Over the years I’ve used various methods to mark my work. Branding irons are fine, but it’s all too easy to leave an uneven impression or char the area around the mark. A black Sharpie works for a signature, but who knows just how long that “permanent” ink will endure?
For many years I marked special commissioned pieces with custom-engraved brass plaques from one of my favorite local businesses, The Engraving and Stamp Center, at a cost of $15-$25, depending on the size. But a few months ago my friend Adam Nahas, an accomplished sculptor and metal artisan who now works in sales at Indiana Metal Craft, offered me an irresistible alternative.
Adam proposed a couple of options, each more elegant than the plaques I’d been using, as well as considerably more affordable–at least if I ordered a sufficient quantity. I decided on a die-struck medallion 1-1/2″ in diameter.
The management at Indiana Metal Craft kindly allowed me to document key parts of the process, which I think others will find as compelling as I have.
I sent over a snapshot of one of my Lie-Nielsen hand planes, requesting that it be laid over an oak leaf encircled by some text I’d used for business t-shirts in 2006.* After I had signed off on the design, it was cut into an acetate pattern several times larger than the size of the final piece. Omer Hutto, the pantograph operator for my job, transcribed the pattern onto the die blank using a formidable machine that’s American made and some 40 years old.
The pattern is incised in the steel die blank using a custom-ground cutter.
Once Omer had inscribed the entire pattern in the die blank it was time for another customer sign-off before the die was shipped to Indianapolis for hardening.
Next, the hardened die is clamped into a hydraulic press. Doug, the press operator, will place one brass blank at a time on the die and produce two strikes at 350 tons (yes, you read that correctly!) of pressure to produce the relief visible two images down. This particular hydraulic press can reach a maximum pressure of 1200 tons for use with larger dies.
The excess “trim ring” material will be removed, and a black antiquing patina will be added before the finished medallion is polished.
One-off brass plaques will always come in handy for the occasional customized inscription. But I’m delighted to have this lovely and enduring object bear my new maker’s mark.
Thanks to all at Indiana Metal Craft and especially to Adam, Omer, James, and Mike for allowing me a glimpse into the technical skill, artistry, and awe-inspiring equipment that went into producing this object.
To finish, here are a couple of soft metal dies that illustrate other quality work by Indiana Metal Craft. (The blue material is residue from a clay dam that holds resin used to make a casting for producing master copies or a production mold.) It’s astonishing how much depth can be conveyed in about 1/16″ relief.
*”Non nova sed nove” translates roughly to “not new, but newly done.”