Many times I have received emails, or seen posts on forums from makers, asking suggestions
about marking their blades. Many of these emails/posts include an image of a logo, which the
individual obviously put a great deal of time and effort into creating. On the forums these questions receive a wide variety of answers, and in this article I will attempt to give you my advice, based on 25+ years of making and selling knives.
OK, first of all, there are two basic ways to mark you knives. The choice is yours,
but traditionally forged blades are stamped, and stock removal blades are etched.
Creating a mark with a stamp is very straight forward and with a bit of practice,
is easily accomplished. This method involves nothing more than a “stamp” with the
image/letters you wish created in a mirror image on the end of the stamp.
The marking can be done in a number of different ways that I will discuss later in the article.
Quality stamps are made of materials that are suited to the purpose, and if you
intend to go this route, I would suggest ordering your stamp based on quality….not price!
I have used the cheap stamps, and in one case the stamp only lasted for about 5 impressions
before the letters began to mushroom out. My personal choice for quality stamps
is Henry Evers Corp. in Rhode Island. You can find them on the internet by searching for “EverStamp”.
The second method of marking your work is with electro-chemical etching.
This system consists of an electronic device, a chemical electrolyte, and a stencil
that contains a design/name that the individual chooses. While I have this option
in my shop, I rarely use it, simply because I have never been able to achieve what
I consider satisfactory results. I also find this method difficult for marking Damascus blades,
which are a majority of what I produce. This method requires that the individual
create artwork and then have stencils produced, or purchase the equipment to create their own stencils.
Since I consider myself less than qualified to instruct on the chemical-etch method,
I will concentrate on how one can accomplish marking their blades with the stamping method.
Choosing your Mark
This is an area that requires a great deal of consideration and thought on the
individual’s part. For anyone but the most well know makers, I believe it is imperative
that your mark contain information that will allow nearly anyone to
look at one of your knives, and without any doubt, know who made it,
and more importantly, be able to find you! That means using your name,
and not some obscure logo or initials. Many times over the years I have
had individuals come to me, with a knife that had some strange logo,
initials, or a single first name on the blade, and ask me if I know who
made the knife, because they would like to order another one.
The fact of the matter is….If the individual(s) cannot find you, then they
certainly cannot order another knife from you! Your mark should contain
at the very least, your last name, and if it’s a common last name,
I recommend both a first and last name. If you can get a city and state in there too,
then that’s all the better.
I’m blessed in that I am the only “Caffrey” in the knife world who holds a Mastersmith rating.
I mark my blades on one side of the ricasso with “Caffrey”, and the other side of the ricasso
with my “MS” (Mastersmith). If there were another “Caffrey” making knives, mine would be
distinguishable by the “MS” stamp. Even if there were another “Caffrey” who was a Mastersmith, I would simply add my first initial to my name. The point being that your mark must be easily understandable, and with minimal effort, anyone should be able to locate you from the mark on your knives.
Creating a stamped mark
Now that we’ve covered choosing a mark, lets talk about how
to apply a stamped mark to your knives.
Applying a mark via the stamping method can either be done while the blade is cold,
in its annealed state, or when the blade is hot. I have tried both, and choose to
create my mark with a stamp when the blade is hot. This gives me a deeper,
more defined mark, which does not grind out when I am finishing a blade.
Once I have rough ground a blade, and it is prepped for hardening, I prepare
by ensuring that my stamp and stamping fixture is handy (you can also use an
old pair of slip joint pliers, with the stamp in the jaws and the handles wired
tightly to hold the stamp). Recently I built a fixture that holds both my “Caffrey” stamp,
and my “MS” stamp. I place this fixture on the anvil that sits next to my
quench tank, and get everything else ready. I always do three normalizing heats
on a blade just prior to quenching, and on the third normalizing heat,
I stamp/mark my blade(s). I often use a salt tank for these normalizing heats,
but whatever type of heat source you utilize, the procedure is basically the same.
Once the heat required is achieved, the blade is quickly placed in the fixture,
and one blow, with a hand held hammer is applied to the stamp, creating
the impression in the ricasso. Be aware that if you let the hammer "bounce" it will
likely make a double impression! The fixture that I use ensures that the stamp
is level and at 90 degrees to the face of the ricasso, so that the impression is
even, and NOT tilted one way or the other.
If your using pliers or vise-grips to hold the stamp, you will have
to ensure that the stamp is place square and flat on the ricasso to
ensure a good/clean mark. As with anything in Knifemaking, it will
require a little practice on your part, and at first you might wreck a
blade of two, however, this is my preferred method.
I have also tried marking my blades with the stamp method, using a
homemade press, while the blade is in the annealed state. My feeling is
that this method puts undo wear and tear on the stamp (which I paid $100+ for),
and I have also destroyed a couple of blades when I pressed just a bit too hard,
and literally cracked the ricasso from one edge of the mark to the plunge cuts!
After the stamp/mark is applied, I complete the heat treatment of the blade,
and finish it out as usual. I now have a knife that is readily identifiable
as my own, and with the information I applied with the stamp(s), anyone can
locate me with minimal effort.
In conclusion, it really dosen’t matter what method you use to mark your blade.
The rules to follow are:
It MUST look good/professional
It MUST be easy to recognize
It MUST identify the knife as uniquely yours
It MUST allow anyone to find you with minimal effort
Once you decide to mark anything you make, you’ve made a decision
to proclaim it’s excellence. Take the time, thought, and care to make sure
the mark you place on your work reflects those points I’ve indicated!
Copyright 2013: "The Montana Bladesmith"