John Duncan has used his skills to make a memorial plaque and writes below of his method.
Last year it was decided that a memorial plaque was needed to adorn the seat in my Mam’s garden. The general layout and wording was agreed with my Mam
and it had to be something a bit special as it was to commemorate my Dad’s life. A search of the internet commenced for a suitable manufacturer but I could not
find what I had in mind or of the appropriate dimensions. Many of the plaques I looked at were all much the same in appearance, cast lettering somewhat
roughly finished and lacquered and with the fixing screws visible……… not what I had in mind. I set to wondering what I could make myself ? If I could make
something myself then surely it would also be a little more special than just buying something anyway ?
I have always quite liked cutting intricate shapes with a piercing saw, so had a go at cutting out a letter in 1/8” free cutting brass strip. Conclusion, time taking
but totally do-able.
The overall dimensions of the back plate were decided as 13” long by 1 ¾ “ wide by ¼” thick. With the ¼” thickness this would enable a 1/8” deep recess to be
milled for the lettering and enough material left to attach threaded bosses from behind to enable the fixing screws to be hidden. Fixing screws which go through
the front face of things such as this can be a pain, you get something nicely painted or lacquered and then some paint chips off when you tighten the screws !
My experiments made me decide that a few items of “tooling” were needed to ensure success and to save wear, tear and cuts to my fingers, there being, (gulp),
53 letters/numbers and 2 full stops to produce as well as the back plate. Three things were needed, firstly table stops for the cross slide of the mill to enable a
neat recess to be machined in the back plate. Secondly, some means of holding the brass strip easily while piercing the letters and thirdly some sort of mini vice
to hold the letters for filing/cleaning up after cutting. All three items were well worth the time and effort and the stops on the mill table have been especially useful
for a number of jobs since. See photo of the piercing “pin” (I think that’s the jewellers term), as well as the mini vice sitting on the milling machine, new stop
arrangement just visible.
After a few more experiments the following sequence of operations gave a workable means of producing, setting out and fixing the lettering.
1 Using PC and laser printer at work, print out the lettering on good quality, thin paper.
2 Stick printed out lettering to brass strip using a thin even coat of Araldite/rapid epoxy.
3 Apply thin coat of clear cellulose/acrylic lacquer to stuck on paper “transfer” for durability.
4 Cut out and file letters to shape. (Sounds easy if you say it quick !!)
5 Remove remains of paper and Araldite from letter faces.
6 Attach laser printed script to recess in back plate exactly where letters are to go using Araldite.
7 Drill 1mm holes through each printed out letter on the back plate, two per letter.
8 Super glue all letters to the paper script that’s on the back plate.
9 Clamp the whole job upside down onto a piece of ply wood and drill through all the 1mm holes to half the depth of the letters.
10 Remove all letters, not mixing up where they all go and fully clean up everything.
11 Pin all letters into final position and soft solder to back plate.
12 Promise to never do anything as mad as this again !!
After the usual sort of cleaning up following soldering, the job was ready for finishing. Readers may be surprised that after making something from brass I chose not to
polish and lacquer the faces of the letters and decided on a painted finish. I have generally experienced a lack of durability with lacquered brass work that is outside in all
weathers. Finishing comprised a light grit blasting, thorough cleaning and degreasing, two light coats of 1 pack etch primer, two light coats of Honda gold acrylic base
coat and two light coats of clear acrylic lacquer. It incidentally seems vital not to apply more than the minimum thickness of any cellulose or acrylic clear lacquer to avoid
cracking and crazing. Once all this was fully hardened the background was sprayed with two quite heavy coats of black gloss synthetic enamel, sprayed in rapid succession.
After the black had become “tacky” the faces of the lettering and border were wiped clean of the black paint using a lint free cloth moistened with white spirit.
The other photo’s show some partially finished letters sitting on the back plate and the finished job.