Do I Need A Branding Iron?[b1]
We're sure that as long as 4000 years ago, Romans, Greeks and Egyptians used branding irons to identify livestock and criminals. We're no longer branding criminals (in most of the world), but today's branding iron still gets rammed against the rumps of livestock, and smaller irons provide a professional cachet for craftsmen (and craftswomen) among us who use the irons as a left-behind business card that never wears out.
• Professional woodworkers want to sign their work for several reasons, some of which also apply to hobby woodworkers.
• The branding iron mark establishes a signature or hallmark on your work that may increase its value.
• You've left a business card that will last the life of the article built.
• Prospective customers can identify and find you: there are several caveats here, including letting the customer (or other recipient) know where the branded-in mark is, and what it contains.
• If you are a non-professional woodworker, you may want to sign your work for other reasons, including pride in the job you've done.
• The brand identifies your work for posterity, if that's important to you. The brand may also be used to establish a time-line so you can track and check on earlier work. You will also be able to compare it to your current work.
• As your workmanship improves, your brand on a piece may help build your credibility and it could even add to the worth of the article.
Quick note: Texas now has about 230,000 brands registered.
Designing Your Brand
Designing a branding iron can be fun, but some limits need to be kept in mind (including the number of letters per line, and the number of lines in some irons). The simpler the branding iron is, the easier it will be to read. Keep it simple, and your brand may draw more results. For the most part, branding irons aimed at woodworkers aren't apt to get very fancy anyway, with the most complex having a signature space in a single line. The two line models leave space for slogans, such as "Crafted" or "Handcrafted" or simple "Made" by and your name. Adding a third line gives the option of adding a phone number, or an e-mail address, or the URL of your web site (if you have one). One line of branding irons allows a date line to be added.
Heating the electric branding irons is as simple as things get, but with non-electric styles, you need a source of heat. Gas stoves work well; a fireplace works; a charcoal grill works; propane torches also work, and are more portable, but must be used with care, because a top-end propane torch can generate enough heat to ruin the branding iron (as can a charcoal fire). Use as broad a torch tip--a flame spreading type--as possible, and keep a very close watch on the iron…do NOT expect brass letters to turn visibly red as iron and steel do. Heat for a short period and test on a scrap piece. If that brands as you wish, reheat to that stage and brand the actual work.
These little irons are not expensive (except for the signature branding iron) and can add a lot to the fun of handing someone a completed project.