Introduction: Custom DIY Metal Stencil: Engrave Your Name/Logo Without a Laser Engraver!
Did I break into your shop and steal your $16000 laser cutter? Don't have time to waste waiting for the branding iron to heat up?
Introducing - the world's first stencil that isn't TSA friendly!
This project was inspired by Jimmy Diresta's constant use of his spray paint stencil. I thought of combining the idea of a mini stencil - which if you are Jimmy - you obviously carry everywhere - with a knife, and a mini butane torch or lighter, instead of spray paint that tends to smell horribly.
A knife? You're looking at the pictures above confused?
...Because it didn't work.
But a solution was found! In this Instructable, I will show you how to make your own custom steel stencil, for marking your logo everywhere you want: burn it onto wood, and spray paint it on anything else!
In case you were wondering since this Instructable has been entered into the Pocket-sized contest, (my) stencil and mini torch can fit easily in one pants' pocket. If you have a really short name you could even make a credit card sized stencil and keep it in your wallet, and if you have a really long name (10+ letters) you could make it fold in half with a hinge!
Let's get started!
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Step 1: What You'll Need:
Want to make this project? Here's what you'll need, or at least what I used!
- Flex shaft rotary tool + accessories (See the rotary tool kit I built!)
- Drill or mini drill press (my review video on the mini drill press)
- Bar clamps
- 2mm drill bits (I broke 7 drill bits drilling into the knife, before getting the drill press)
- Step drill bit (if your name has circular letters - abdgopqOQ - or other languages)
- Tall glass jar full of homemade dihydrogen monoxide
- Locking needle-nosed pliers
- Pencil & permanent marker
- Homemade mini soldering vise
- ...Or... Only a drill and needle files if you have a lot of patience! But I won't recommend it!
- Proper safety equipment (Kit: the PPE I recommend if on a budget)
Possible Marking Tools:
- A thin blade knife
- Or... Non-galvanized sheet metal (0.5mm / 1/32" or thicker)
The links above are affiliate links, meaning that I earn a small percentage of what you paid (helping me fund bigger projects), at no extra cost to you. If you want to know more about a specific tool/part that I used, need ideas for alternatives, or don't see something you think should be here, please let me know in the comments.
Step 2: Anneal the Steel!
I knew that since this was a knife, the steel would be hardened, and therefore impossible to drill through, and very hard to cut. To soften the blade, I had to anneal it, which is done to steel by heating it, and letting it cool slowly.
I filled a tall glass jar with water, and held the knife with locking needle-nose pliers so only the steel blade protrudes above the water, while I anneal the blade with a torch, so the plastic handle hopefully wouldn't melt from the heat.
And it worked pretty well!
The reason for why I say pretty well, is because the steel was still oddly hard after annealing it, and hard to drill through. This is likely due to it being made of stainless steel, and not regular carbon steel, which I forgot. It didn't make sense to me that a cheap knife would still be so hard after annealing, which is usually a sign of quality.
Step 3: Remove Oxides
Turns out when you anneal stainless steel, it oxidizes and creates really interesting colors!
I used my rotary tool with a polishing wheel and polishing compound to polish away the oxides that formed on the steel from the annealing process. It doesn't need to look perfect, just polished enough so you can see any marks you make on it in the next step. You can always go back and polish it completely later
Step 4: Sketch Out Your Name (logo, Company Name, Email, Etc :)
I started sketching my name on the knife, but I quickly realized that lowercase letters were more complicated, therefore more challenging to cut out. Capital letters are made mostly out of straight lines that are connected - at least in my name.
I recommend first sketching out your name with a pencil, yes, on the steel, because it can barely be seen, and can be removed easily, since there's no way you'll nail it perfectly on the first try. Choosing the space between letters, letter sizing, and the shape of letters can be difficult at first. And you're ready to move on to the fun part!
Step 5: Drill!
The fun part? If you don't have a drill press, then not really - don't ask me how I know!
That part involved breaking seven drill bits! I drilled a small hole in the "corner(s)" of each letter, since I thought it would help me cut out the letters. I was right, but unfortunately not completely right...as you'll see soon.
Step 6: Cut!
