, “Will this eighty-dollar wonder work as well as my really pricey “professional” marking system?” We shall see.

I prepared a piece of flat bar steel by cleaning and lightly polishing the surface. I have to say that the folks at Martronics also provided us with a sample of their stencil material for comparison to the high priced “professional” stencils that I have been using for almost 20 years.

While Martronics indicates that you can hold the stencil in place, I have found that if you really want a crisp mark, its best to use some scotch or masking tape to secure the stencil to the work surface. This will also help assure that your alignment and position is correct before you start.

Clicking on the photo will provide a close up view, then click the Back button to return to the text.

The top mark in the photo above is the regular black etch while the bottom mark is the result of the deep etching process. Both were produced from the same blue Dura Film Stencil seen above the sample.

While we’re here I must admit that the quality of their stencil is first rate. I was really impressed with the durability of it and can see that you could easily get dozens of crisp, clear etchings from each stencil. The really good news is the price for their stencil making service. The company that I used in the past recently quoted their minimum charge is now over $70. Then there are graphics charges and plate charges, etc, etc…

That’s a lot of money for a small sheet of stencils. Especially if you only mark a few guns per year.

The folks at Martronics quoted $19.60 to make a 4” X 5” sheet – and that even includes the one-time $10.00 plate charge! If you plan and lay out your artwork carefully you can get quite a few stencils from that one sheet, They also offer larger formats all the way up to 8” X 11” if you need it, the price of which is only $54.50!

Now, back to the test.

I taped the stencil in place on the steel sample, plugged in the unit and wet the marking head pad with the included electrolyte solution according to the directions. Then I attached the ground wire to the steel sample plate and touched the ETCH-O-MATIC pad to the steel. Holding the unit on the steel for about 5 seconds produced the crisp black mark you see in the photo.

Martronics claims that their basic unit is also capable of deep etching which is necessary when you are planning to blue or brown or plate the finished metal.

For the deep etch, Martronics includes another special alligator clip that provides the DC current needed for the deep etch process. I simply connected that to the metal plate then attached the regular ground clip to it.

BTW, stencils can get “plugged” with the steel oxides that are created during the etching process, so it’s a good idea to keep the stencil clean with a bit of electrolyte or even soap and water between etchings.

To achieve the deep etch, it took about three applications of about 6 – 7 seconds each and the mark looks perfect. Just like I (used to) get from the high priced gadget with its cords and clips and plugs.

This Martronics ETCH-O-MATIC is just dirt simple and the results are certainly “professional” quality.

Check out their website: http://www.etch-o-matic.com/eom.htm because I believe you will find the ETCH-O-MATIC to be a most valuable addition to your shop for marking more than just your firearms.



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey that's a great gadget. Got one for marking my custom knives and I love it.

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About Me

Roger Renner

Hi. I've been a student, admirer, and designer/builder of underhammer guns for over 30 years. In that span I've built over 200 semi-custom underhammers exploring the possibilities from the ordinary to the exotic. In 1996 I founded Pacific Rifle Company to explore the market's interest in a high-quality underhammer rifle. Thankfully, that interest was, and still is, there. I sold PRC in 2006 but continue to craft high-end underhammers as I am truly afflicted with underhammeritis - which can be contagious!