Making A Branding Iron Fun & Interesting

I’ve wanted to do this for a while, more or less just to try it out to see how difficult it would be and how well it would work. I’ll confess that I have always been attracted to this type of thing – rubber stamps, branding irons and other ways to “print” the same pattern over and over. I have had really good luck with the toner transfer method, but thought this would be an interesting project.

I made a short video on making and testing the branding iron:

The first decision was how big to make the letter, and I was limited by a couple of factors: first, the overall length of the iron couldn’t be too long, or I would have to add support (steel softens slightly when heated) and find a different way to heat it other than a propane torch. Second, the smallest drill I wanted to work with in steel this thick was 1/16″, so the holes in the letters would have to be roughly that diameter or bigger.
I settled on the bigger size on this sheet and made two prints, just in case I messed up the first transfer:

curved blade ax

The raw material was the wrench from my old table saw. I used this because it is the right thickness and the steel is of better quality than regular mild steel:

The paint has to be sanded off so that the transfer will be more visible.

The first try went well. A little spotty, but I can definitely work with this:

After cutting the end off, I used a hacksaw to cut shallow grooves between the letters.

A triangular file is used to make a start for the hacksaw. It takes a while to make all of these cuts and I need to make sure they don’t go too deep:

The excess is cut from the top and bottom using the grinder with a zipcut blade.

Some rough shaping with the grinder to remove the bulk of the material at the tops of the letters and grind down the areas between the spaced letters:

Then a lot of file work to further shape the teeth.

I used an auxiliary chuck in my drill press, since the stock one won’t hold a 1/16″ bit:

curved blade ax

The holes were carefully centre punched and drilled. I could then use the drill bit to ream out the holes longer to turn them into slots, and this is best seen in the video:

When I was satisfied that the letters were good, I welded it onto a piece of 3/8″ threaded rod that had a handle attached. After it cooled I used a file to smooth the face of the letters.

Trying it with pine:

And in maple. Works well, but there’s a heat range where it works best. Too hot and it will burn too deeply, and too cold and it won’t be deep enough. A matter of practise, I guess, or an infrared thermometer to find the ideal temperature through trial and error.
I didn’t realize until after that I didn’t make the “i’s”
lower case (they look like the “L”), but that’s easy to fix by cutting a groove across near the top.

Definitely an interesting project and it didn’t take very long to make. Of course, there is a lot of hand work and a more complex pattern would take longer. This type of thing might be better suited to a small CNC machine that’s capable of cutting steel.