Here, you participate in the manliest connect the dots game ever err...I mean, I used my flex shaft rotary tool with a cutting wheel to cut slots between the holes that previously drilled.
This flex shaft rotary tool is basically like a Dremel rotary tool, except it has a large external motor (see step 6 of this I'ble) that rotates a long and flexible shaft that connects to an "hand-piece" which is basically a small drill chuck. Since the motor isn't inside the hand-piece, it can be much smaller, making it significantly easier to make precise cuts. You can also hold it in any way you want, unlike a Dremel, where you have to constantly make sure your hand isn't covering the air holes, so it doesn't overheat.
This might be the only instance where a Dremel might do a better job than a flex shaft rotary tool since the motor of a flex shaft is much stronger, but it spins at 18,000 RPM which is crazy fast - but still half the speed of a Dremel. If you're interested, let me know and I could make a video about it.
Now watch as the knife eats up your cutting disc collection because of all of the cuts!
...And speaking of cool tools and cutting discs... What I didn't know when cutting the slots, is how amazing diamond cutting wheels are. They don't wear out and need to be replaced every 30 seconds wasting a lot of time, don't shatter, don't fill the air with stinky abrasive dust, and you can buy them in many sizes! I've been wanting to try these for a long time, and now, after finishing this project completely, I realized what I could've avoided - not exaggerating!
Step 7: Fail?
Wait. That turned out horrible. As you can see in the video, it's broken, the slots are too narrow for the fire from a torch to pass through, the fire can burn only the wood that surrounds the knife. it doesn't even work!
And a whole year passes by...
Step 8: Start Over? a Better Idea!
After a whole year, I decided it's time to try again! This is the piece of steel that I chose, I remember desoldering it a few years ago from a PCB, it was a large faraday cage.
In the next step, I highlight the whole process again, and show what I learned.
Step 9: Working on It...
First of all, I chose a large piece of sheet metal, so I could make sure it was big enough, so the torch wouldn't be able to burn around it.
Next, instead of writing my name as I had done previously, I made sure the length of each straight line in all letters was longer than the diameter of my cutting disc, because it can be quite difficult to cut a slot that's shorter than the diameter of a cutting disc.
I then used a wide bullet-point permanent marker to mark a dot on each corner/edge of every letter. The large dot would later make it easier to make sure the letters are wide enough (so the fire would be able to pass through the steel to burn the wood) because it's easier to make two cuts, than one and then later try to widen it.
I drilled larger holes, and this time, with my (new) drill press, and the combination of softer steel and a drill press allowed me to start drilling - and end - with the same drill bit - instead of breaking seven!
Now when cutting the slots, I cut from the one side of a circle to another, basically making bubble letters - and WOW! Look at the difference! I don't know if that was what made the difference in my ability to make precise cuts, or if it was the additional experience, but don't tell me it doesn't look perfect!
For the O in my name, I used a step drill bit, and then enlarged it with a grinding wheel on my flex shaft,
Once it looked ready for use, I cut the stencil to be 15x7cm (5 1/2 x3"), what I thought would the appropriate size - and it's ready!
Step 10: Done! Success!
Some more thoughts:
- Do you have any idea for making the wood burn with a "sharper" edge, so the edges of the letters don't look as diffused? Making sure the stencil is always pressed as close to the wood as possible obviously is the most significant change I could make, but I wonder if different types of wood burn differently. I also wonder how it would look with spray paint.
- The only mistake I think I made in the second version is choosing sheet metal that is still a bit too thin. It does seem to warp slightly under the high heat of my large torch, as you might be able to see in this video (coming soon). Other than that, it's works great!
- If you're like me and love building your own tools, don't forget to check out The Ultimate Collection of DIY Workshop Tools, which contains dozens of Instructables on all sorts of homemade tools, perfect for your budget!
I also will be giving away free Instructables premium memberships (please read before commenting) to members that make their own steel stencil based on this Instructable. Will you be the first one?
I read ALL comments, and reply to as many as I can, so make sure to leave your questions, suggestions, tips, tricks, and any other ideas in the comments below! - Thanks!
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Participated in the
Pocket Sized Contest