One of the products that we make at the engraving company I work for is a commemorative axe for firefighters. It’s an impressive finished piece that includes the firefighter’s department patch engraved on a super-shiny axe head and it’s typically mounted on a giant plaque that features other items and elements from his or her career. An optional feature includes laser engraving the firefighter’s surname on the axe handle, and those handles can range from a foot to well over two feet long!
Since the laser bed available at Eagle Engraving isn’t quite long enough to process the larger axe handles we offer, I was asked if I could fit the handle in my larger platform, so I had to give it a shot!
As it turns out, the handle was quite a bit longer than the 24″ operating width of the laser bed. It was even a bit longer than could fit inside the enclosure at a 90 degree angle. But I had some success when I angled the length just right. I was worried that I would have to operate the laser with the front door’s security defeated—an option that is useful for engraving one end of incredibly large objects like oars—but it turned out that I’d be able to close the laser and let it operate normally as long as I figured out the angle the handle was sitting at so that I could match it with the design.
The only caveat I ran into when loading a piece that was longer than the laser bed was making sure I didn’t damage the z-axis screws. With the axe in its position, moving the table up on the z-axis to focus the laser on the handle surface meant the axe was coming dangerously close to the top lip of the enclosure. Raising the platform much more would surely cause the handle to catch between the platform and the enclosure lip. That would cause the z-axis to fall out of calibration and could possibly damage the machine, so I was very careful about the space I had when positioning the handle. Always be aware of the enclosure limits if you’re going to be engraving something bigger than your bed. You do not want to damage your table’s motion systems.
I drew a few simple vector lines in Illustrator at various angles and ran them with the laser door open so that I could see how the red dot laser traced the axe handle. It only took a few tries to settle on -17 degrees: the exact rotation that I’d need to make an engraved surname fit straight on the slightly cockeyed length of wood.
The surname I chose was “Schoeberlein,” after Adam Schoeberlein, the first paid fire fighter in Aurora, IL and the chief in 1875. I laid his name out in Clarendon Black, which I’ve had a small obsession with since discovering it while designing flyers for Eagle.
That -17 degrees was put to the test when I very lightly engraved it into the transfer tape I wrapped around the handle. Once I was sure the name would look even on the handle, I committed to the angle and engraved again with full power and quarter speed. The slow speed meant a nice, deep engraving, matching the sample I borrowed from Eagle with Colonel Williams engraved on the side in I believe Times.
The depth turned out great, and the angle was spot on, but there’s still a lingering issue. At work, Monica uses LaserDark to darken the engraved portion for increase contrast. I don’t have that product on hand, so while the thick slab serifs of an all-caps Clarendon really make the name stand out, Shoeberlein’s friend Colonel Williams stands out a little stronger with nearly black letters. Presumably, applying a coat of LaserDark to Schoeberlein would be the best of both worlds.
The question that started it all was “Can you fit this axe handle in your laser and engrave it?” Thanks to this week’s project, I know the answer. It’s the best answer. “42.”